Support Local Journalism. Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club.

Film Spotlight: 808 

Alex Noyer, the main producer behind the documentary film 808, which screens at 7 p.m. this Friday at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, was having lunch one day with Arthur Baker, who produced "Planet Rock," a seminal track with Afrika Bambaataa in the early '80s, when the two began discussing their love of music. At that moment, Noyer says a "light bulb" went off in his head, and he decided that he and Baker would make 808, a documentary about the untold story of how the Roland TR-808 drum machine changed the course of music history.

"At that lunch, we shared our taste for 808 bass music," Noyer says via phone from his Los Angeles home. "I had thought this would have made a great film. I started to follow up on that idea. I had just finished a project on the New York art scene. 808 sounded like a great idea, and I decided to take it on. I went back to the office and talked to Alex Dunn about directing it. He stepped up to the project."

Featuring appearances and commentary from the likes of Pharrell, Beastie Boys, David Guetta, Phil Collins, Rick Rubin, Lil Jon, Afrika Bambaataa, Questlove, Norman Cook (Fatboy Slim), Diplo and Goldie, the movie shows how the instrument continues to be discovered and rediscovered by each generation of musicians, whether they play electronic dance music or hip-hop or rock.

One challenge: How to construct a narrative about an instrument?

"We all had different backgrounds and taste in music," says Noyer. "We had Arthur Baker onboard who had his own experience. Alex used to DJ drum and bass and he had a strong background in that. Luke Bainbridge, who co-wrote the film, came from Manchester, so he had the acid house. I grew up in France and had a heavy influence of house music as well as a limitless passion for hip-hop. It turned into an interesting conversation. It sounded like an insurmountable list of things we needed to cover. Trying to put together a storyline was quite tricky."

Originally, the team shot many hours of footage after conducting more than 50 interviews. They then whittled all that down to a manageable 90 minutes. It's a fascinating bit of filmmaking that shows how the instrument continues to re-emerge throughout the decades.

"The [Roland 808's] sound is so peculiar," says Noyer, who bought one of the instruments in the wake of making the movie. "It didn't sound like a drum. Not sounding like a drum made it sound like an 808, and that made it a signature sound. Just like certain pianos and violins and guitars have a standout sound, this machine didn't do what it was supposed to do in a beautiful way. It turned out to make this weird sound that sounded otherworldly. It made people feel like they were a step closer to Kraftwerk, even though Kraftwerk didn't use the 808. It comes back in popularity because that sound, in being so unique, doesn't age. It's just such a cool sound."

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club for as little as $5 a month.

Read the Digital Print Issue

December 1, 2021

View more issues

Most Popular

No recently-read stories.

Visit the archives…


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.


Staff Pick Events

  • Season's Bleedings @ Capitol Theatre

    • Sat., Dec. 4
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show @ Cedar Lee Theatre

    • First Saturday of every month

© 2021 Cleveland Scene: 737 Bolivar Rd., Suite 4100, Cleveland, OH 44115, (216) 505-8199
Logos and trademarks on this site are property of their respective owners.

Website powered by Foundation