In must-watch “TV” this week, it’s the 1987 Vermona DRM, a Roland-style East German analog drum machine. It’s from when DRM didn’t mean DRM.
Hainbach covers this one in his latest video:
DRM is “Digital Rhythm Machine” – referring to the control chip; the sound generation itself is analog. Berlin-based Vermona confusingly called their 1990s drum and percussion synth the DRM1, but the two really have no relation. (The DRM1 was re-released in 2021 as the DRM1 MKIV – and it is a terrific instrument, now with extra features and USB MIDI.)
Vermona’s history doesn’t start there, either – if you want to go even deeper into East German Roland-inspired instruments, look to their 1976 ER-9. The looks and even the name clearly reference the Ace Tone (later Roland) FR series.
Here’s more DRM1 MKIV action:
And some other folks have gotten their hands on the 80s DRM from the DDR:
Plus – want some all-Vermona music? (That’ll be the OG Vermona DRM!) From September 1994, Toktok* & Robotnik made this gem:
I’m going to agree with that last commenter in saying the looks might be vaguely 808-like, but the DRM sound is somewhere between a CR-78 and a Korg KR-55. I expect the simpler circuitry of the early Rolands and Korgs was likely easier to replicate, and it makes sense given that Vermona had been knocking off Roland/Ace Tone sound circuitry since the 70s.
You really have to admire the ingenuity to produce something like this in the DDR – and people complain about chip shortages and part availability in the 2020s. Also, the interface is worth looking at. It really is not the same as Roland’s effort, and the one-control-per-function maximalist approach carries on to the Vermona DRM1 series.(I really enjoy that last musical example.)
The past year has brought a lot of painful self-reflection about both western and eastern relationships to Eastern European identity, to say the least. It’s important that those of us who didn’t grow up in this area acknowledge that many of the people who did experienced some real trauma – in these systems, as well as in the sometimes unequal integration into the west. But I do hope that we can cut beyond sheer nostalgia or exoticization and be even-handed and accurate in our histories.
Now more than ever seems the time to do so. And Vermona, of course, is one of the few brands that has bridged those two eras. See you at Superbooth, then.
(*PS, Toktok co-founder Benjamin Weiss aka Nerk joined me on an EP on CDM’s Establishment label late last year, XY Moods. So I can verify Toktok’s members did not disappear somewhere into the Black Forest to take up foraging and play their DRM in a sweat lodge hidden deep in the woods.)