The BOSS DR-55 Dr. Rhythm Drum Machine

A quick look back at the tiny drum box's influence on Juan Atkins, Thomas Dolby, Depeche Mode, and New Order.

I recently did some article-related research about Roland amps, drum machines, bass synthesizers, and other equipment from the company’s vast product line. Roland’s history is fascinating because people often think of their most iconic gear like the TR-808, but even their less discussed products have compelling backstories.

Take the BOSS (a division of Roland) DR-55 Dr. Rhythm for example. I had no idea how prevalent this modest little drum box was in electronic, synth pop, techno, new wave, and other genres of music music during the early-‘80s.

Detroit techno pioneer Juan Atkins captured the influence and importance of the drum machine beautifully in a 2012 MusicRadar interview with Chris Barker. To him, it seemed to symbolize a dramatic shift in creative possibility.

“It was the most quantum innovation that ever happened. If I had to pick one machine, that would be it. Being able to program a drum machine was a huge thing."

The Dr. Rhythm was also part of his production arsenal when he co-produced the Cybotron’s 1983 classic “Clear,” which was famously sampled 22 years later on Missy Elliott’s Ciara and Fatman Scoop-assisted hit “Lose Control.”

Like many BOSS and Roland instruments, artists in a wide range of genres found use for the DR-55. It was the first drum machine Depeche Mode used in their live shows. New Order also featured the percussion sounds prominently on “Truth” from 1981 debut LP Movement.

Of all the DR-55 drum discoveries I’ve made in recent weeks, I think Thomas Dolby’s “Therapy/Growth” might be my favorite. Originally a b-side to the second single from his 1982 debut The Golden Age of Wireless, the demo version was included in later reissues of the record. I personally think the remastered demo of “Therapy/Growth” kind of steals the show.

Something about the minimalism of the song struck me when I first heard it and the DR-55 is a critical piece of the beautifully sparse instrumentation. I definitely had a lump in my throat when I first listened to this and I may have shed a tear.

Much as I love the Dr. Rhythm sections, I especially like the breakdown around the 2:45 mark when the drums drop out and finger snaps pair beautifully with the lyrics below. I’ve probably listened to this song 100 times over the past month and I’m really curious who Dolby had in mind when he penned these words.

And I ain't gonna spend my time with you
If time is so important
And I ain't gonna worry over you
Lend any resistance
To the game you play
You won't find me bending over
To justify existence
By working on a weakness
And I don't want to know the secrets of the universe

Though the DR-55 was quickly eclipsed by superior drum machine technology, there’s something about the sounds from the Dr. Rhythm that still sound excellent today. It may not be as widely documented and discussed as other BOSS/Roland gear, but a deeper exploration of the machine’s place in music history is necessary if Juan Atkins once called it “the most quantum innovation that ever happened.”

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Ohbliv x Just Plain Ant - 'Black Soap'

A brief look at how I discovered an under the radar Ohbliv project from 2009.

On Sunday, April 4th, I shared and retweeted various things in celebration of Roland’s 404 Day. 404 Day gives Roland SP-404 users from around the world a chance to share their music and participate in the different Roland-sponsored, 404-centric events like this years SP Takeover on Facebook.

One of the items I shared was a screenshot of a 2010 Tumblr post from Ohbliv. When a fan asked him what he used to create beats, this was his response.

“My Brain, the 404 and vinyl. I only use a comp to import. But get busy with whatever u can get your hands on and Just do you. Salute!”

I always loved the quote so I figured I’d share it. Plus Ohbliv’s Tumblr is badass.

After my tweet got a nice response I searched for a second Ohbliv/404-related thing to share and stumbled upon this 2009 tweet. I was immediately intrigued. Usually links from this long ago are broken and lead to nothing. This one, however, still works. And it brought me to a really cool instrumental project I’d never heard before—Ohbliv x Just Plain Ant’s Black Soap.

My background for this project is very limited. According to this YouTube upload, Ohbliv produced the first six tracks and Just Plain Ant producer the other six. There isn’t much info besides that available online or on Twitter.

In a way, I kind of like that. I found a project that doesn’t exist on Bandcamp or streaming from the early days of a great producer’s career. I don’t have a lot of context for how it came to be, so I get to take the music for what it is without overthinking it.

I also don’t have a ton of information on Just Plan Ant, who was pretty prolific from 2009 to 2013—though he hasn’t released anything new in quite some time. He’s another talented producer from Richmond, Virginia and it looks like he and Ohbliv collaborated several times around the release of Black Soap.

In the end, finding this tweet and this collaborative album was a helpful reminder. No matter how well you think you know a musician’s body of work, there’s usually more waiting to be discovered and experienced.

I’m really happy I stumbled upon this underground release from many years ago. I hope your enjoy it as much as I have.

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New Roland Articles: The L.A. Beat Scene and Ras G

A quick summary of my latest projects.

Ari Rosenschein is the global editorial content manager at Roland. I had the privilege of working with him on a couple of stories during the summer of 2020.

When he reached out about some new writing opportunities in February I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to balance them with teaching. The teaching/writing balance has been a real struggle for me this past year.

In the end I said yes to his proposed articles and I’m so glad I did.

I’m a bit rusty with long-form articles. I have one in process for another website that is way, way past deadline and I feel awful about it. But it’s a hard piece and I’ve struggled to write it well. That made me questions my ability to pull off these Roland stories.

I had also had some nervousness and self-doubt about two of the articles Ari proposed. One was an L.A. Beat Scene listening guide. The other was a profile of the late legend Ras G. I’m from the east coast. The last time I visited L.A. was in 2016. I found myself questioning if I could tell these stories the right way.

I ultimately said yes because I’ve been heavily influenced by Los Angeles producers for much of my of my writing career. I thought I might be able to highlight some hidden gems like Jonwayne’s 404 Blueberries while weaving in interesting historical details about the albums I selected.

I was excited and nervous to have the opportunity to write about Ras G. He was deeply loved by many and the music he made inspired countless people all over the world. Trying to write about him and his art is a daunting and overwhelming task—a process not to be taken lightly.

When Ras G passed I wrote a quick overview of his work but resisted doing something long-form because I wanted time to digest and think about his legacy. After holding off on writing something in-depth about him for a year and a half, I felt ready to talk about his music and his life in more detail.

I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to speak with his brother Bryan, who was incredibly kind and generous with his insights and time. It was an honor to have his family’s involvement with the piece and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without Bryan’s help.

In the end, I can’t grow as a writer if I don’t push myself more. Maybe I wasn’t the most qualified person to tell these stories based on resume and geographic location, but I’m proud of the work I did.

I’d love it if you gave both articles a look. I’d like to hear your feedback and thoughts if you decide to read them. I also want to thank Ari Rosenschein for giving me a shot.

You can read both articles by clicking the links below.

Listening Guide: An Intro to the L.A. Beat Scene

Remembering Ras G, Legendary L.A. Producer

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A brand new flip challenge collaboration with Boombaptist, Elaquent, and Juicy The Emissary.

Boombaptist, Elaquent, and Juicy The Emissary dropped their excellent instrumental project Komfort Food on February 5th, 2021. In the time since they’ve kindly agreed to provide a bunch of samples/stems from their instrumentals for a flip challenge.

In the spirit of fun, we’re going to keep this one simple: use some of the stems to create a track of your own. Those are the rules. No prizes, no deadline. You can download the stems for free here.

Please use the hashtag #komfortfoodchallenge on IG and/or Twitter and tag @micro_chop so we can hear/see your work and re-share. I use Twitter more than IG so please share on Twitter if you can. We can’t wait to see what you come up with. Good luck and have fun!

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A Brief History of #GlobalBeatCypher

A look at the origins of Today's Future Sound and Creative Minds' weekly beat showcase, some of the positive outcomes since its creation, and their March 20th event.

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In 2018 I had the opportunity to interview producer and psychotherapist Dr. Elliot Gann—better known in the DJing and beatmaking world as Phillipdrummond. We had a great conversation about his work with the Bay Area organization Today’s Future Sound (TFS) and their efforts to empower young people by teaching instrumental hip-hop production through the Therapeutic Beatmaking Model (TBM).

(Read more about his working and the Therapeutic Beatmaking Model here.)

On March 13th, 2020 Phillipdrummond continued to create positive spaces for instrumental hip-hop by starting the #GlobalBeatCypher with Today’s Future Sound and Creative Minds. Today’s Future Sound’s Instagram describes the event as follows:

“#GlobalBeatCypher features and showcases beat makers and producers from all around the globe. Our attempt to connect and combat isolation, build community, and share dope beats in the time of COVID-19/Corona and showcase producers!”

Participants in the showcase flip samples provided in the #GlobalBeatCypher sample pack. Beats are required to use samples from the weekly pack, but producers can add other drums, samples, etc.

The weekly event is held via Zoom re-streamed onto Today’s Future Sound’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitch, and YouTube pages. Previous guests include A-Plus of Hiero/Souls of Mischief, Boombaptist, Elaquent, Juicy The Emissary, Dug Infinite, Fresh Kils, STLNDRMS, and many other esteemed producers.

In one year the beat cypher has turned into a very powerful community event. It also provides a space for people to benefit from the Therapeutic Beatmaking Model during a very stressful time. “The whole therapeutic beatmaking model is helping to process stress and trauma and providing a safe and connected place where one can be seen and build/learn from others,” Phillipdrummond says.

This week’s event features a Canada vs. USA beat battle featuring _wrks, Chaix_, and Reazhun battling Mickey Breeze, Will Randolph V, and MENTPLUS. Mark Stretch and Phillipdrummond are hosting with DeekBeats and RyNea Soul joining as special guests.

Make sure to tap into this great community building event and learn more about how to participate through Today Future Sound’s FAQ page. Hopefully the first year of weekly events is just beginning for this exciting new online space for producers.

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