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|Report from Melody Maker, 23 March 1991:|
In Your Face Turbo Rave
808 STATE in Bigger Than Jesus shock! For a so-called bunch of bricklayers, Massey, Price and co do convincing impressions of Elvis and The Beatles. The history of pop has seen crowds shoot their load, but few with this abandon. Rapturous? Neighbouring EC countries ring up to complain about the screaming. Put it this way: we can't even hear first track, "Cubik" — one of the least polite singles to vandalise the charts in years — until halfway through. When Martin rockets his fist towards the heavens and 10,000 worshippers shadow the motion, one's immediate reaction is: Hitler who? Mussolini who?
Oh, and if you still think 808 are Millwall supporters with all the charisma of dried snot— Graham is God. That's not my fawning observation (I mean, he's a diamond geezer and highly capable musician to boot, but I can't exactly see him setting bushes on fire with one withering glance), it's a dirty great white banner shoved up the second our heroes appear by several girlies squeezed together down the front. Massey appears momentarily freaked by the news and proceeds to jump irrationally around the stage and behave in a thoroughly Hendrix-ian manner with his guitar. Can you blame him?
"Techno City" and "Nephatiti" are object lessons in how to never underestimate the general public's taste for weird shit. 808 State make life more difficult for the listener/ dancer than the stroppiest radical dance bolsheviks you can remember (early Eighties ACR, 23 Skidoo, DAF) and yet they sell more records than Betty Boo. "But we want poetry and good old-fashioned lyrical insights! Instrumental music is about as exciting as cold salad!" bawls the witness for the prosecution. "Tell that to Mozart or Miles Davis!" yells 808's defence attorney.
Or, better still, tell that to the audience here who, during "Cobra Bora" and "San Francisco", whiz through the gamut of emotions from A (Apoplexy) to Z (Zoom — all right, it's not an emotion, but they hones do make that noise). For "Boneyween" they stampede like wanton buffalo, for "Pacific State" they weep like Spanish widows. As 808 launch into "Leo Leo" and fuse new hybrids from ancient sounds (electro-reggae? metal?), you can only marvel at the breadth of styles and effects on offer tonight. I can anyway.
And then Bjork skips on and suddenly everything goes pink. Pink lights, pink mini-skirt, pink atmosphere. You can actually hear the swish of bodies through night air as several thousand bemused revellers turn to their neighbour and wonder aloud, "What the f*** is this?" Where before there was stomping and wassailing, now there are columns of people making like statues. Is this a demonstration of the populace's cretinous incapacity to accept a bit of grace and danger into their lives? Nope it's sheer, unadulterated awe (he said, optimistically), Bjork is, after all, just about as bewitching and Sphinx-like as you could wish yer average pop warbler to be, and "Ooops" and "Qmart", her two recent State collaborations, draw straight lines between whimsy and wonder. Well, it's about time someone did.
To pacify the by-now utterly perplexed hordes, 808 climax with the gigantically chunky "In Yer Face" and the brand new and brilliant "Ski Family" and "Techno Bell", leaving a stadium-full of fans wishing for a miracle and begging for more. Four hours later, there are still groups of kids hanging around G-Mex like it's the wailing wall or something. Seriously! Jesus in Not As Big As 808 State shock!
|Report from Sounds, 23 March 1991:|
THE RETURN to G-Mex, the core combat zone of the Manchester thing, could have been disturbing. Like, is there a thing going on anymore? The acid scene has moved underground like the northern soul scene of 20 years back, and the hits have become routine. But the atmosphere in G-Mex was kickin', an adrenalin rush of complete commitment as the discerning paid their respects with the biggest crowd yet for this type of thang — 10,500 energy soaked bodies paying up to 35 quid for tout tickets, checking out the anonymous club gurus turned anonymous bigtime pop outfit.
808 State are the true heirs to the underground crossover crown, the not-playing-the pop-game evasiveness that New Order played out through the '80s. Mass success achieved virtually unnoticed — I mean, just who were those guys up there pumping out the hard-edged electro groove?
First up are N-Joi, pumping a trad house 4/4 bass drum groove with a nod to soaring melody and blessed with neat vocal overload. They go down a storm — the atmosphere's already hot and there's no support band routine going down here.
It would take a hard-hearted cynic not to get lost in this euphoria, and 808 State perfectly soundtrack the vibe. While in small clubs their music can be almost industrial hard with its thundering beats and straight down the line between the eyes melody, tonight it fills the massive hunger of the G-Mex, enveloping the place with its warmth and texture, thundering out of the largest rig ever provided -100K of sheer throbbing dance power. (It would have been 130 ear crushing K but The Farm are playing down the road and needed a fill up).
The visuals are stripped to a minimum. Ex-dance führer Martin Price contents himself with piling on keyboard texture. Likewise band boffin Graham Massey but with occasional blasts of cruelly treated six-string axe power or a wobbly entranced waltz across the stage. The light show was stunning, a prog rock overload of lazerdeath rays crashing everywhere.
Like the current 'ex:el' album, G-Mex showed 808 State pushing their sound on, not resting. The biggest jump this time has been the addition of vocals, and though there's no Barney Sumner (currently in India pre-New Order sessions) they do get Björk down from Iceland.
Björk, thankfully taking a breather from the wackily irritating Sugarcubes, lets her beautiful strange voice free for her two song spot, 'Oops' and 'Qmart'. It's an odd moment, live State with vocals, and the audience seems bemused, resting, waiting for the ice cool machine surges like 'Pacific' and 'In Yer Face' — the grooves that have pounded clubs in every back end town of this country over the long and cold winter.
The collective that spawned the 'band' is tipped a wink, as the not so sweet and tender hooligan MC Tunes storms the stage, gobbing off at a mental wordrate in his lozenge defeating gruff Mancs snarl. The momentarily muffled sound renders his delivery almost impotent but the neat Roses riff nick of 'Split The Atom' still has the ten thou' bouncing.
808 State are current, this is the now. And half those fired heads in the audience are cranking up their four tracks in bedrooms nationwide - getting the next wave of tunes and attitudes together for the next five years.
|Report from NME, 23 March 1991:|
808 STATE In Yer Face Turbo Rave. What a polite bunch – but since when have hard, abrasive dance tunes ever been polite? Of all the Manchester bands who feel compelled to play this enormous 9,000 capacity venue, 808 State have the right visual and aural attitude to act smug in the warehouse feel of the G-MEX centre. Tonight is a legal acid house rave with live tunes, enormous bulbous inflatables and a laser show which would have Jean-Michel Jarre shouting 'Niche', 'Cliche', (sic) 'Bangin".
'Cubik' is every square inch an exhilarating show-opener for the baggy party. There's not a stationary dry body in the house, the atmosphere has more grooves than a crinkle cut crisp and more vibes than Woodstock. Luckily, MC Tunes retains the pace and adds a spark of life to the primarily technical performance. 'Tunes Splits The Atom', with its Stone Roses bass line, is energetic, vibrant and sexy, shocking considering MC Tunes is the ugliest man in Manc.
808 State's intriguing aspects are their more diverse experiments with vocal overlays. First with MC Tunes and his socially aware rapping and more recently incorporating the tones of Sugarcubes songstress Bjork. So when the tiny female form appears on stage to sing 'Oops' and things go horribly stale it's a bit sad. Because Bjork has such an incredible voice, the lads obviously decided the backing music didn't have to be powerful. But who could have predicted the poor sound quality of the vocal PA tonight?
The dancing halts and all attention fades as Bjork tries desperately to regain her authority. But all is not lost to the bar or toilets, as 808 State strike up the familiar opening bars of 'Pacific State' and gesticulating youths whistle their way into the thronging mass once more.
And, just to keep things fresh, MC Tunes legs his way on stage again, this time to perform 'The Only Rhyme That Bites' (or should that be Bytes?). His dancing is cool enough to make Vanilla Ice change his name to Hot Chocolate. Then he goes and ruins everything with 'Dance Yourself To Death', a number you couldn't dance to it if you had a beehive down your pants.
The night was as up and down as a very rude thing but it ended in mass hysteria with 'In Yer Face'. If 808 State were any more in yer face they'd have popped through the back of yer head.
|Report from Record Mirror, 30 March 1991::|
It's become something of a tradition for Manchester acts to sell out the 9,000 capacity G-Mex. Unlike those before them, however, 808 State are not typical pop star material. Accordingly, tonight's In Yer Face Turbo Rave' is billed as a massive party rather than a conventional gig.
Guest DJs keep the dancefloor throbbing for the first hour, as lasers shoot across the colossal hall and explode into a myriad of shimmering stars. Then, while many are still queuing outside. the lasers inscribe N-Joi above the stage and the first act of the night appears.
N-Joi do well to transcend the 'support act' tag. Mark Franklin and Nigel Champion hunch over their keyboards, looking up to shout encouragement to a crowd that responds with the obligatory whistles and raised arms.
Shouts of "We're hardcore dance" punctuate the soundscape while two dancers on a raised stage take it in turns to interpret the rhythms. 'Adrenalin' provokes cries of recognition but on the whole it's a case of dancing more than remembering the melodies.
By the time 808 State appear, the atmosphere is at fever pitch. The lasers spell '808', smoke machines spew their contents into the air and 'Cubik' pounds out from the wall of speakers.
MC Tunes pops in along the way for a spot of atom-splitting, followed by a call to 'Dance Yourself To Death'. No prompting needed Mr Tunes. He disappears for a while, as 808 plough through 'San Francisco' and 'Olympic', joined by another guest rapper for 'Leo Leo'. 'The Only Rhyme That Bites' sees the Moss Side motormouth back on the mic, although his rapping is all but lost amid the swirl of sound.
Tunes having said his farewells, Bjork of The Sugarcubes appears, adding her haunting voice to 'Coops' and 'Qmart' (her contributions to the 'ex:el' album), then it's back to dance basics, with 'Pacific State' and 'In Yer Face'. Two encores later it's all over.
Outside, a lad shouts across to his mates, "A kickin' night or what!" You couldn't have put it better.