808: NZFF Review
There's no doubting that the drum machine is iconic in so many of the sounds we grew up loving and the music we groove to.
However, there's none more influential than the Roland TR-808 drum machine, which put the boom into so many of the floor-fillers throughout the ages.
Launched back in the 80s, the machine still figures in pop music today and this latest doco decides to go back to the beginning to trace its roots and its effects on the industry by talking to key players.
Narrated by Zane Lowe with occasional bursts of bombast, the piece talks to the likes of Rick Rubin, The Beastie Boys (who provide some much needed verve and banter), Afrikaa Bambaataa, Strafe, and Lil Jon to name but a few to see what the machine brought to the table.
And while it's fair to say that director Alexander Dunn's piece concentrates predominantly on the effects of the 808 on the American music scene, it's also perhaps fair to say that anyone not interested in these musical stylings may not be taken in by this.
808 dances a little too much to the beat of its own drum and could have benefited from a little more focus and a little less on the talking heads front.
Particularly given that maybe a third of the interviewees have little too insightful to say about the 808 other than how influential it was (something we'd already garnered by the effects on the film) - in fact the best moments come from the aforementioned banter between the Beastie Boys as they lose their own thread, Soulwax who discuss how they bought an 808 from a studio which had the iconic beats of Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing pre-programmed in and Golide who gets swept up in his own enthusiasm.
But in between the constant shots of knobs being twiddled, close ups of the 808 and records, it seems like the visual creativity to tell this story is missing a little in all the repetition.
Ironically, for a machine that loops and keeps playing, that's what 808 the movie offers - a lot of the same thing over and over again. It's not that it's not serviceably put together, but more that it needed a little editing and trim; certainly the final 30 minutes feels like the thread has been lost. (And the lack of the acid house scene in the 90s is a criminal oversight)
Thankfully, an interview with Roland's Ikutaro Kakehashi puts a great spin on the machine and provides the insight that's a little lost in all the preceding hagiography.
The beat goes on, and sadly, in places, this doco about a seminal piece of kit is prone to doing the same.