How the drum machine changed pop music

William Weir looks at the history of the use of drum machine in pop music.


Words by: Karen Chan

Phlump-Cushhh-Thompp! Whether you’re like it or not, drum machine’s influence on modern music is undeniable. William Weir of Slate explains:

People tend to associate drum machines with the 1980s, the age of the Roland TR-808—which helped define a long stretch of hip hop with ground-shaking bass—and the digital Linn LM-1, which used the sampled sounds of real drums. But the drum machine made its first tentative steps into pop music in the early 1970s. There’s a Riot is the centerpiece of a cluster of watershed moments in early drum machine history. Brian Wilson used it around the same time for the song “Til I Die” (perhaps something about drum machines appealed to reclusive pop geniuses?). It’s all over JJ Cale’s album Naturally, released in December of 1971. In Germany, Can and Kraftwerk also dove into this new world of sound—to a whole other, weird, effect. In the next few years, Bob Marley, Shuggie Otis, and others would follow suit … Beyond aesthetic considerations, the rise of the drum machine represented a philosophical shift. Ceding the job of rhythm, which mirrors the human heart and respiratory rates, to circuits and wires overhauled notions of what it means to make music.

The release of There’s a Riot Going On by Sly & The Family Stone is also referenced as a “quintessential moment” in the early use of drum machine, as the author explains the reason behind Sly Stone’s decision to use one was due to his inability to find a drummer:

The drug-addled Stone had alienated many in the Family at this point in his career—including long-time drummer Greg Errico. “He [used the drum machine] because I’d left the group and he kept calling me up,” Errico told Stone’s biographer, Eddie Santiago. “If I’d been at the sessions, we’d never have tried it.

Simply put it this way – if Sly Stone hadn’t used the drum machine, we might never have had hip hop, drum n’ bass, dubstep, two-step, and whatever other step you know. Read the whole article here.

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