State Of The Art
9th March 1991
808 are about to record their hit, 'ln Ya Face' for Top Of The Pops. Only time for STEPHEN LEIGH to grab one beer and 808 words with Graham Massey and Darren Partington about the band's new LP 'EX. EL'
DOING TOP Of The Pops is like going to the police station. When you go to the dressing room I'm surprised they don't take your belt and shoelaces."
Another myth blown. Thanks, Graham Massey. But then, he has a right to sound pissed: TOTP have just informed the band that, like Radio 1, they'll be cutting the anti-American opening from the track, 'Due To The Situation In The Gulf'.
Broadcast bans are flying all over the music business. The only sane place is Manchester's 'Sunset Community Radio'. Here, 808's DJs Darren Partington and Andrew Barker run a Tuesday night radio rave.
"We do it for a laugh," laughs Darren. "Every Wednesday morning we think 'Did we get sacked last night?'. We've got a 'phone with a red light in the studio, we call it the Batphone, if that goes off we're in trouble. We were left a letter saying don't mention the Gulf so, immediately, we were off with jokes about Gulf GTi's."
Here is the key to the world of 808 State, a band who have told the press that they're a house incarnation of Madness. 808 are coming out of the laboratory ... "We don't work in a dead professional manner like most people expect," admits Graham. "We used to make records out of miles of tape. I remember editing 'In Ya Face' before I went on my holidays. I had two reels of tape and I spent about a day cutting it and editing and I still hadn't finished. But, somehow, someone got hold of the tape so the version on the record isn't finished. It's half an edit."
808's association with The Sugarcube's diminutive Bjork stumbled out of the same chaos. Graham describes it as "this marvellous thing that dropped into our lap." Bjork, a fan, came over from Iceland to ask the boys if they could work with her. The boys, in turn, had no idea who she was. And, ZTT, previously unable to sign The Sugarcubes, were stunned when the band turned up at the studio with Bjork only because "when somebody comes across from Iceland with a tape you can't exactly say fuck off" and quite prepared to bin the tapes "if they turned out to be a load of bollocks." They didn't and the world can witness one of pop's strangest bedfellows on 'EX EL's 'Oops!' and 'Qmart'.
The band's collaboration with Bernard Summer, on 'Spanish Heart', however, is your average tale of friends getting together for a jam. But working with Summer was also a way for the band to know they'd really made it, because, "New Order for us was a blueprint for how bands should be," recalls Graham. "We always thought they were a cool band, not so much because of the music but the way they were in Manchester, they were always showing what could be done through music."
T HE example that New Order set has been learnt well by 808 State who, as well as maintaining their club roots through Eastern Bloc records, and radio and club DJing, are generally considered as the local musical "self help group". "See them, they'll help you" is how we're known in Manchester," says Darren. They certainly helped MC Tunes, getting dragged into a long round of TOTP performances and promotions with him when they could have been in the studio doing what they like doing best, doing what they're good at doing best. However, they're also the first to admit that having someone else to front the band makes them "more comfortable". Graham, for one, "likes the fact that you can go shopping without people hassling you."
The appearance of Bjork, Bernard Summer and local toaster, Raagman on 'EX. EL' makes the record company comfortable too. "If you look at our career we've done three totally instrumental albums which is commercial suicide," admits Darren. "So, obviously we've had pressure from the word go to have vocalists," continues Graham. "And we've had everybody having a try, even Sharon from down the road. But it never works."
It never works because it would be one small step in the direction of pop and 808 State don't want to be a pop band. "Our record company puts us across as some sort of pop band when what we have empathy with is the really good European import club records. We have our hearts and souls in the club scene, it's what we do, it's what we study and it's very much what we want to be kings of."
808 State are your average bunch of Mancunians. They like to drink, dance and dream the days away. The only difference is that their dreams turn into damn fine dance records like 'EX. EL'.