|In an 808 State|
18th-31st August 1994
In spite of their success with eight top 20 hits, 808 State think there is something wrong with the music scene in Britain... and they want to do something about it. Andy Crysell found out how...
Pic by Mark McNulty..
"We played this big fuck-off rave in LA not that long ago," announces Darren Partington with a look of downright disgust plastered all over his face. He's 808 State's resident loud-mouthed top geezer and it'd take a nation of millions to put a sock in his gob.
"Anyway, 5,000 kids turned up at this party in their $30,000 jeeps and Mercedes. White middle class America was in the place with their whistles, their fucking bobble hats, the whole Manchester look. And, guess what, there wasn't an ounce of atmosphere in the place. It was completely false, like: "Hey, let's have a rave; we want one of them acid raves we've read about. Let's turn up in our convertibles and have a fucking Beverley Hills 9-0-bollocks-rave." Spoilt bastards, they don't know what it's like to want something as badly as us in Britain wanted the rave scene. None of that lot would set up a PA in some field in the pissing rain. They'd never wanna dance so much that they'd fight the police to break into a warehouse. See, that's something this country should think about. It's time we remembered what drove us to go out partying in the first place."
808 State clearly want to have words with you. Raucous, amiable Darren, Graham Massey, sporting a Neil Young style haircut, and Andrew Barker, stumbling and mumbling after a night on the tiles, reckon you're losing it.
Darren: "This generation, it's turned into the generation that can't be bothered anymore. Yeah, we're now the generation that stays in watching bloody videos."
Graham: "Music culture has turned into bland youth fodder. It's this hamburger, MTV, throwaway instinct. It's about eating bullshit, consuming, not encouraging kids to be creative."
Don't switch off. This may be a negative trip, but it's also a kind of necessary trip. After seven years in the business and eight Top 20 hits, you could say that 808 State have a right to be hostile. "We don't want to sound like the moaning old dinosaurs of dance," says Graham. "But you wouldn't believe how hard we've worked to make an impact."
He's talking about the live gigs they've played everywhere from Tokyo, Hawaii and Ibiza to Leeds and London. He means the sublime, shimmering techno of 'Pacific State'; the jackhammer dynamics of 'Cubik'; the chainsaw hip-house of 'The Only Rhyme That Bites' starring MC Tunes; the funereal elegance of 'Clops' featuring Bjork and the happy bouncing beats on new single 'Bombadin'. Quick-witted and eclectic, though 808 consistently move with the times they're rarely accused of jumping on the latest bandwagon.
'Bombadin', which has gone down a storm in the USA (where 808 recently toured with New Order), was first unveiled at a fashion show, accompanied by Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford strutting their long-legged stuff. Now it's gone and secured itself a regular slot playing all summer on Virgin Airline flights - again proving this trio mix in the oddest circles and that, really, everything's fine and dandy in their camp. So what, in their eyes, has gone wrong with the scene from whence they came?
"Club culture's supposed to be about music, not fashion; not skirt lengths and crap clothes. Some clubs you go to, you get some lad in a skintight t-shirt looking at you as if you're scum cos you've got the wrong shoes on. It never used to be like that," insists Darren. "There's no diversity left in the music anymore - we would never have happened without the diversity there was in 88 and 89. We'd go to the Hacienda and the Thunderdome and the music we heard was so exciting it was inspirational. Nowadays, most so-called trendy clubs are doing nothing for the dance scene and more likely to get inspired watching Richard and bloody Judy."
"Back then at the Hacienda, it wasn't one kind of music all night," adds Graham. "It was about acid, garage, latin and whatever else the DJ was into. That was the thrill, hearing it all together in this chaotic mix. If it's acid or garage all night long, well, the thrill kind of goes."
808 say it's time we started thinking for ourselves again. And to show us how, they've launched State To State - a half interesting fan club/infotainment network described by Darren as "a global fanzine, like Freaky Dancing gone hi-tech," backed up by a rather more interesting underlying viewpoint. On the surface, this subscriber-only service (contact PO Box 808, Hock, Basingstoke, RG25 1UF) is about quarterly mags, free CDs of 808 exclusives and the opportunity to converse with the trio via Internet. Deep down, says Graham, it's about "spurring people on to make their own great contributions to music and culture."
"The way for this scene to survive is through communication," he continues. "Everyone's starving for information and Internet can stimulate and motivate the collective consciousness out of the slow, lumbering state it's currently in."
Following the first State To State freebie CD, 808's next album (their ninth!) is due on ZTT early next year. Strong melodies, they claim, are in the driving seat this time, rather than aggressive electronics. "It's a new sound for a new scene," gushes the press release. But 808 know full well that if/when a scene arrives to usurp house/techno, it sure ain't gonna come from an established crew like themselves.
"State To State will encourage the unknown artists who might, by accident, invent something new," says Graham. "To an extent, we're a product of the same situation - we heard this alien music called house and started to copy people like Adonis. We got it completely wrong." Which, of course, turned out to be completely tab for 808. UK house had found itself a bunch of chart toppers, who, in no time at all, were on Radio One, being introduced as Bob State.
Graham: "But, right now, I can't really see a new kind of music coming along to take the place of house. Once you're used to the energy of house, nothing else compares."
Darren: "What about ambient-bollocks, that's a new scene? You get these clubs where it's like "bring your own bloody beanbag" for god's sake. For young kids, though, ambient is their scene. Everyone wants to belong to one scene or another..." Could 808 State make an ambient LP? "Yeah, we could. We could knock one together and stick it out next week. But instead, we wanna see some tucking good dance albums appearing. All there is at the moment is compilations - 'Rave Bollocks 9, 'Tits Out Techno 10' - that's all you see in the charts."
For all their talk of taking house back to its unfettered past glories, 808 have razor-sharp business minds developed for today's market. Graham mentions how people "still don't see dance as a trustworthy, long-term genre." And explains how they intend to choose precisely the right moment to release their next long-player. "A lot of dance acts who started when we did i aren't around anymore because they went and put out the wrong tracks at the wrong time. You've got to appreciate what's going on around you and get your timing right."
"And you've got to have something to say something special," adds Darren. "It's sad to see production teams like K Klass and Sub Sub, people who can make wicked dance tunes, taking the easy way out by reinventing themselves as money-making pop bands."
With Graham twanging away on a guitar, reinforcing his Neil Young look, and ginger-topped Andrew looking close to keeling over, Darren finds time for one last verbal explosion. We discuss what Manchester's like these days, but he says it's boring and would rather go on about the good old baggy days.
"As far as the press was concerned, the Manchester scene was The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays. Bollocks, they had fuck all to do with it. It was really about the clubbers, the DJs, the parties. The press couldn't deal with the real underground, so they pretended it was about a load of indie bands when really it was a scene that belonged to the ordinary person. That used to get on me nerves, that did."
But that was then and this is now. The Happy Mondays are no more and The Stone Roses are lost forever in a studio somewhere. 808 State, though, they're still motoring.
"With the dance scene so fragmented now, you have to ask where does a band like 808 State fit in?" says Graham. "To be honest, I don't know the answer, but I do know were always in touch with the Zeitgeist in some strange way. If there's a spirit out there worth finding, we'll find it."