The desire for 80s electronic music-making gear has never been greater with so many Synth Pop, Coldwave, Darkwave and Post Punk bands around recreating that much loved sound with the help of retro drum machines and synths used back in the day.
I did some research and compiled a short list of a few drum machines and other gear used by some well known Post Punk and Synth Pop bands. This isn’t a definitive list just a few examples of the most popular drum machines and gear that will give you the 80s sound you’re looking for.
Top of the list seems to be the LM-1 and later released LinnDrum. I won’t go into the history of each machine but needless to say they were a popular choice used by artists including Michael Jackson (who also used the 70s Univox), Prince, Gary Numan, Human League, and practically every artist around in the 80s, so of course comes at a huge price of around £3,500 used.
The good news is there are much cheaper alternatives out there such as any decent sampler using LinnDrum or other drum machine sampled sounds. If you want the original drum machine you have to factor in specialist maintenance and repairs along the way which could cost you more in the long term as well as not being as easily compatible with modern digital home studio technology, USB etc. But they do sound great and being analogue they produce the dynamic punch you need in recordings compared to samples or digital drum machines.
Next up: the Oberheim DMX — even the name sounds expensive, and it is. Introduced in 1980 at a list price of $2895 it will surely give you the sound you want and has kept its value – if you can find one. In 1983 they released a stripped down version of the DMX: the Oberheim DX, with 18 sounds instead of 24.
Probably the most well known drum machines belong to the Roland family of TR 808, 909, 707, 606 and 626. Roland released digital ‘Boutique’ versions of the classic TR 808 and TR 909 that are more compatible with modern studios. Roland Boutique TR-08 REVIEW Music Rader.
The Roland TR-707 was popular with Post Punk bands. The TR-606 popular users include Nine Inch Nails, Aphex Twin, The Sister’s of Mercy, and was a favourite of French House producers in the 90s. The TR-808 beatbox was widely used by 80s electro and hip hop producers while the TR-909 is the sound of Techno.
Sound Behind the Song: “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails
“Closer” by Nine Inch Nails is built around a densely layered groove featuring the TR-606. The edgy track achieved great chart success for the band.
Pre-1994, casual listeners considered Nine Inch Nails an “industrial, “industrial-rock,” or “industrial-metal” act. By contrast, “Closer” is a pop song. Like all great pop songs, it’s built around the perfect beat. In truth, much of NIN’s catalog contains such earworms.
The TR-626 combines a few of the most popular drum sounds from classic machines, including the LM-1, but is not as sought after for some reason. As with a lot of re-released drum machines they’re not as inspiring as the classics.
Behringer also make their own versions of the classic analog 808 and 909: Behringer Rhythm Designer RD-8 MKII.
Behringer make a version of the Mini Moog that costs a fraction of the price and arguably sounds exactly the same. Yamaha, Korg, Alesis, Boss all made good drum machines in the 80’s and 90s. Finding a good used one is half the fun.
The Alesis SR-16 (later replaced with the SR-18) is said to be the most popular selling drum machine of all time, it is still sold today and has that retro 80s sound. Definitely one to consider being user friendly and not too expensive at around £200.
Yamaha produced their own RX range of drum machines in the 80s. Like the Roland, each RX model is suited to a particular genre. The Yamaha RX11 has that post punk sound and is used by Lebanon Hanover.
Boy Harsher using a mix of old and new gear. Below you can see the samples and other gear used in their Against The Clock challenge.
They’re using a mix of modern and classic gear, sampled drum and synth sounds triggered on an Ableton MIDI controller and DAW software. I guess this is routed back out and into high-end external rack modules.
The Drum Machine sampled is a Korg DDD-1, along with Roland SH-101 analogue Synth, Roland JV1080 Synth Rack Module “with silky smooth sounds” played on a midi keyboard and a TC Helicon Voicelive Rack module for the all important vocals with just the right amount of quality chorus, reverb and delay.