|Drumming It In|
18th November 1989
With a major label release for their 'Pacific State' sensation and a new LP 'Ninety' in the offing, leery Manc-ers 808 STATE are poised to take the bangin' sound of the Thunderdome into the nose of the charts. JACK BARRON met Mobo's favourite House masters. Picture: CHRIS CLUNN
"What the fuck is this yer fat whale?"
Having rifled through his manager's bag in room 3117 of London's Kensington Park Hilton, Darren - a stroppy little DJ git with talent from Manchester - is holding an old buckled boot up and laughing like it was the head of rock 'n' roll.
Ron, the owner in question - who used to be a regional radio plugger in the North of England and used to tour manage people like Genesis before starting his own shop Music Mania - grabs the offending item back and starts beating Darren over the head with it. Drumming it in. Which is apt since the band we're talking about, 808 State, were named after a Roland percussion machine.
It's 4:30pm on a Monday afternoon. The band are gearing up to perform their new WEA/ZTT pushed single, 'Pacific State', on The Late Show.
Only there's no gear. Everybody is simultaneously shouting "Where's the sampler? Where's the DAT machine?" Techno City is a musical reality yet the media infrastructure has yet to adapt to it. The BBC, it seems, will be the last to really cotton on to the fact that music and the attitude behind it is a pivotal situation in Britain. Maybe 808 State will be the people to drum it in?
We get into a taxi to go to Lime Grove Studios. I ask Graham Massey - sometimes of Biting Tongues - whether the reason they have got onto The Late Show is because its presented by Paul Morley, one-time writer of this parish, a leading mind behind ZTT, and a presenter of the programme in question.
"Nepotism? Yeah it could be," says Graham. "Morley left ZTT a couple of weeks ago but I think this show was set up before that."
"Can you look more happy?" asks the manager of The Late Show. "Go on Martin. Show her how happy you are," shouts Darren over the 4th floor TV studio, which is awash with every union jobsworth you can imagine. Martin, one of the directors of the Eastern Bloc shop in Manchester (who started the Creed label as a vehicle to push people like 808 State) - doesn't undo his trouser flies. He doesn't have to.
'Pacific State' is mimed over and over again.
"We wanted to do it live and have strobes, lights, smoke the full thing but the Beeb said 'No' because they don't really know what's happening in clubs."
The set designer and another floor assistant wants to know if 808 State have an album out - they have. 'Quadrastate' on Creed and a new affair which for contractual reasons they had to record literally last week for WEA called 'Ninety' - but really it doesn't matter. They all get the vibe.
"This is brilliant," says Sarah Gibbings as 'Pacific State' wafts waves of electricity once again. "Everywhere I go I hear music like this and the BBC really just don't know how big it is. For me Morrissey was God, but New Order are the Godfathers of this sort of sound in this country." Sarah is a design assistant at the BBC. Tomorrow or the following day she will go out and buy 'Pacific State'.
On the studio monitors presenter Tracey Macleod's head suddenly talks into action. House music, from Chicago to Manchester, has been the musical phenomenon of the year in the tabloids, goes her drift. What it has sparked off is a frenzy of original soundmakers in Britain of which 808 State are the most poised and innovative. A blue ice-flow of keyboard chords drifts past with the sound of high-voltage birds chirping. A camera zooms into Massey who, like Martin, is wearing his new Kickers (retch!), and the sax sound of 1989 pours out like blood from a broken heart at large in the city.
"Stonehenge! Sun-dials! Fuck! If they overlay that on us when the show goes out tonight I'll never be able to go home," whinges Martin, upon learning of the Beeb's intention to cut in "crazy psychedelic images, man".
"I didn't lose my front teeth at Whitton Casino to have the likes of the BBC put fucking Stonehenge on top of me."
It's 10.15 pm. Ron the manager - 'The Fat Shadow' who has a tune named after him on 'Ninety' - is guzzling the free Becks in the studio corridor. "Once a manager always a cunt," he leers.
The 808 story in a sense is simple. Ron as manager of Music Mania in Manchester used to supply Martin's Eastern Bloc record and attitude shop with grilling import dance tunes. Martin, a Kraftwerk and Northern Soul freak, kept getting people coming in and giving him tapes of their music. One was Graham Massey. A couple of others were then Hip-hop Herberts, Andy and Darren, who were known as The Spinmasters.
Everything just fell together, despite things like age gaps - Andy and Darren are 20 and 21 year old Stone Roses and Happy Mondays fanatics when not indulging their passion for dance. Graham is 25 and Martin 34. The Link? Getting on one maybe? Because there is nothing else really happening outside of House-inspired noise It's an attitude difficult to explain but if you go up to Manchester soon and see a man with a Morrissey haircut out dancing ask him.
In the meantime Darren reckons, peering over what looks like a broken nose: "A couple of years ago if you were a lad you couldn't go out dancing unless it was with a bird. Else you'd be put down as a poof, a stupid insult anyway. Now going out and dancing is like self-expression. All the kids are ripping off their tops, getting on one and boogieing. Like, converting the beer monsters in Manchester has been fun."
What converts them?
Darren: "The music."
Martin: "The drugs."
Graham: "A combination of the music and drugs."
"Look at you, yer ugly fucker!" shouts Darren to Martin back in the Hilton as we watch 808 State on TV. The BBC in their arcane wisdom have decided not to overlay 'crazy psychedelic images, man" on the band.
"Thank fuck for that. Now I can go home and nobody will laugh," grins Martin.
And so we do this interview thing at last.
808 State explain that they decided to sign to ZTT - despite the label's past dodgy reputation - instead of the obvious home, Factory, because "we want to go as big as possible in as short a time as possible and ZTT via WEA could offer that".
But it was a bit of a slog anyway because the music scene - of which 808 are a vital part - has changed beyond recognition. Labels want to sign bands. They can handle the traditional concept of four people with guitars but geezers like 808 who want to be a production unit, well... it's a bit weird isn't it?
"The whole point about 808 State in a way was to get away from that boring idea of a band." continues Graham. "I've been in bands, and slogging down the rehearsal studios just becomes a habit. Being in a band is a bit like playing darts or something with the lads. It has got fuck all to do with creating music really now that technology has changed.
"When I was starting out, studios had this great mystique, a witchdoctery thing about all them knobs and what to do with them and how they work. All that has been broken down now. A lot of people have got gear at home and everything is a lot more accessible. You don't have to form a band anymore, just learn how to use a sampler or mix with record decks."
808 State, like many others on the case, want to turn their gigs into roving club events. It will be easy for them, since the lippy young half of the crew, Andy and Darren, already DJ a Manc rave called Thunderdome
"Look, it's pretty simple," says Darren. "I know what a banging tune - or them tunes that bang - is, we hear them when we go out. In Manchester at the moment if you are not out dancing or listening to forms of House then yer back home doing dot-to-dot or Guess The Word. It's that simple.
"When I see somebody with a Morrissey haircut on one and dancing at the Hacienda, then to me that's great. Welcome home."
"Morrissey has taken an interest in us and has been in touch with our bosses," ventures Andy, the shyest member of the band.
"He wants to write a song with us which is a bit odd," adds Graham with a sly smile.
"He hates House music but he said that 'Quadrastate' was the first House thing that he could listen to," continues Martin, "and I think it was because he has just been getting wise to it."
The Late Show closes down. It has shown video clips of A Guy Called Gerald, The Beloved, Electribe 101 and 808 State. The new dawn, bubs.