In the latest beat:repeat feature from Red Bull Music Academy, the site produces a short segment on the making of Afrika Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force’s “Looking for the Perfect Beat.”
Chronicling the production work of Arthur Baker and John Robie specifically, Red Bull’s video features both producers detailing the background story to the seminal production.
“In New York in the early ‘80s there was this connection and it was all to do with making people dance,” Arthur Baker said. “There was a lot of creative stuff going on in New York. Every week something new was happening.”
“We had a problem coming up with one beat that could compete with the beat we had done from ‘Planet Rock’ which everyone was sort of doing,” he added. “I just wanted to do something different. That’s where ‘Looking for the Perfect Beat’ came from.”
“Tradition usually dictated that you’d have like a sequencer part, a chord part, [and] a bass part,” the song’s co-producer John Robie said. “This was just a free-for-all. Lots of sixteenth notes doing whatever they wanted to do it. And, you worked it out later.”
“When we did ‘Looking for the Perfect Beat,’ we explored the parameters of the 808,” he continued, referencing the TR-808, a drum machine manufactured by Roland in low numbers between 1980 and 1984. “It wasn’t like other conventional drum machines where you’d establish a beats per minute and then you’d have to listen to a click track then play a drum along with the click. You can basically play and change your mind and add. It was very, very liberating. It wasn’t like work, it was like play.”
During the segment Robie programs the production on his own TR-808 before manipulating the tracks on his mixboard.
“On ‘Perfect Beat’ we built the arrangement when we were mixing it live,” Baker said. “The synths and the drums and everything we played all the way through.”
“We actually constructed new patterns by pulling things in and out of the mix selectively,” Robie added. “Editing was a very important part of those mixers ‘cause nothing was linear. That created an element of surprise.
“Afer the 808 beats are put onto tape, we can manipulate those beats even further by pulling things in and out of the mix or adding effects to the individual drums. The mixing board becomes an instrument in itself. You’re playing it like a piano or a guitar.”
“Looking for the Perfect Beat” was the second single released from Afrika Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force’s album Planet Rock: The Album. Recorded in 1981 and released in 1983, the song was the group’s follow-up to their popular single “Planet Rock.”
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