A Brief History of the TR-909
The Roland TR-909 rhythm composer was released in 1983 and quickly became one of the most influential drum machines in electronic music, particularly house music. Prior to the 909, the most popular drum machine was the Roland TR-808, known for its deep, booming bass drum. However, the 808 was not versatile enough for the emerging house music genre.
Enter the TR-909. With its analog sound generation and step programming, the 909 had a crisper, punchier sound that was perfect for the four-on-the-floor beats that defined house. Producers like Frankie Knuckles and others in the Chicago house scene embraced the 909 for its ability to produce driving, danceable rhythms. Tracks like Knuckles’ “Your Love” showcased the 909’s crisp hi-hats and snappy percussion that drove the emerging genre.
By the late 80s, the 909 had become synonymous with house music. Major artists like Mariah Carey, New Order, and Aphex Twin all incorporated the 909 into their music. Its iconic sound helped house music spread worldwide and still influences electronic music to this day.
What Does the TR-909 Do?
The TR-909 is a 16-step analog rhythm composer. It features nine individual sound generators that can be programmed to play the bass drum, snare, three toms, three closed high hats, and an open high hat. Each sound can be tuned and its volume, decay and tone adjusted. Patterns are programmed by stepping through the 16 steps and triggering sounds on or off for each step. Patterns can be chained together and variations added for longer sequences.
909 Sample Pack
TR-909 vs TR-808
While both iconic machines, the 909 and 808 had key differences. The 808’s bass drum was its star element, delivering an earth-shaking low-end. However, its other sounds lacked versatility. The 909 had a more balanced, punchy sound across all elements. Its hi-hats in particular had a sharper, crisper tone that worked better for house music. The 909 also had more sound design controls and its step sequencer was easier to program, making it more user-friendly in the studio. These factors led the 909 to dominate house and techno where precision and groove were key.
Famous Artists Who Used the TR-909
Nearly every major house and techno artist incorporated the 909 into their music. Some notable examples include:
- Frankie Knuckles – Pioneering Chicago house producer whose tracks like “Your Love” defined the 909 house sound.
- Derrick May – Influential Detroit techno artist whose 1987 album “Innovation” prominently featured the 909.
- Aphex Twin – Iconic IDM artist whose early 90s tracks blended acid and techno with the 909’s punchy rhythms.
- The Chemical Brothers – Pioneering big beat duo whose debut album “Exit Planet Dust” was filled with 909 patterns.
- Daft Punk – French electronic legends known for modernizing the 909 sound on hits like “One More Time.”
The Best 909 VST – D16 Group Drumazon 2
For those looking to recreate the iconic 909 sound digitally, the gold standard is the D16 Group Drumazon plug-in. Drumazon 2 faithfully models the 909 with analog circuit modelling, including its step sequencer functionality. It also expands on the original with additional sound sources. With its authentic recreation of the 909’s tone and response, Drumazon 2 is an essential tool for any electronic producer looking to incorporate the legendary machine’s rhythms into their tracks.