State Of Independence
WITH THEIR LATEST ALBUM "EX:EL" PROVING TO ALL AND SUNDRY THAT 808 STATE AREN'T QUITE AS EASY TO PIGEON-HOLE AS A LOT OF BLEEP CRITICS MAY HAVE YOU BELIEVE, THE BAND'S MARTIN PRICE TALKS TO STUART CLARK ABOUT THE DEATH OF SAMPLING THE PRESSURE OF BEING A ROLE MODEL, WORKING WITH POP STARS AND KICKING DEAD BITS OF PIG AND COW AROUND A MUDDY FIELD (!)
THE NEXT time you're bored senseless or, worse still, waiting for that one vaguely amusing bit to crop up on Gerry Ryan's "Secrets", here's something you can try out in the privacy of your own home.
Take a Happy Mondays' interview, any one will do, Tipp-Ex over all the bits concerning football, drugs, bonking, getting arrested or consorting with known criminals in Rio - and chances are you'll be left with what resembles the average contents of a hermit's address book. Such laddish goings on may be the stuff Sun headlines are made of but they're not nearly as typical of the Manchester scene as Wapping would have you believe, a point that 808 State's Martin Price is keen to make - with interest!
"'I've never understood the attraction of 22 men with dodgy haircuts kicking dead bits of pig and cow round a muddy field," he says.
"As for the other stuff, we're not gangsters and we're generally anti-drugs. I've got a niece who's just getting into music and if anything happened to her because of something I said or did, I'd never forgive myself.
"A lot of our fans are only 14 or 15, they haven't got to the stage where they're cynical yet, and it'd be criminal for them to start taking drugs while they're still able to enjoy life without them. We've never wanted to be role models but we do feel a certain sense of responsibility to the youngsters who are into us."
Safe in the knowledge that Martin and the boys aren't about to be had up for corrupting minors, we can move swiftly on to their chart topping "Ex:El" album, a record that's currently racing up the charts faster than a steroid-enhanced Ben Johnson. It's an eclectic mishmash of styles, ranging from the decidedly funky "San Francisco" to the bleepy but brilliant "Cubik" and features guest performances from New Order's Barney Sumner and from Bjork Sugarcube.
"A lot of dance records sound great in the clubs but absolutely shit when you get them home, so we went for something inbetween and I reckon we got the balance about right. It is very varied, which was always the intention because we didn't want to be pigeonholed as 'Techno' or 'House' or whatever else is hip this week. We're all those things and more and I expect 808 State to still be around long after all these trendy-for-the-sake-of-it bands disappear up their own arses.
"Barney's an old friend," Martin adds, "so he was the obvious choice when we needed a voice for "Spanish Heart" but Bjork's involvement was a total accident. She sent a tape to our manager who, being a right plonker, didn't have a clue who she was and threw it away. We eventually met up in a TV studio when she collared us and said, 'you don't know this yet but we're going to be working together'. I'm not sure who was more gobsmacked, her or us!"
Overawed or not, the elfin-like Ice Goddess manages to give "Q Mart" and "Oops" a deliciously seductive edge only a lusty night of passion with Michelle Pfeiffer could ever hope to emulate - if you're a heterosexual male, that is.
"I think Bjork feels frustrated and rather limited by the democracy you get in a band like The Sugarcubes. You have to try and keep everyone happy which means compromise and we've agreed to do a couple of songs with her where she's the boss and gives the orders. I get a real kick out of working with different people and it's definitely something we're going to do more of in the future. Graham and Darren are currently producing some stuff for M.C. Tunes, and me and Andy are going to have a crack at working with him when they're finished."
Earlier collaborations with the young Manc rapper proved to have a somewhat detrimental effect on the collective's bank balance.
"Yeah, we had to hand over half the royalties from "The Only Rhyme That Bites" because we sampled the 'Big Country' theme. One of the composers is dead and the other one is on his last legs but their estates kicked up a fuss and we had no choice but to cough up. I wouldn't have minded but it took us bloody hours to get the stupid thing in the right register! Some people think sampling is tantamount to stealing but I reckon it's very creative. I'm not saying you shouldn't have to pay but 50% for a few seconds is ridiculous! We've all but stopped using samples because of it."
By the time you get your grubby little paws on this potentially Pulitzer-prize winning piece of journalism, 808 State will have made their long awaited Irish debut at the Jetland Centre in Limerick, a gig which probably prompted a few punters to ask "was it live or was it Memorex?".
Martin elaborates: "A few old farts have had a go at us for using backing tapes but I really can't understand what all the fuss is about. I saw Baby Ford in Berlin recently and it was crap, he was rooted to the spot trying to play every single note himself and it bored me senseless. We go through each of the tracks, pick out the bits we want to play live and stick the rest on DAT. It means we're able to put on a bit of a show which is why people fork out money to see you in the first place."
With the average sherbet-dab sniffing British teenager now well and truly won over, the band are beginning to broaden their horizons.
"We've just remixed 'Lift' for the club market in the States. We did it ourselves because the last time we farmed out stuff to Arthur Baker it came back sounding really tame. Everyone reckons America's where it's at when it comes to dance but they're so conservative. They're still locked into the R'n'B/Soul thing which became redundant in the UK years ago. That's okay though because we're going to go across and sort 'em out!"
I don't doubt it for a minute!