|MADCHESTER UNITED: 808 STATE|
22 August 1992
The city's clubs are being closed down by violence, the scene has fragmented and the music's moved on. ANDREW SMITH visits the new 808 STATE in Manchester to find out if there is a cure for the rave hangover.
WORD IS THAT THE MONDAYS haven't been about much, though Bez was seen in The Hacienda with his arm in a sling a couple of months back, and another of the entourage was around telling lurid tales of the band's escapades while they were recording the new album in Barbados. Also, someone bumped into Manny from The Stone Roses the other day, who assured them that the new LP will be completely different from the first ("That was an old goth record," he reportedly snarled). There was a suggestion that the new direction might be metal.
The Manchester (nee Madchester) scene may have been out of the headlines recently but, in the background, it's still buzzing. There's a shitload of comebacks on the horizon. Is that a sign of the times, or what?
WE'RE in a big, open-plan bar a few minutes from Piccadilly Station. The pine floor's scruffy and the mirror walls are smudged.
Yesterday, they were playing the new Mondays opus in here and everyone reckons it sounded pretty good, including Peter Hook, who, dressed admirably out of season in leathers, leans against the counter nursing the latest in a long line of beers. He turns and smiles, and comes over to the table where we're sitting.
It seems Hooky has donated the bassline from Joy Division's "She's Lost Control" to one track on 808 State's long-awaited answer to the Techno boom (like it or not, that's what it is). He also agreed to appear in the video for their rockin' new single, "Timebomb". He cracks a joke about royalties. Graham, Darren and Andrew - Martin Price has retreated to his record shop, for reasons which will be explained - hope he's joking, anyway. With Caroline Crawley from This Mortal Coil and (get this) UB40 also appearing on the record, compound royalties could start to get expensive. The boys are once again set on befuddling expectations.
808 STATE, by far the most ambitious and self-possessed of the post-Brit-House electro-sages, had a good year last year. They were, and remain, the only group to successfully bring dance music to the live arena (The Primals have lost their nerve and reverted to rockism). This helped them to their first Top Five album, the enduring "Ex.El."; three big singles, two of them instrumentals; and sell-out tours in America and Japan. A canny remix of Bowie's "Station To Station" consolidated their new-found status in the States. In 1991, the group could do no wrong. Their place on the agenda for 1992 should have been reserved. But so much has changed in the 1 8 months since "Ex.El." was released. The Techno and hardcore which 808 State foreshadowed has taken on a life of its own. T he music moves and mutates so fast that the State, who admit to being hindered by the unresponsive major label machinery they're now attached to, will never be able to compete in terms of speed. This is reputedly why Martin Price left, frustrated with the limitations and delays imposed by release schedules and endless corporate meetings.
Another change is in the immediate environment. 808 State may justifiably claim to have held themselves aloof from the hype surrounding their home town, but they did draw on the same club underground as the Mondays, the Roses et al. Just as the town's venues have dried up ("There's really just The Boardwalk now," Darren laments), so has Manc club culture.
"Basically, nothing can last anymore," explains Graham Massey. "Two weeks is about the longest anything can last. People have been trying desperately hard to get things going."
The people sitting around us are looking decidedly shifty at this point. Massey gets up to go to the toilet as his partner continues to describe how the older generation of criminals has mainly been put away, leaving kids from 19 down to 14 years of age in charge. These successful yooves like the idea of running a club, and they don't necessarily know where to stop.
"You're talking about whole estates," says Darren. "Kids who should be out robbing cars and stereos, but instead are going in clubs and f***ing stabbing up barmaids and stuff like that." "That's why a lot of clubs have had to shut down," adds Andrew, "because people would be walking out the doors bleeding all night, and you can't have that. It seems to happen to anything that's good."
Another musician was telling me recently how the mass arrival of Ecstasy in the north east had produced a similar effect there. It was "like a B-52 bomber had flown overhead and dropped the stuff," he'd said. Is this about drugs?
No, it's about territory. The "firms", it seems, all have their own areas of influence, but the city centre is neutral, and belongs to no one. When a new club opens, the race for control is on. "If we want to go out, the first thing we ask ourselves now is, Where is it safe?' It's getting to everybody."
Because clubbing is such a problem, people are staying in, and there are loads of new bands and labels springing up. There's just nowhere for them to play. In time, this will bear fruit. Where 808 State will be by the time it does is anybody's guess.
808 STATE were never a dance act in any simple sense. In essence, they were rock. You could put them on the cover of MM with Blur, for instance, and no one would baton eyelid. Inside, they'd be laying into indie music, but then so was everyone. The return LP, which is to be called "Gorgeous", took six months to record, many times longer than "Ex.El." or "Ninety". One gets the impression that there were problems, internally and with the record company, though a veil is drawn over the precise details. It may also be that they missed the galvanising presence of Martin Price, whose Switzerland project is as solidly leftfield as the State once were.
Graham describes how the band went through a period of "complete self-indulgence, stuff that you'd have to release accompanied by a Walt Disney film." They also went through a phase of "tugging in different directions" and trend-watching, before finally deciding to settle down, let things happen and simply "make an 808 State album".
A four-track sampler from the LP, which includes a funky but disjointed re-write of UB40's "One In Ten", seems to confirm this. It tallies with a general mellowing of the scene, with smoke beginning to challenge "E" as the people's chosen drug , both north and south.
Darren again : 'The reason for this is that a lot of people are feeling alienated towards 'E'. The kind of stuff these dealers are concocting, with Ajax and all that, is crap. People have had enough, and the whole vibe's changing as a result."
Has State's place in the scheme of things been filched by lightweights such as Altern 8, though? It could be that 808 State are being squeezed at both ends, and are caught between pop and the underground.
"No," says Graham. 'We don't think we've sold out, and we're not part of that purist underground that'll only tolerate one kind of sound. We can do either. We've been doing that for three years. I don't think you can fit us into any trends.
"Ultimately, with us, it's about attitude – I assume that's what you mean when you say that the music we make is really 'rock' music, it has that kind of energy. One of the beauties of this technology is that it frees you to study attitude rather than technique, which I find much more interesting. The danger is that you can end up making wallpaper music if you're not careful. We tread that line a lot."
Timebomb' is out this week on ZTT. An album, 'Gorgeous' , is to follow