We’re entering a new golden age for drum machines, which is really weird.
Drum machines are cool but obsolete. Dozens of computer software packages make beats and are easier and cheaper than drum machines. But still, drum machines survive. Drum machines offer sounds, options and feel that would be impossible on a computer—and turning dials and tapping buttons on a real object that exists in physical space is far more fun than scouring sound files on Ableton Live.
Here are some of the most exciting recent developments in artificial percussion.
The Moog DFAM
Moog is the first name in electronic instrument making. Since Bob Moog created his namesake modular synthesizer in the 1960s, Moog has offered a steady stream of keyboards, guitar effects, theremins and foot pedals with unmatched sounds and customization options. Considering the variety of their instrument lineup, it’s baffling they didn’t make a drum machine until 2018.
But the Moog DFAM has arrived and it’s worth the wait. The “Drummer From Another Mother” is no simple maker of boom boom bap beats. Moog calls it an “analog percussion synthesizer” and the machine itself lives up to the technical description. By twiddling its gorgeous knobs and manipulating the inputs and switches, players can sculpt endless series of percussive squawks, chirps, splats and thumps. As YouTube demos show, the DFAM is capable of superbly chill electronica beats and face-melting electronic overload.
The Roland TR-808 and TR-909 Software Instruments
While the internet has offered bootleg emulator versions of Roland’s classic drum machines TR-808 and TR-909 since forever, Roland waited until 2018 before releasing official software versions. The 808 and 909 provided the pulse for dozens of ‘80s hip-hop and dance classics—the 808, in particular, is famed for its unique retro futurist thud that made bangers out of early LL Cool J tracks.
Having official versions of those sounds available on the Roland Cloud is a cause for celebration. But if you want an old school beat maker you can hold, check out the TR‑08 Sound Module released in 2017, a compact but otherwise faithful version of 808 released as part of Roland’s Boutique series of small but powerful electronic instruments.
The Arturia DrumBrute
After years of crafting stunningly faithful software emulations of classic analog keyboard sounds, French instrument Arturia maker released their first analog keyboard, The MiniBrute, in 2012. They followed the MiniBrute with the MicroBrute, the MatrixBrute and a whole line of physical instruments. Building on its emulation software work, Arturia’s instruments capture the sound, feel and soul of classic machines.
Late in 2017, Arturia surprised the music world again with the reveal of the DrumBrute, a drum machine as versatile and playable as its keyboard counterparts. Unlike the compact DFAM and the TR‑08, the DrumBrute has the size and solid feel of ‘80s drum machines like the LinnDrum or the Oberheim DMX. It doesn’t quite have the infinite possibility of the DFAM but the sound sculpting options will be more than enough for any beatmaker.