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TB-303 Appreciation Day

The TB-303, a bass synthesizer made in the early 1980s by Roland, a Japanese electronics manufacturer, is used prominently in techno and acid house music and is celebrated today with TB-303 Appreciation Day. The TB-303 was created by engineer Tadao Kikumoto, who wanted a machine that replicated the sound of an electric bass guitar that could accompany Roland's TR-606 drum machine. The TB-303's analog circuits produce a "squelch" sound; a monosynth, the TB-303 makes one sound at a time. Part of its interface resembles a keyboard, which is used to program the tone and length of notes. The notes can be arranged into basslines. The TB-303 also has six rotary dials that can be used to tweak the tone, and it can also be hooked up to a delay or distortion unit. The "TB" in its name stands for "Transistor Bass."

While the TB-303 debuted in 1981, it didn't gain popularity until the late 1980s, when it became the primary device for creating acid house music. In its initial run, only 10,000 units were made, and it was discontinued less than two years after production started. In 1985 in Chicago, Nathaniel James, known as DJ Pierre, along with his friends Spanky and Herb J, purchased a discounted TB-303, hooked it up to a drum machine, and experimented with making sound patterns. Pierre tweaked the tone with the knobs. They recorded their sounds on tape and took it to DJ Ron Hardy, who played it to crowds at his Music Box club. Their song was released two years later on Trax Records as "Acid Tracks," under the group name Phuture. It is considered to be the track that started acid house, a completely new sound.

By the summer of 1987, the center of gravity for acid house moved from Chicago to England, where the genre became a cultural phenomenon. A South London gym was turned into a club called Shoom and became the epicenter. One of the most prominent artists was 808 State, who had songs like "Flow Coma." All-night illegal dance parties were held across the country, with the TB-303 providing the soundtrack. Eventually, there was a crackdown on underground parties, after which the music shifted to festivals and licensed venues.

While the center of acid house was England, the music didn't stop in the United States. Groups in cities like Chicago and Detroit continued innovating "with a similarly harder and spacier acid techno sound." Underground Resistance, a collective based in Detroit, had songs like "The Final Frontier." The TB-303 has been used in many other genres, such as in the new wave track "Rip it Up" by Orange Juice. It continues to be used to make songs today, as do synthesizers that are modeled after it. For its significance in the creation of acid house and its continued relevance today, we celebrate the TB-303 bass synthesizer with TB-303 Appreciation Day!

How to Observe TB-303 Appreciation Day

Some ways you can show some appreciation for the TB-303 include:

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