Tributes have been paid to the man behind the synthesiser and drum machines that revolutionised electronic music in the 1980s and 90s, Ikutaro Kakehashi, who has died aged 87.
The Japanese engineer founded the Roland Corporation in 1972 and invented a range of electronic drum machines and synthesisers used throughout popular music since the mid-1970s – by performers from Prince to New Order, Dr Dre to Kraftwerk.
Kakehashi led Roland for four decades, and in his time developed one of music’s best-known drum machines – the TR-808 – which formed the backbone of tracks in the hip-hop and dance music scenes of the 1980s and 90s. His death was revealed by a former colleague on Facebook.
Underground music producers of the 80s sparked a love affair with the drum machine because it was cheap, easy to use, and endlessly versatile. Musicians have likened its place in hip-hop and dance music to that of the Stratocaster guitar’s influence on rock music.
Graham Massey of 808 State, the Manchester dance act formed in 1987 and named after Kakehashi’s drum machine, said: “The Roland gear began to be a kind of Esperanto in music. The whole world began to be less separated through this technology, and there was a classiness to it – you could transcend your provincial music with this equipment.”
Kakehashi received a technical Grammy in 2013 for contributions to electronic music technology. The music engineer Dave Smith, Kakehashi’s co-winner, told the BBC he “was just an amazing man, a good friend, a very good competitor of course and just innovative continually all that time”.
Martyn Ware, who played keyboards for The Human League, told the BBC: “Roland was central to everything that we did for the whole of the first two albums – they featured on every track.” Ware went on to form another synth-pop band, Heaven 17.
Heard on tracks including Just Can’t Get Enough by Depeche Mode, the 808 had a lasting impact on pop music following its launch in 1980. Kanye West based his 2008 album 808s and Heartbreak around the drum machine, and it features on every track. Kakehashi also came up with its successor, the TR-909 and the TB-303 bassline synthesizer.
Roland’s popular models formed the sonic bedrock to a range of electronica and dance acts including Aphex Twin, Portishead, Boards of Canada and the Prodigy.