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Sound Behind the Song: “606” by 808 State

808 State’s ode to the Roland TR-606 has stood the test of time as one of the quirkiest yet most trailblazing tunes in their discography. 808 State, Header Photo by Michael England

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It’s no secret that 808 State named its band after the Roland TR-808 drum machine. That’s why it came as a bit of a head-scratcher when the fabled electronic music group led off 2002’s Outpost Transmission with a track called “606.” Like an ugly duckling, the song’s peculiarity didn’t stop it from emerging as a dominant force. 808 State’s ode to the Roland TR-606 has stood the test of time as one of the quirkiest yet most trailblazing tunes in their discography. While the group has a long and fruitful relationship with Roland products, its use of the 606 on “606” is shrewd.

An Industrial Din

Some say the TR-606 is more industrial-sounding than its Roland counterparts. 808 State made groundbreaking contributions to acid house, a genre that grew its legs in grungy mid-’80s warehouses. The decision behind their use of the instrument for “606” was vital to the sound’s 21st-century reintroduction. From start to finish, the song oozes dusty analog flair.

"'606' doubles as a bona fide masterclass in electronica production."

Electronic Education

“606” doubles as a bona fide masterclass in electronica production. It starts with an eerie falsetto intro, courtesy of Simian’s Simon Lord, that floats with the hypnotic, heady grandeur of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Like  Queen did on that seminal single, 808 State widen the harmonies in stereo. Additionally, the mix centers the lead vocal. It’s a tried-and-true technique that 808 State reinforces with the nonchalance of true pioneers.

808 State, Photo by Paul-Husband

At the 15-second mark, the introduction comes to a screeching halt. This is where the brilliance of 808 State reveals itself. They introduce wonky, deftly syncopated percussion and an ominous bass line. As madcap as it is ingenious, the transition represents a switch from graceful to sinister.

Echoes of Madchester

The drum programming in “606” then settles into more of a typical house arrangement. What isn’t typical is the distorted snare that smacks with a menacing crunch. The sound is a tip of the cap to the industrial qualities of the TR-606, an instrument more famous for producing crisp hits like the “biscuit tin” snare. Graham Massey, one of 808 State’s founding members, even admitted the “deliberate distortion” present in the track.

"The distorted snare smacks with a menacing crunch. The sound is a tip of the cap to the industrial qualities of the TR-606."

With its alt-dance Madchester vibes, the first verse is signature 808 State. While Lord’s performance strikes a darker chord than its Madchester counterparts, it’s still rooted in electropop. What’s so special about the sound here, though, is the first break. 

808 State, Photo by Paul Husband
Sweet Sounds and Syncopated Snare

After the drum elements disappear, Lord goes against a crunchy riff that detaches his voice. It flutters around the mix like a butterfly as the riff ends in a sublime moment of tension. The vocal reverb tail swells to a lull before Lord bursts through the chorus.

Finally, 808 State bring “606” home. They back that syncopated, delayed snare and lacing it with Simian’s vox. By layering each element in the mix in pristine fashion, the group made history.

Jason Heffler

Jason is the Editor-in-Chief of EDM.com. He also DJs and produces electronic music under the moniker Fluencee.