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Obituaries

Ikutaro Kakehashi, founder of instrument maker Roland which defined sound of 1980s pop, dies

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 April, 2017, 1:09pm
UPDATED : Monday, 03 April, 2017, 10:48pm

The man behind the Roland drum machine and synthesiser range used across the spectrum of popular music since the mid-70s – from Prince to New Order, from Dr Dre to Kraftwerk – has died.

Ikutaro Kakehashi founded the Roland Corporation in 1972 and went on to develop one of the most well-known drum machines in pop music – the TR-808. His death at 87 was revealed by a former colleague on Facebook.

Heard on tracks including Tainted Love by Soft Cell, Just Can’t Get Enough by Depeche Mode and Love Lockdown by Kanye West, the 808 had a lasting impact on pop music since its launch in 1980. The Manchester electronic act 808 State took their name from the instrument.

Watch: Just Can’t Get Enough by Depeche Mode

David Bowie worked with the Roland GR-500 guitar synth to record his 1980 hit Ashes to Ashes while Marvin Gaye used the iconic TR-808 drum machine on his smash single Sexual Healing.

Popular models in the synth range formed the bedrock to the sound of a range of electronica and dance acts including Aphex Twin, Portishead, Boards of Canada, the Prodigy.

Tommy Snyder, a former adviser to Roland’s research and development team, revealed Kakehashi had died in a Facebook post, prompting a wave of tributes from musicians across the globe.

Among them were Soft Cell’s Marc Almond, who called Kakehashi “a man who changed music”. He said: “A man who changed Music Ikutaro Kakehashi the Man behind the Roland Synth, 808 and more has sadly passed. Thanks for the Electro sounds.”

Paul Epworth, the British Oscar-winning music producer behind some of the most well-known songs by artists including Adele, Coldplay and U2, said: “What a musical legacy Ikutaro Kakehashi left RIP.”

Other artists to pay tribute included Samantha Ronson, who said Kakehashi was behind many of her “favourite studio toys” and Matthew Herbert who said he was indebted to the engineer.

The rival synth producer, Moog, also paid tribute to Kakehashi, calling him a “trailblazer”.

Snyder wrote said: “Ikutaro Kakehashi, founder of Roland, father of the TR-909,TR-808, godfather of MIDI, and someone who I have collaborated with for 38 years, and also considered him as my second father, passed away at the age of 87.

“He was a super funny, wonderful and gifted human being, and his contributions to the musical instrument world, and music, touched millions of people worldwide.”

Kakehashi, who founded Roland in 1972, received the 2013 Technical Grammy Award in 2013 for contributions to the music industry through the establishment of the “MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface)”, a global standard for transmitting electronic musical data across various digital instruments.

In the same year, Kakehashi left Roland and set up the new digital instrument company ATV, reportedly because of a clash with Roland management.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse