‘Everybody Needs a 303’ was Fatboy Slim’s (AKA Norman Cook) earliest rallying cry, being the title of his debut single in 1996. And, it turns out that this is a mantra that he still subscribes to.
An ode to Roland’s iconic TB-303 Bass Line synth, the aforementioned track features the instrument’s trademark screaming squelches in spades. This was most definitely an example of the original 303 in action, though, and Cook feels that this still stands apart from the many hardware and software clones that have since been released.
Asked by Synth History if he still thinks that everybody needs a 303, Cook was unequivocal. “Everybody needs a 303,” he said. “Most importantly, though people might not know it, what they need is a real 303, not a clone. You can tell the difference between them and they don't quite get... the clones are good, but they're not a 303.”
Roland has revived the 303 numerous times over the past couple of decades, with current emulations including the compact TB-03 hardware and an official TB-303 plugin. Behringer also has skin in the game with both standard and ‘modded’ versions of its TD-3, while D16 recently updated its acclaimed Phoscyon software emulation to version 2.
It transpires that one of the things that still draws Cook to the 303 and other vintage equipment is its relative simplicity. “I always love the old gear more than the new gear,” he told Synth History. “I find it more inspiring. When you're making electronic music, I think the most inspiring times are when people had very limited equipment and it was what you could squeeze out of that.”
Cook goes on to explain that the wealth of options available to him now is actually a block on productivity: “That is one of the reasons I don't make so much music anymore,” he admits.
Contrasting the simple machines he started on with a modern, laptop-based setup, Cook says: “it's got every single drum machine, every single synth sound, every single - potentially - sound known to man, every record that's ever been released. And they're all there. And I just sit and go, ‘pfft, where do you start?’.”
Tell us about it, Norm.