From the pioneering digital instruments of the early 80s all the way through to today’s best software options, we take a look back at the samplers which have helped define the sound of dance music as we know it.
Sampling revolutionised electronic music – and not just in the obvious ways that immediately spring to mind. But sure, let’s consider the direct impact first. House music would certainly be very different without sampled disco loops and diva vocals. Who knows where hip-hop might be if the likes of Marley Marl, DJ Premier and Pete Rock had never chopped and flipped soul and funk tracks? Hardcore, jungle and drum and bass might not ever have existed without the samplers required to twist, warp and timestretch classic breakbeats.
However, for all its direct influence on the creative process, the greater impact of sampling technology is even more significant. Digital recording and editing wouldn’t have developed in the same way if it hadn’t been for pioneering engineers attempting to push the limits of sampling technology and sample-based instruments in the early 80s. Just take Pro Tools as an example. The industry standard DAW was developed by Digidesign, which began life as Digidrums, a company which offered replacement chips for the E-mu Drumulator featuring a range of alternative drum sounds, kind of like prehistoric sample packs. From there the company went on to develop editing software for samplers and eventually Pro Tools, initially known as Sound Tools. That’s certainly not to say that Digidesign was the only company developing digital audio platforms, or that DAWs wouldn’t have evolved in another way, but there’s a clear and direct link between early sampling technology and the entire world of digital audio production.
These days, whether you take a narrow view of sampling as simply recording, manipulating and replaying sounds digitally, or whether you consider the broader concept of sample-based tools, the options are more extensive and more powerful than ever: from plugins to MPCs, iOS apps to Octatracks, free sample packs to astonishingly realistic orchestral libraries. In this feature we’ll shine the spotlight on a selection of our favourites in order to explain how sampling changed the world of dance music, and how it remains as relevant as ever to the creative process.