808 State: Viva Eight
30th June 1990
THEIR latest hit single with MC Tunes proves that 808 STATE mean business when they say they want to take dance into the future. SIMON REYNOLDS discovers why they've been asked to write Manchester's 1996 Olympic theme and why they despise copyright laws and 'fucking indie bands' cashing in on the dance revolution. Pics: MARY SCANLON
"DID you see that 'Late Show' item on indie band before and after they went House? I thought they had exactly the correct, contemptuous attitude towards all that shite. You've got totally non-credible acts cashing in on the sort of music 808 State have been doing for years. You notice we didn't appear on that programme? That's because we've got musical integrity. There's been all these cash-ins, there's more on the way, and it's something we've always been vociferous about."
Vociferous is the word and no mistake. This is the almost pathologically opinionated Martin Price of 808 State, a man whose sheer stamina of vehemence could whittle down the hind and fore legs off a donkey. Taking advantage of a rare pause for breath, I ask him if it isn't legitimate for bands to change direction, be open to input?
"Of course, but if they've been converted to dance, why not be a dance outfit and forget about the indie thing? Everybody knows dance music is the biggest thing that's happening in Britain now, but it's always been there. It's the ultimate thing that I care about, and I think it's been misrepresented in a lot of cases. But what we're talking about is being a fucking indie band and saying indie things to indie people on a large scale, and then fucking stopping. And then instead of just doing the opposite thing, and deciding they're into dance, they try to take hi jack dance attitudes.
"How long is it going to be before they get back to being indie again when indie gets more popular? Me, I wouldn't start being a fucking indie band for nobody's fucking money."
Why do you despise indie music so much?
"Because it's twee and everybody knows it's about being that sort of person, being the boy next door. It's just another stupid way to get girlfriends - by going round with a big question mark over your fucking head. It's peer group stuff, all about who you want to appeal to. Now they've discovered that the better peer group is in the dance field, and they want to change their whole fucking lives. But they don't do it bravely, and say, 'All right, I made a mistake, I'm now totally into dance'. They stay stuck between two stools.
"Look at the stuff that's inspired indie - Velvets, Byrds. Does that stuff inspire dance? No it doesn't, that's the difference. Six months ago, people like The Beloved, college graduates," Martin pronounces the word as though it was turd on the tongue, "they were saying their influences were New York Dolls, Velvet Underground, Simon & Garfunkel. You'll never hear me saying stuff like that in a million years. But now, who is that supposedly inspires The Beloved? It's James Brown, Sly & The Family Stone, Afrika Bambaata. How many times can yo change what you fucking believe in?"
I TELL 808 that on the train up to Manc, by one of those bizarre, happy coincidences I ran into Alan McGhee: in the 808 worldview, one of the perpetrators of the current indie dance cash-in. According to McGhee, Creation's shift from leather-trousered, outsider rock'n'roll to its current flirtation with the dancefloor, isn't cynical opportunism. Rather it's simply that people like himself, Bobby Gillespie, the Valentines, gradually got sucked up in the Aciiiied/Ecstasy euphoria, and experienced a sincere and profound realignment of sympathies.
But 808 State's scepticism turns to disgust when I repeat McGhee's account of how the club mix of Primal Scream's new single "Come Together" doesn't feature the band playing at all (it's all down to Andy Weatherall's mix-pertise with their tune).
Graham Massey (Martin's creative other half): "The music's bound to have no soul when they don't actually appear on their own record."
Martin: "None of their soul, anyway. It's like a big f***ing betrayal. If I were a friend of theirs and totally into indie, and saw them betraying their whole f***ing past, I'd be sick. What you just told us about Primal Scream not even being on their own record, that's got to be the shittiest thing I've heard this year."
Darren, one of 808's two DJ's, chips in. "Look at the reason behind it. It's for dancefloor credibility. It's cos Andy Weatherall sells records and they don't. Their forte is somewhere else."
Martin resumes his rant "All this is by the way for us, because 808 State do have that integrity. It's the easiest thing in the world to find a formula and milk it. The indie attitude is supposed to be 'stuff the record company', but it's people like 808 State who are really stuffing the record industry.
"After 'Pacific State' went Top 10 we could have stuck the saxophone on our next tune and gone for the same winning formula. It was us that created a large part of that ambient/New Age House. But we've moved on. We did the MC Tunes single, a real shitkicker. We could have been safe, but we took a risk.
"What we're into is taking this music into the future. Keep it moving. But now it seems to be getting bogged down again.
You're getting Techno records that are total genius getting overlooked in favour of crap indie cash-ins. I can understand why black American bands complain about how you have to be white and marketable in order to chart. You can have as many of these indie/dance crossovers as you like, but for every one of them I can give 1 2 brilliant records that are happening now in places around the world, and in my front room. Inch for inch, they're better. What I always say is, let's have a contest - let's see who's got the best fucking records!"
THERE'S something faintly inhuman about 808 States' fanaticism. their polemical passion exudes the musty ordour of male adolesence, of young men whose way of bonding is through shared expertise, whose fluency in the language of the objective masks emotional inarticulacy. The drastic age gap within the band (Martin and Graham are 34 and 29, Andy and Darren still teenagers) only adds to the aura of immaturity, something further aggravated by the fact that for the duration of the interview Graham picks his nose sedulously, while Martin intermittently and surreptitiously milks a spot for pus when he thinks no one's looking.
It's all go for 808 State right now. "The Only Rhyme That Bites", their collaboration with rapper MC Tunes, has perforated the charts, and they've just completed work on MC Tunes' debut LP which they claim will be "unlike any rap album you've ever heard". They're making plans for the next 808 album (a double LP of 12-inch singles, aimed to appeal to DJs). They're about to launch their own label FRO, which will feature local techno acts like K-Klass and Technosis. Andy and Darren have their extremely popular radio programme "The 808 State Show", simultaneously broadcast via a brace of North West stations (Sunset Radio and KFM) on Tuesdays between nine and 1 2 in the evening.
If that wasn't enough, 808 State are set to top New Order's triumph, having been commissioned to write the theme tune for Manchester's bid to stage the 1996 Olympics.
Martin: "If Manchester gets it, it'll be the cherry on the top of the cake. One thing about 808 is that we want things to happen commercially for the city, we want to bring money back here. Keep the local economy afloat. In a proper, long-term way, not this 'Madchester as pop capital for six months and then that's it' hype. By 1996 Manchester might have turned into the next Detroit, or Chicago."
THE most intriguing 808 State project, however, is a forthcoming EP of dance-mixes of "Voiceprint", a track from Jon Hassell's brilliant "City: Works Of Fiction" album. Hassell (an avant-garde composer, jazz trumpeter, and close ally of Brian Eno) picked 808 State for the job out of a sample of dance producers presented to him by Face writer David Toop.
Certainly there seems to bean affinity. -Hassell's theory of "Fourth World Music" - a sound-mosaic of elements ancient and futuristic, primitive and hi-tech, pagan and post-modern - is totally applicable to 808 State's own brand of techno-fusion. Hassell's "City", like 808 State's "State Ritual" and "Sunrising", evokes imaginary future cultures, where residues of disparate ethnic folklore/olk musics mingle promiscuously and luridly. Hassell's own analogy is with the polyglot patois spoken in the 21st century Los Angeles of "Bladerunner".
808 acknowledge the affinity.
"The other big side of what we do," says Graham, "is sort of drug music. And that's something that Jon Hassell's music has always been. Stuff to sit in your bedroom and get out of your head to. His music has that top level, head music element that we also have. But we've got the dance beat and basslines too. All the stuff Hassell came out of, Terry Riley and that, it's all based on repetition. There's a lot of parallels, we're not miles apart. It's just that Hassell's quite highbrow about it, and we're pretty basic."
THE fact is that for all 808 State's apparent purism, their almost apartheid attitude to music (separate development for indie and dance, and never the twain shall meet and mate), what elevates 808 music above the dance norm is its impurity, its promiscuity. Martin says as much when he asserts that "808 fit in somewhere between all the things that are going on, between the dancefloor and more experimental music. We're not totally affiliated."
In other words, their sound doesn't have clearcut ancestral ties - it's illegitimate, mongrelized. Mixing metaphors as thoroughly as they mix musics, you could say that there's quite a few skeletons in the family tree, influences that would scandalise post-punk propriety. Fusion pioneers like Herbie Hancock and Weather Report, for instance, with their melding of jazz texture and funk groove.
Darren talks of "trying to create that big band image, that big sound onstage, but all we've got is just a few boxes. We want it so that from every corner of those speakers something's coming out, no stone is unturned. Those bands were doing it then, and we're doing it now. We have ultimate respect for those bands." 808 State also acknowledge a debt to the Euro progressive tradition, from the minimalism of DAF and Kraftwerk, to the maximalism of Can, Magma, Moebius.
Graham: "You can't deny these influences, but some of them go so far back, they're still there in the back of the mind, but I can't say they're an upfront influence. There's bit of Magma that I really hate, that are really pompous, but other bits that are really influential. but it's hard to think of a band that totally satisfies you. In a way, sampling can be a way of correcting all the things you don't like about a band, or assembling your ideal music out of all the things you do like."
SAMPLING may offer limitless aesthetic possibilities in the realm of re-reading and re-rending musical history, but it's increasingly trammelled by legal constraints. Cue for Martin to rant again.
"It's got to the point where old men of 64 stuck in a loft somewhere will hear a sample off a track they did 50 years ago and want to bum money off people. It's reached the ridiculous point where they're demanding 50 per cent of 'The Only Rhyme That Bites' for our sample from 'The Big Country'.
'Cunts like them are taking the piss out of people like us who really care about what we do. I wish I could meet these old guys on the street, I'd have 'em well mugged. It's become an ambulance chaser's pastime. It's got to the stage where if you have an idea, you've got to think twice about it, cos you'll have to portion out a certain per cent of the royalties to one lot of old codgers, and another percentage to another lot. It's stopping music progressing."
808 State prefer to use tiny samples which they warp until unrecognisable: another similarity with the Jon Hassell "musaic" approach.
"He's just a very astute guy," says Martin. "He's not gonna get sued off a Zulu. When the Zaboongdinga tribe get their own lawyer, he's fucked, isn't he? He's probably committed more sacrileges through sampling than any fucker alive, he's probably been hexed a thousand times. He's paying on the astral, that's the difference."
AS well as copyright fiends, another bone of contention for Martin is soul purism/ techno-fear.
"That kind of soul is a collectors' item, it's like being Showaddywaddy or Mud 10 years ago. That Luddite attitude is as stick in the mud and stagnant as being a teddy boy. The fact is that the kids of today want faster, harder, futuristic dance music and that's what we'll give 'ern. But these purists are just stuck with their stale old dinosauric bag of bones, and they're welcome to it. Time warp kids.
"They're basically people who have a problem with machines. The Keep Music Live attitude. But times change, drum machines and samplers make the music accessible to almost everybody. Fucking Norman Cook on the 'Late Show', saying, 'It's like punk'. If somebody says, 'It's like punk' to my face, I'll fucking smash 'em in the teeth. It's nothing to do with punk.
"This is about machines, punk was about arm power. The muscles and sinews in dance music are when you're sweating your bollocks off on the dancefloor.
Nobody wants to see a load of idiots torturing themselves onstage with guitars. It's outmoded. It's for people who can't be arsed, who don't want the music scene to change. All those people are just whistling up their own arse. They shouldn't be there. They've got no right."
808 State play Sheffield The Octagon on June 28 and London Astoria on June 30. A mini-album, 'Quadrastate, Vol. 1' is out August 6.