Electronic music pioneer Ikutaro Kakehashi dies

You might not know his name, but you would almost certainly know the songs shaped by the sounds of Ikutaro Kakehashi.


A pioneer of electronic music, Ikutaro Kakehashi founded the Roland Corporation in 1972, whose drum machines and synthesisers feature in decades of hits.

The drum machines, in particular, formed the backb one for entire genres like hip-hop and techno.

One of Mr Kakehashi’s most iconic creations, the TR 808 drum machine, was first introduced in 1980.

Tim Whelan is from ’90s British band Trans-Global Underground and was working as a music producer when the instrument first appeared.

“I mean just about everybody got them at one point, I can remember when I was working in the studio in the 1980s just the amount of excitement when the 808 drum machine came in and the 808 drum machine became fairly iconic, people used it and the people that used it the most, first of all, were a lot of the New York and Detroit people. Africa Bombata was the most famous, first of all to be using it.”

It wasn’t long until other big-name artists began to incorporate the technology in their songs: Prince, Whitney Houston, Marvin Gaye and Madonna.

Music technology has come a long way since the 80s and 90s.

But Tim Whelan says despite this, the Roland range continues to influence the music scene.

“The sounds are still, you know, in terms what of people put into their computer, if they’re making music with a laptop, often they’re using sounds taken straight from a Roland drum machine or a Roland synthesizer.”

Kanye West heavily features the 808 drum throughout his 2008 album “808s & Heartbreak.”

And he’s not the first artist to credit the machine.

English electronic music group 808 State is named after Mr Kakehashi’s creation.

808 State band member Graham Massey explains why the sound is so distinctive.

“This is the Roland Rhythm composer, TR 808. It’s a box that’s about a foot long. It looks kind of military-grade industrial. It’s the sound pallet of this machine that made it cut above the other drum machines that were around at the time. It has this devastating base drum, which if you turn it up like that, it just absolutely can shake a room. Put that through a nightclub PA system and you can vibrate bodies.”

In 2013, Mr Kakehashi was awarded a technical Grammy for his contributions to electronic music technology.

Dave Smith, who collaborated with him and co-won the award, has told the BBC Mr Kakehashi never stopped trying to evolve the music industry.

“He was ill at the time of the Grammys so he couldn’t come out, so his son accepted the award for him. I wanted to visit him in his home and even then he was starting a new company and he was happy and full of energy and he was just an amazing man, a good friend, a very good competitor of course and just innovative continually all that time.”