|808 State: State Of The Nation|
Volume 11, Number 1, Issue 231
By Pamela Hawks
Some of you may have heard it already - slinking out of downtown record shop speakers, and onto the danceclub charts. It is the highly addictive rhythm and hypnotic sax of "Pacific State", a 12" that brought one nation to its feet, by a group who now, deservedly, wants the rest of the world to follow. 808 State are a dance posse in the true sense of the word. And they make getting what they want, when they want it, look embarrassingly easy.
Fanatics when it comes to electronic and all forms of dance music, 808 State (named for a Roland percussion machine) are a pluralistic bunch, consisting of Martin Price (34), Graham Massey (25); and Darren and Andy (20 & 21), known collectively as the Spinmasters.
Age apparently proves no problem at all. In the studio Martin claims, "Our work is a bit like a sand sculpture. Things get a bit crazy, but eventually they come together." And it is in this chaotic fusion of talent that 808 State find their genius. Martin Price is articulate and enthusiastic with a healthy dose of ATTITUDE. (Typical Mancunian). When the group isn't busy recording in Trevor Horn's ultra-modern London-based studio, Martin is supplying the clamoring youth of Manchester with every dance record he can lay his hands on out of his shop, Eastern Bloc Records - the focal meeting place for dance junkies.
Manchester - a city where egos flare and where it can be tricky separating the industry windbags from those who have something substantive to say - has been having a recent love affair with the British press. Reality and hype are becoming a blurred tangle. "The thing about Manchester is its inner cities haven't been destroyed like places like Liverpool," explains Martin. "Consequently, there's not much coming out of there. Within half an hour in any direction in Manchester, you've got some sort of community that's producing artists. Yet, even though Manchester has a lot of talent in it, a lot of people are lazy. What's really broke the Manchester scene is the fact that I came in there with the record shop and I took chances on people. We put money back into the community, we don't just take out."
Spinmaster Darren once said of the scene, "In Manchester, if you're not out dancing or listening to some form of house, then you're back home doing dot-to-dot...it's that simple." Martin admits, "I've always been into electronic music even when it wasn't fashionable, but house and hip hop were the perfect things for me." Martin met Graham Massey in a cafe across the street from Eastern Bloc and discovered they were into similar things, as Massey had, and still is, involved with an experimental outfit, Biting Tongues. The Spinmasters joined shortly after presenting an astonishing demo to Martin of work they had been doing with a rap outfit.
First there was Quadrastate, released on Eastern Bloc's own Creed Records from which "Pacific State" was originally lifted. Its appeal was massive. Massive enough to springboard the group into a contract with ZTT, Paul Morley's old label and still a subsidiary of WEA. The latest affair, Ninety, is an LP whose material should be used as a musical blueprint for the '90s. It will be released sometime early this year on Tommy Boy in America. Tom Richardson of Tommy Boy fell in love with 808 State from the beginning, and it seems par for the course that the group have been genuinely successful in wooing record execs.
"A lot of people criticize major record companies. You get a lot of indie bands who hate the majors. That's's total crap. If you go into a major with no attitude problem apart from the work getting on - you'll get on. Rob Dickens, the head of Warner Bros. for Europe is really into us now. At first he wasn't sure what we could do. We told him what we could do. We did it with "Pacific State". We are a number one priority at Warners now which is really great for an experimental act."
808 State are much more than simply dance music. They awaken the senses in other body parts than those concerned with carnal satisfaction. The bold sound of precedents being set; music that is frighteningly immediate. The attitude is, "Who cares about next year or building slowly?" 808 State is happening NOW.
Discussion turns to how a lot of guitar groups in Manchester like Happy Mondays, The Stone Roses and Northside, to name a few, have been hacking away at the barriers between rock and dance music. I bring up the fact that in America a major downfall is that the record industry categorizes music too easily and has to put everything into its own neat little slot. So you end up with attitudes like, "We can't play that on college radio, it has a dance beat!" Martin wavers about the Manc guitar bands blurring distinctions and breaking the barrier: "I think it does break it down, but I personally would like it to be a bit more separate. 808 State know where we are. I think a lot of indie bands have been caught with their pants down. They're all into house and they want to be doing it really. Slowly but surely they're edging over all, the while trying to keep their credibility.
Like The Stone Roses' "Fool's Gold"? I ask. "Yes, that's a really good record in its own right, but I don't see why they don't go with that one all the way. I'm an absolute fanatic on dance music, so I'm very... sort of intolerant. The only thing 808 State have in common with these
acts is that we're from
The uniqueness is most apparent on stage. Live, the band's performance is more like a club happening. They recreate the feel of the rave-on house parties raging all over the English countryside which have been steadily replacing traditional band gigs as the form of entertainment. This makes perfect sense, since the Spinmasters have built quite a reputation as DJs at the Thunderdome, a Manc club whose Saturday nights have become notorious. While the group perform behind their own taped music, a crew from Eastern Bloc help out with video visuals and a lightshow, creating the perfect atmosphere to house 808's electronic soundscape.
Opportunities have been piling up in the 808 camp. First off, is their most recent work with Trevor Horn. "He's really enthused and genuinely excited by what we're doing," replies Martin. Apparently, working out of Horn's London studio has been a bit like having Christmas every day. "He's just a mad electronics guy. He'll leave a box propping a door open, and in it is our dream instrument. Or he lends me a Linn drum machine, something I've always dreamed of using, and he says, 'Oh, I've got another one lying about.' It does your head in."
808 State have also been rumored to be planning a joint venture with Mr. "Ouija Board" himself, Morrissey. And in a town as incestuous as Manchester, even hairdresssers, according to Martin, can play the game. "He (Morrissey) said that we were the only house act he liked. We have the same hairdresser (the "Hairdresser On Fire" from Morrissey's "Suedehead" B-side). And Morrissey confided to him, and he passed it on to us that he'd like to do something with us. But unfortunately some horrible journalist got hold of it and leaked it before Morrissey had a chance to speak to his management. So the NME took it the wrong way and it was: '808 State To Save Morrissey's Career.' We really wouldn't mind doing something. I think he's a great prolific Mancunian."
What 808 State have is vision. An insight into the market that will serve them well. When questioned about why they didn't sign to a more obvious Manchester label like Factory, Martin replied, "We didn't want to be some obscure Mancunian band. We weren't meant to be an independent thing and we will take second place to no one."
Welcome to the '90s, pal.