Beloved by beatmakers the world over, the Roland SP-404 has a broad and devoted following among fans of lo-fi hip-hop and downtempo electronica, and the SP-404 MkII is starting to build up a head of steam, too.
What's more, like Roland's 303, 606, 707 and 909, it's now been given its own special day - 404 day, in case you were still wondering - which is today. So, here are five mindblowing live jams that show off the 404’s copious creative potential.
1. Sarah, the Illstrumentalist
At this point, the 404 is practically synonymous with laid-back lo-fi hip-hop beats - if you spot one in a YouTube thumbnail, you know you’re more than likely to hear some pitched-down jazz samples and a dusty mid-tempo drum pattern once you click through.
This live set from Sarah, the Illstrumentalist is a perfect example of the kind of head-nodding hip-hop jams that the sampler is so strongly associated with. It’s a solid performance, with Sarah using the 404’s onboard effects to improvise over some vibe-heavy samples, appropriately laden with vinyl crackle and tape hiss.
This list wouldn’t be complete without an entry from independent online radio station Le Mellotron’s ‘For SP-404 Lovers’ series, a collection of SP-404 live sets performed in their Parisian boat/studio.
In our favourite of the bunch, Khyro lays down a 404 masterclass, flipping and reinterpreting samples from Lauryn Hill, D’Angelo and Amy Winehouse with dexterity. We don’t think we can sum it up any better than YouTube commenter Die, Master Monkey, who observed that “if Khryo's 404 got any smoother, it would slide off the table.”
Teebs is a part of what’s loosely referred to as the L.A beat scene, a generation of producers known for producing downtempo beats that inject the experimentalism of electronica, jazz and psychedelic music into the rhythmic framework of hip-hop.
A devotee of the SP-404, he’s been known to use it both in the studio and as a live performance tool, as evidenced by the footage of his 2014 Boiler Room set above. Jamming for a full 45 minutes armed with only the 404 and Critter & Guitari’s Organelle, Teebs floats through a collection of hazy melancholic beatscapes taken from the albums he's released on Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder Records.
4. BIG UMAMI
Moving beyond the downbeat hip-hop grooves the 404 is known for, there’s no shortage of producers using the sampler to produce and perform everything from techno to dubstep. This set from BIG UMAMI is a prime example, showing the producer build a crunchy lo-fi house beat by slicing a smooth jazz sample and layering it up with two Korg Volcas and Yamaha QY-70. Skip through to 2:35 to hear the final product.
5. Morn Valley
For those who like to get a little more experimental with their 404, we have Morn Valley’s ‘Studies for Air Horn’, an ambient piece created by pitching and time-stretching the classic air horn sample used in hip-hop and dancehall.
Inspired by Steve Reich’s phasing techniques, Morn Valley layered these warped samples with liberal amounts of delay and reverb to create the kind of dense, amorphous textures that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Brian Eno record. Who said the 404 was only good for lo-fi hip-hop beats?