Roland TR-606 Popular Users

 Roland TR-606 Drumatixmanufactured 1981 – 1984

A continuation from the Post-Punk Drum Machines and Other Gear post, the Roland TR-606 deserves a post all of its own, having been used by bands such as The Sisters of Mercy and Nine Inch Nails.

The Roland TR-606 Drumatix is a drum machine built by the Roland Corporation from 1981 to 1984. It was originally designed to be used with the Roland TB-303, a monophonic analog bass synthesizer, to provide a simple drum and bass accompaniment to guitarists without backing bands.

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.

Roland articles – Nine Inch Nails

The TR-606 was used by punk rock/noise rock band Big Black and was credited on their records as “Roland”. Steve Albini later reflected on the TR-606: 

When I first got the 606 I carried it around and listened to it like a Walkman, and over the course of a day I would gradually build and re-build a rhythm until it was satisfying to listen to on its own… Drum machines can be cool instruments with a lot of character. I was always disappointed when I heard one being used clumsily, which was most of the time.”

The Sisters of Mercy also used it, on their early records, where it was credited as a band member named “Doktor Avalanche.” Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark had it listed in the liner notes of their album Dazzle Ships. Nine Inch Nails used it in their hit single “Closer” from the album “The Downward Spiral” and Dave Rowntree of the Britpop band Blur uses one on the track “On Your Own” from their 1997 self-titled album Blur.

T̲he S̲isters O̲f M̲ercy – F̲irst A̲nd Last A̲nd A̲lways (Full Album) 1985

Outside of rock music, the TR-606 was commonly used by electronica artists C. Balardo, Uwe SchmidtPlastikmanAphex TwinMike Ink, and Autechre. Even artists that preferred breakbeats to four-on-the-floor rhythms used it, seen when 4Hero credited the TR-606 on its well-received album Parallel Universe. Another example was Massive Attack‘s 1994 album Protection, which prominently used the machine on some tracks, and the CD booklet included a photo of the TR-606 connected to a TB-303. The Swedish electronic band Covenant has used it, citing it as “one of the most beautifully distortable drum machines ever made”.

The electronic musician Kid606 mentioned the TR-606 as an inspiration in interviews and confirmed it as an inspiration for his stage name.

SOUNDS

The TR-606 has seven synthesized sounds: Bass Drum, Snare Drum, Hi Tom, Lo Tom, Cymbal and Open/Closed Hi Hat.

An additional function labeled accent serves to modify the volume of the entire drum mix on a given beat. This allows, for example, a louder beat 4 in a simple drum pattern: boom-chik, boom CHIK. There is no “swing” parameter on the TR-606. The output is mono.

Trigger outputs

The Lo Tom and Hi Tom tracks have outputs to trigger an external sound source.

When the closed and open hihat are played together, a 3rd hihat sound emerges.

When the trigger output is in use, the corresponding internal sound still functions normally. The tom track could be employed, for example, to trigger a kick drum synth module.

Post Punk Drum Machines and Other Gear

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.

LINNDRUM

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.

OBERHEIM

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.

ROLAND

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.

Roland articles – Nine Inch Nails

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.

Lebanon Hanover in the studio using the Yamaha RX11 Drum Machine and Moog

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.

ALESIS

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

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.