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10 tracks that show what the Roland TB-303 can do

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(Image credit: Future)

Like many of Roland's iconic numbered machines, the TB-303 has had a profound effect on the development of dance music since it was released in 1981, even playing a large part in spawning its own subgenre - acid house

Here we round up ten tracks that showcase the raw power of this deceptively powerful little silver box. As Fatboy Slim once said, Everybody Needs a 303...

1. A Guy Called Gerald - Voodoo Ray

Released in 1988, Gerald Simpson’s influential release is widely acknowledged as one of the first successful acid house tracks, and an example of what could be achieved with minimal equipment. 

Recorded over two days at Moonraker Studios in Manchester, the combination of TB-303, Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer and Akai S950 sampler confirmed how basic equipment could, with a little inspiration, result in a huge hit. The vocal, supplied by Nicola Collier was sampled and chopped, to become one of the song’s hooks, alongside the recognisable 303 sequence.

2. Josh Wink - A Higher State of Consciousness 

Harking back to the mid-90s, Higher State of Consciousness combined the relentless house-sound of the Roland TR-909 Rhythm Composer with two original, and totally unmodified 303s. The identifiable sequential squeals push the track to an extreme. A classic example of a 303 coupled with distortion, which has become such an essential trademark of a musical era and the machine itself. 

3. Phuture - Acid Tracks

This collaboration between DJ Nathan Pierre Jones, Earl Smith Jr and Herbert Jackson turned the accidental 303 noodlings of DJ Pierre into an acid house track, which is also regarded as being one of the first of its kind. Produced by Marshall Jefferson, Acid Tracks became a firm fixture on the playlist at the Haçienda in Manchester, confirming the acid house inspiration emanating from Chicago.

4. Fatboy Slim - Everybody Needs a 303

If there were ever a track to nail its colours to the mast, Norman Cook’s cut was it. Everybody Needs a 303 is taken from the Fatboy’s debut album, Better Living through Chemistry, but in its first incarnation as a single, barely troubled the UK charts. A remix/retitle delivered more commercial success, but still only topping No.34. Regardless, it’s still an anthem with designs on the TB bassline classic.

5. Hardfloor - Acperience 1

German techno and trance artists Oliver Bondzio and Ramon Zenker formed Hardfloor in 1991, producing the acid house classic Acperience 1 in 1992. Unapologetic in its 303 usage, Hardfloor are infamous for possessing up to six different 303s. At today’s prices, that’s quite an investment, but essential as the main element of their acid sound.

6. Windowlicker (Acid Edit) - Aphex Twin

It surely won’t come as a huge surprise to learn that Aphex Twin aka Richard D James, has used the 303 in several guises throughout much of his output, although it’s pretty likely that any of his own 303 will have been modded or butchered, thanks to his incessant desire to breath new life into old products. Listen to the infamous Windowlicker, but in its Acid Edit version, for evidence of 303 application, after the initial construct.

7. Orbital - Chime

While Orbital own a 303, its placement is seemingly less obvious. Their wondrous track Chime, while mostly based around pounding basses and samplers, employs the 303 later in the track, providing a counter-melody to the infectious repetition of the opening 10th and riff-laden construct.

8. Imagination - In The Heat of the Night

80s band Imagination were famous for their outrageous sense of dress, coupled with a unique sound and style which featured an identifiable bass. While many assumed this was some form of fretless, it was in fact a 303, sequenced with a far slower setting and pace than we might be used to, with glides at almost every turn. In many respects, it’s what the 303 was originally designed for!

9. 808 State - Pacific - 303

Although it’s unclear if this track contains an original 303, its title is an unbridled nod toward the Roland product range. The sustained soprano sax, blissfully wailing against a TR-909 drum pattern spawned a series of remixes, with accompanying numbers, such as 202 and 707. FYI, the MC-202 was a follow-up Roland product, unfairly regarded as the poor-person’s TB-303.

10. Orange Juice - Rip It Up 

Scottish band Orange Juice, fronted by guitarist and singer/songwriter Edwyn Collins, are the second act in our list to use the 303 as an actual bass synth. 

The heavy-squelch of the bass in Rip it Up is a result of the 303’s punchy resonance, coupled with a snappy but basic decay setting. There’s almost as much high-end frequency in this bass sound as low, but it’s a catchy signature for a song that hit a top spot of No 9 in the UK chart.

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