|State Of Elation|
27 July 1996
After almost a decade courting the shifty, moody, ever-changing, slippy-bastard nasty lover called the music business, you'd forgive 808 STATE for being a little bitter. Especially when the lover in question gives you a less than hysterical welcome after a three-year absence.
But for 808 State, it would appear, love is indeed blind. Nine years after meeting at Manchester's infamous Eastern Bloc record shop, their vinyl infatuation still drives them on to DJ every weekend on Manchester's own Kiss station - no doubt a major factor in the 10,000-plus crowd that turned up to their hometown Castlefield Arena gig last month.
And even mid-interview they can't leave that music alone, Darren Partington tweaking the mixing desk while Graham Massey silently tinkles the plastic ivories of a nearby Roland. Andy Barker's the only one to take advantage of the brief lull in their schedule to go on holiday, though it's odds on that he packed a sequencer in his suitcase.
And then Massey, suddenly and inexplicably, drops probably the least likely simile in the history of dance. "You see," he says, grinning, "we're a bit like Elton John."
Partington nods avidly and takes up the cause.
"Yeah! There was that quote on that Elton John documentary the other night," he says. "This fella turned round to him and said, 'What would you do if people stopped buying your records?' and he said, 'It won't happen, I've been in the business 25 years and it will not happen". I mean, it's pure arrogance, but it's believing in your music.
"It's the same with 808 State. We've written seven albums in this scene and if people can't appreciate that we don't want them on board 'cos they just don't understand."
They, presumably, are those who still expect the State to rehash their former glories - 'Cubik', 'In Yer Face' and the classic 'Pacific State' - at a time when 808 themselves are widening their musical brief dramatically, eyes fixed firmly on the future. In stark contrast, their seventh album excursion, Don Solaris' is an often gentle, passionate and downright beautiful revelation that bears little relation to the monster raving of the past.
"We do a bit of this, a bit of that," adds Massey, "if we feel like doing something else, we do it. Who says we have to be limited? So much stuff being released now is just appealing to the lowest common denominator."
Partington agrees. "There are DJs like Laurent Garnier who do play everything from gabba right through to US house and are doing it very, very well," he says, "but most don't, they're being lazy and sticking to one thing or are just doing stuff to be trendy and it's dragging the scene backwards."
"Two years ago when we started on 'Don Solaris'," says Partington, "the scene wasn't as healthy as it had been. You either go along with it and make a mediocre album, so that people can say, yeah, it's dance, we can label it, sell it, understand it, do remixes, make videos. Or you step away from it and take a bit longer. We did.
"The attitude that went into 'Don Solaris' is the same that went into 'Cubik', 'Pacific State', 'In Yer Face'. We thought it was time to throw a spanner in the works again. That's what excites us, we're a bit perverse like that. We'll never do 'Lift my blouse, set me free, raise your hands, throw your brains in the air' type bollocks. Yeah, success in the industry is all about timing, but every stage is a fight. It's like videos. We're not an image bond and don't like doing them."
"It's like Elton John again!" exclaims Massey, his bizarre comparison finally accepted. "But we've always been like that. Go back and listen to '90' or 'Ex:El', it's the same kind of diversity that doesn't always fit in. The only parallel we like to draw is that attitude you get with a Beastie Boys album, that you can go into it and discover new things all the time. You've got the Pistols, The Who coming back, if you don't watch it, it'll all regurgitate and come back at you! We need something new and progressive."
"Yeah, we've been here a long time," Partington agrees, "we've annoyed a lot of people for a long time. As long as we carry on upsetting people, that's OK. We don't want to get too complacent, we wanna be excited. We're not lording it, we're just passionate about our music. As long as you can keep people guessing, you're winning."
So there you have it, 808 State's musical masterplan. Leave aside the tiaras and stir up a few more tantrums. Game on!
[Author: Jody Thompson]
'Don Solaris' is out now on ZTT and second single from it 'Azura', featuring Louise Rhodes from Lamb, is out on July 29.