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


Like many of Roland’s iconic numbered machines, the TB-303 has had a profound effect on the development of dance music since its release in 1981, even playing a big role in the creation of its own subgenre – acid house.

Here we put together ten pieces that showcase the raw power of this deceptively mighty little silver box. As Fatboy Slim once said, everyone needs a 303 …

1. A guy called Gerald – Voodoo Ray

Released in 1988, Gerald Simpson’s influential album is widely recognized 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 the TB-303, Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer and Akai S950 sampler confirmed how basic equipment can, with a little inspiration, result in a huge success. The vocals, provided by Nicola Collier, were sampled and chopped, to become one of the song’s hooks, alongside the recognizable 303 streak.

2. Josh Wink – A higher state of consciousness

Going 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 squeaks push the track to the extreme. A classic example of a 303 coupled with distortion, which has become such an essential mark of a musical age and of the machine itself.

3. Phuture – Acid Tracks

This collaboration between DJ Nathan Pierre Jones, Earl Smith Jr and Herbert Jackson transformed DJ Pierre’s accidental 303 Noodles into an acid house track, which is also considered one of the first of its kind. Produced by Marshall Jefferson, Acid tracks has become a staple of the Manchester Haacienda playlist, confirming the acid house inspiration emanating from Chicago.

4. Fatboy Slim – Everyone needs a 303

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

5. Hard ground – Experiment 1

German techno and trance artists Oliver Bondzio and Ramon Zenker formed Hardfloor in 1991, producing the acid house classic Experiment 1 in 1992. Shameless in its use 303, Hardfloor is infamous for owning up to six different 303s. At today’s price, it’s a hell of a investment, but essential as a main part of their sour sound.

6. Windowlicker (Acid Edition) – Aphex Twin

It sure won’t be a huge surprise to learn that Aphex Twin, aka Richard D James, has used the 303 in several forms throughout much of his production, though it’s quite likely that one of his own 303 has been altered or slaughtered, thanks to its relentless desire to bring old products back to life. Listen to the infamous Windowlicker, but in its Acid Edit version, for proof of the 303 app, after the initial build.

7. Orbital – Chime

While Orbital has a 303, its placement is apparently less obvious. Their wonderful track Carillon, although mostly based on powerful bass and samplers, uses the 303 later in the track, providing a counter-melody to the contagious opening 10th repeat and riff-laden build.

8. Imagination – In the heat of the night

’80s band Imagination were famous for their outrageous sartorial sense paired with a unique sound and style that featured an identifiable bass. While many thought it was a form of fretless, it was actually a 303, sequenced with much slower tuning and pace than we might be used to, with glides at almost every turn. In many ways, that’s what the 303 was originally designed for!

9. 808 State – Pacific – 303

While it’s not clear if this track contains an original 303, its title is an unbridled nod to the Roland product line. The sustained, soprano saxophone whimpering blissfully against a TR-909 drum pattern spawned a series of remixes, with backing numbers, such as 202 and 707. FYI, the MC-202 was a follow-up product from Roland, unfairly viewed as the poor- TB-303 of the person.

10. Orange juice – Rip it up

Scottish band Orange Juice, led by guitarist and singer-songwriter Edwyn Collins, are the second band on our list to use the 303 as a true bass synth.

The heavy squelch of the bass in Tear it is the result of the 303’s punchy resonance, coupled with a quick but basic decay setting. There are almost as many high end frequencies in this bass sound as there are bass, but it’s a catchy signature for a song that reached 9th in the UK charts.


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