As is usual when one of the homies spot something that they deem BBoyTech-esque, one of the homies pulled my coat tail to this really dope book a few months back. Fulling aware of how I pore over old drum machines and seeing as how I run the BBoyTechReport, he thought it was befitting to make sure this on was on my radar.
Beat Box – A Drum Machine Obsession is a subject near and dear to my heart. It is with a great deal of gratitude and pleasure that I present to you Joe Mansfield’s first book. In my grown man rap world with memories of the golden era and tendencies to elevate hip-hop’s “High Art” perspective, I love the idea of a fine photo filled hardback coffee table book solely dedicated to the origin of the beat, the drum machine. Let’s peep the press release…
The year was 1986. The location: Boston, Massachusetts, USA. He still remembers it like it was yesterday.
Taken from Beat Box: A Drum Machine Obsession, hip-hop producer and music industry veteran Joe Mansfield discusses his long¬standing and complicated relationship with the Yamaha RX5 – one of 150 drum machines he owns, and the first one he purchased brand new (he had purchased the legendary Roland TR-808, used, in the Want Ads in 1985):
After a trip to Looney Tunes, a great used record store in Boston, I went next door to E.U. Wurlitzer Music and ended up walking out with the RX5. After having the machine for a few weeks, though, I remember thinking it wasn’t a great purchase, and I wished I had saved my money. I got bored with the sounds pretty quickly. A couple years after that, I soured on it even more since it was used extensively on M.C. Hammer’s first album.
But the RX5 has grown on me with age. I like the tambourine sound and the reverse function, which makes it possible to play any sound backwards. Even the kick and snare both sound cool to me now.
Almost three decades later, Mansfield’s obsession with drum machines has finally spilled out of his home and climate-controlled storage space into the world at large. With Beat Box: A Drum Machine Obsession (Get On Down Publishing), the Boston-based hip-hop producer and music industry veteran – who helped bring the world Edo G’s “I Got To Have It” and “Be A Father To Your Child” in the early ‘90s, and went on to found Traffic Entertainment and co-found Get On Down – shares his deep love and respect for “Beat Boxes” on every page.
The book itself features gorgeous photos of 75 drum machines by Boston-based photographer Gary Land (www.garylandphotography.com); background and facts about each machine gathered by Mansfield; archival advertisements; and interviews with master drum machine programmers and innovators including Davy DMX, Schoolly-D, Marshall Jefferson and Roger Linn. The range of drum machines covered spans multiple decades, from the 1950s to the late 1980s.
Mansfield’s collecting has never been about machines-as-trophies, hoarding or fetishism: he can play and/or program each machine he details in the book. His electronic children aren’t kept in plastic, never to be touched or used. That’s what gives the book its heart – Mansfield’s emotional attachment to these objects that many people still see as robotic replacements for human percussion. But, as any good drum machine manipulator knows, even machines can have soul.
And lest readers forget, Mansfield reminds us that drum machines have been used in the rock and pop world since the 1970s: Sly & The Family Stone, Kraftwerk, the Yellow Magic Orchestra and Blondie all benefitted from beat boxes on their hits, as did artists ranging from New Order and Madonna to Prince and Bruce Hornsby in the ‘80s.
A snippet from Dave Tompkins’ foreword to the book helps contextualize Mansfield’s important work in Beat Box:
In 1984, drum machines were often heard but rarely seen. That’s why this book exists. Back then, there was no object to place with the sound, other than the records themselves. So we took measures. When T La Rock namedropped Drumulator in a song, the device became his speech mechanism. It sounded like the invention of a word-happy brain. On MCA and Burzootie’s Def Jam single “Drum Machine,” Adam Yauch rapped about the DMX and using your own personal memory chips. Confusion ensued. Personal chips? Was Burzootie the drum machine? I called up Radio Shack asking if they had any Burzooties in stock.
Hip-hop’s relationship’s with drum machines has always been a complicated – and occasionally central – one. Progressing from DJs manually “cutting” break-beats together on turntables to act as human metronomes (1970s); to live studio groups approximating break-beats or creating entirely new rhythms (early 1980s); sampling music over drum-machines (mid-1980s); and a combination of all of the above since the so-called “Golden Era.”
From the time of Run-DMC’s earliest work onwards, drum machines have allowed producers to make their own rhythmic backdrops, which have always ranged from basic to symphonic. Freed from the need to sample drums (and, early on, to pay for samples), legendary producers – Kurtis Mantronik, Marley Marl, The Bomb Squad, Davy DMX, Larry Smith, Schoolly-D and Sam Sever among them – flourished on machines like the Oberheim DMX, the Roland TR-808, the Roland TR-909 and the LinnDrum.
In the hands of the right programmer / producer, beats tapped out on a Beat Box could sound as explosive and funky as any session drummer you could hire. As Roger Linn – creator of three of the most innovative drum machines of all time (the LM-1 Drum Computer, the LinnDrum and the Linn9000) – explains this in one of the book’s interviews:
The funny thing is that nobody remembers the recordings with well-programmed, natural-sounding LM-1 parts because they sounded like a real human drummer. They only remember the ones from the likes of Prince, Madonna or Bruce Hornsby, which always sounded like a drum machine. In general, I felt that drum parts programmed by non-drummers sounded like a drum machine whereas those programmed by drummers sounded far more natural.
Electronic and dance music’s attachment to and history with the Beat Box was different, but just as important. Since most electronic music was keyboard-based from the beginning, using a non-human drum machine as a backbone wasn’t as far-fetched or complicated. But it was nonetheless just as crucial to many different dance genres’ development. As House music pioneer Marshall Jefferson explains in an interview from the book:
With modern technology, you can get drum loops, so kids don’t even have to program any drums. But that’s the only way you get your own sound. They have second- or third-hand drum sounds. I think that takes away a lot, because it’s always better when you program your own drums. I still program everything myself, even if I get my sounds from other places.
All of these aspects encompassing the wide-ranging and complex history of drum machines are documented and discussed in words and images in Beat Box, helmed and overseen by Joe Mansfield’s expertise. It is part encyclopedia, part coffee-table photo book, and will enthrall music, technology and photography fans around the world.
JOE MANSFIELD BIO
Joe Mansfield was born in raised in the Boston suburb of Medford, MA, a music fanatic from an early age. After his first production, Terrors of a New Breed’s “Realm of Evil” (1989), he met Boston MC-on-the-rise Edo G (aka ED O.G.) and they collaborated extensively on Edo’s first two albums, with Mansfield producing all tracks on Life Of A Kid In The Ghetto (1991) and a majority of Roxbury 02119 (1993), including the hits “I Got To Have It” and “Be A Father To Your Child.”
In addition to his work with Edo, Mansfield produced Scientifik’s album Criminal (1994) and during the mid-to-late ‘90s teamed up with Sean C and DJ Shame to form The Vinyl Reanimators, co-producing underground hip-hop classics like L. The Headtoucha’s “Too Complex” (1997) as well as tracks for 7L & Esoteric, Virtuoso and more. During the ‘90s Mansfield was also a noted record dealer, frequenting famed collectors’ shows like the Roosevelt in New York City, where the world’s biggest hip-hop producers scavenged for samples to be used on hit records of the day.
In 2002 Mansfield founded Traffic Entertainment Group, and in 2010 co-founded Get On Down, the acclaimed record label and online retailer called “A premiere reissue imprint” by Forbes and “Hip-Hop Reissue Experts” by SPIN.
Beat Box is Mansfield’s first book, and is Get On Down’s first foray into the publishing world (Get On Down Publishing).
GARY LAND BIO
Gary Land is a Boston-based photographer who first made his mark in the photography world at Reebok in the ‘90s and early 2000s. He left Reebok in 2006 and since then has established a vibrant freelance business and photography studio, working for Nike, Adidas and Coca Cola in addition to collaborating with Peter Jackson on imagery for the 2009 film District 9. His award-winning work has been featured in PDN, Creativity, Communication Arts, Graphis, and Archive. www.garylandphotography.com
ABOUT GET ON DOWN
Get On Down is an acclaimed Boston-based record label and premium online boutique, offering an eclectic array of products, from deluxe music reissues on vinyl and CD to apparel and pop culture artifacts. Established in 2010, Get On Down’s record label boasts nearly 100 titles in its ever-expanding catalog.
Deluxe edition ordering link: http://www.getondown.com/album.php?id=16499
Regular edition ordering link: http://www.getondown.com/album.php?id=16500