|State Of The Art|
2nd December 1989
The Clash once penned a fine punk rock guitar song 'Groovy Times'. Well, if times were groovy back in the Seventies, the tail end of 1989 must be wiggle bloody city.
Just look at the charts. Dance music here, dance music there, dance music everywhere.
Admittedly, some of these tunes can be dull, many are appallingly unemotional and possessing about as much charisma as a warehouse full of paper clips. Some though are quite superb. They emit passion and verve, new sounds and harmonies. 'Pacific' is such a record and 808 State are the band behind its astronomical surge up the charts.
808 State comprise of Martin Price (band spokesman and conceptualiser), Graham Massey (programmer/engineer) and DJs Andy and Darren.
They met in, and are focused around, Martin's Manchester record shop 'Eastern Bloc' where they swapped musical ideas and soon came to the conclusion that they should team up and show the world what dance music is really about.
808 State are part of a resurgent Manchester scene which has given the national charts quite a scare recently by threatening to tear apart Big Fun's tenuous success, sale by sale.
But whereas 808 State are definitely an underground-influenced band, they have little time for the type of guitar music (Happy Mondays aside) that has led to the popularity of The Stone Roses and Inspiral Carpets. Martin has been dubbed the biggest mouth in Manchester' and this is why:
"They're never going to get anywhere. Some of them, like The Stone Roses, are obviously more successful than others, but even that seems to bring some sort of horrible shit with it. Like, in my shop in Manchester, we get loads of 13-year-old girls buying indie records and they're only doing it because they fancy Ian Brown (Stone Roses) or Bez (Happy Mondays). Those guys are turning into the Donny Osmonds of their time. Y'know, a lot of Manchester guitar bands are a bit embarrassed that they never cottoned on to the dance thing when they had the chance. And most of those who have crossed over sound absolutely pathetic, pretending to be something they're not. I've got no time for them."
So what makes 808 State so special? Well, they've been making Eighties dance music ever since Kraftwerk started getting all pervy with their hip hop computers, while DJs Andy and Darren have been mixing hip hop since the tender age of 12. Their recent graduation to the top 40 comes hot on the heels of a tough stint of intensive training at the local Salvation Army youth club.
Furthermore, their single 'Pacific' (each version of it has a different number added to the title - the seven inch is 'Pacific 707', the 12-inch '202' etc) has to be one of the year's most original house/techno tracks. It literally oozes tropical vibes while harnessing a seedy and decidedly sexual feel. Prior to their signing to WEA records last month, the track was a massive dancefloor smash.
"Since signing to WEA, everything's happened really quickly," enthuses Graham. "Normally no matter what size record company you're with you have to wait ages for a record to actually materialise, but we're making a major assault straight away."
Such has been the immediate success of the band that their new LP, 'Ninety', is to be released in the first week of December. This is normally a strictly no-go time for bands to release LPs, for 'Ninety' will have to do battle with some 18 million Xmas LPs, Richard Clayderman included.
"I think it's a brilliant time to release the LP," says Martin. "It's going to be great to see how it competes with all that Xmas crap. It'll stand out a mile."
It certainly will. There's not a sleigh-bell in sight.
But how will these humble city boys cope with their impending megastar status? It is said that once you've been on 'TOTP' life is never quite the same again, especially if fog has prevented all but two acts (the intrepid Jimmy Somerville being the other) appearing in person.
If they keep going on like this it could be all limos and wine gums for the rest of their naturals, but Graham swears their only interest is in progress.
"The success we're having now is more of a relief than anything else," he says. "It means we can buy equipment we could only drool over before. Like, we were at Trevor Horn's studio the other day and it made us realise how much stuff there is to use - the opportunities are limitless now. Also, being with a major record company means we've got loads more time to do things properly and more material can be thrown in the bin to make way for the exceptional stuff."
"Being successful will mean I can put some money into the shop," adds Martin. "And there are loads of projects I want to get off the ground in Manchester. Being able to do all these things is great. It's a chance I've been waiting a long time for. I'm 34 now so it's about time really. It's like Graham said - the feeling is more one of relief really. It's like the feeling you get when you have a good sneeze . . . or a good shit."
Anyone who thinks programming and mastery of musical technology is kids' stuff had better think again. It's true anyone can make a dance record given the right equipment, but how many can make a good, authentic dancefloor record? Thousands have tried and thousands have failed. For when it comes down to it, real ideas and artistry come from within the person, not a Roland 808 drum machine (from whence the band derived their name). 808 State don't crudely sample James Brown riffs, they borrow 'Ma Baker' from Boney M and Van McCoy's 'The Hustle'. Bloody beautiful.
Excuse the pun, but this really is dance music for the Nineties and 808 State will become as synonymous with the words 'success' and 'stardom' as Paul Gascoigne is with 'fat'.
"Actually," says Martin, "I've always been a pop star. It's just that no one's ever noticed before."