Roland TR-909 Day: Jeff Mills & my drum machine

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The Roland TR909’s contribution to Techno music can’t be understated, it is undoubtably one of the most influential pieces of hardware in the history of electronic music. If you want to see that machine pushed to its absolute limit, watch a Jeff Mills 909 solo at one of his shows, he is to the 909 what Jimmy Hendrix was to the electric guitar. As an instrument, he takes it to a whole new level. 

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My first encounter with the machine was when I booked Jeff for the first time in January 2012. I toyed with buying the machine that time and regretted not doing that for years after. That show was the launch of a club concept I developed called ‘Apocalypse Now’. It was essentially a monthly countdown to the end of the world, as some people genuinely thought the world would end that year, via a cataclysmic collision with Planet X, a massive solar flare from the sun or an alien invasion. These were the theories we built our artwork and visuals around. It was an extremely inspiring and fun project to work on, a lot of the people I brought in to help me with that project are still some of my closest friends today. 

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It wasn’t until October 2016 that I finally made the move and got my hands on a 909. I was doing a show with Jeff at the Bord Gais Theatre, his first ever orchestra show in Ireland. I felt if I didn’t get one then, I never would so I invested in it. Watching Jeff work that machine through rehearsals to the orchestra show itself was an unbelievably inspiring experience. It changed how I looked at live performance. Since then, any time Jeff has played in Ireland he uses my machine. I even had to travel from Dublin to Belfast and back for his show at the Telegraph Building. It’s a rare commodity in Ireland, I am traveling from Berlin to Dublin with it for his show in District 8 on October 12th. 

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When I started learning the 909 it was the most fun I had with a piece of equipment since I first got my Technics 1210 turntables. It became a cornerstone of my live sets for almost 2 years until I moved over to the Electron Octatrack from the laptop/Ableton Live. 

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Let’s be frank, its a serious investment if you do chose to buy one, there are lots of great clones out there like the Jomox. It sounds absolutely incredible on a big sound system, harder when you get into the realm of sampling it. The Goldbaby samples are also really well made, if you load them into Maschine or any other sampler you will get really solid results.  

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My 909 is priceless to me. It has been used so many times by Jeff and he kindly agreed to sign it. It’s more than a piece of machinery, its like an old friend. One of my pet peeves actually is when you see a unit signed by loads of different people. It’s like asking Meat Loaf to sign a piano used by Mozart. It’s disrespectful to its heritage and I would almost consider it to be an act of vandalism. It’s beautiful as it is, leave it alone. 

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