|Buried Treasures: Acid Muthas Mental|
This month in our series of forgotten classics: when Acid House hit the north-west of England. By Stuart Aitken.
"WE HAD to stay up all night," 808 State's Graham Massey says of the winter weekend in January 1988 when he, Gerald 'A Guy Called Gerald' Simpson and Martin Price recorded the seminal acid house album Newbuild. "The only stimulant we could afford at that point was something called Jolt Cola", a highly-caffeinated soft drink.
Named for a Bolton housing co-operative, Newbuild was certainly made on a limited bud-get. Recorded on borrowed time at Spirit Studios, Manchester, the band used tape salvaged from a skip at the back of BBC Manchester. Yet it was a record that had to be made. While much of Britain was enjoying the bright Californian pop of Belinda Carlisle and Tiffany, Chicago and Detroit house was filtering through to European producers, encouraging them to make their own variants on the enigmatic, hyper-rhythmic music. 808 State were among the first in Britain to do this, and if Newbuild borrowed heavily from the example of records such as Adonis's No Way Back and Phuture's Acid Trax, the end product was unique. Resolutely unformulaic, the sheer rawness of Newbuild harked back to such quantum shifts as early hip hop and punk.
The three heard US import sounds at the Hacienda, browsing at the Eastern Bloc record shop where Price worked, or by tuning in to DJ Stu Allen's Piccadilly Radio show, but they had come to acid via very different routes. Massey had fronted industrial band Biting Tongues in the early '80s, Simpson was a jazz fusion fan who had embraced electro, while Price was into Negativland and Tackhead. Their combined chemistry was a potent one.
"What I wanted to do was do something that was really stripped down and minimal," remembers Simpson, who owned a £50 Roland TB 303 Bass Line and the Roland TR-808 drum machine that gave the group their name. "Before I got to the studio I'd programme some bits and pieces based around some of the Chicago acid house stuff. [Then] Graham would come in with something else and it would just totally change the whole thing... he'd put a little indie influence into it, then I would try and take it somewhere else, so we'd just bounce off each other."
Throughout the resulting album are the squelching, mind-warping frequencies of the TB 303, which was so integral to the new music they were listening to and provided the unifying sound to the whole. "People saw them as like a Casio organ. They didn't really know what to do with them," says Simpson, chuckling at the fact that TB 303s now change hands for around £800. E Talk and Flow Coma have a hypnotic, pulsating drive that verges on the deranged. Crucially, the record was made with the understanding that even the underground sounds from the US had their corny elements.
"You'd have things like Steve 'Silk' Hurley and people in knitted jumpers doing one-armed press ups," says Massey. "There was a sort of cheesy act that went with it. The harder edge, wigged-out stuff - that's what appealed to us."
The album was released as a limited run on independent label Creed. It sold modestly, but was championed by John Peel on Radio 1 and became a Sex Pistols-sized inspiration to those who were open to its DIY aesthetic. Autechre and the Aphex Twin were among them; Aphex, aka Richard James, is unequivocal in his admiration for Newbuild: "It was the next step after Chicago acid, and as much as I loved that, I could relate much better to 808 State. It seemed colder and more human at the same time." As a result, he reissued the album on his Rephlex label in 1999, and last October oversaw the release of Prebuild, which collects the vital 808 State music that pre-dated Newbuild.
What happened to 808 post-Newbuild is better known than the album. In a dispute over royalties, the three gradually went their separate ways. Simpson, furious at not being credited for his role in 1990's huge hit Pacific, later recorded a track called Spesiphic Hate, subtitling a '90 solo single Automanik with the message '4Q 808'.
After hits in the '90s with new members Andrew Barker and Darren Partington, Massey continues to be the face of 808 State, and also plays with Toolshed and Homelife. Simpson, based in Berlin, records and DJs. Price left the band in 1992 to manage Rochdale hip-hoppers The Kaliphz.
Lately, 808's once-glacial relations have thawed. "People have said that maybe me, Graham and Gerald should do something together again," Price says. "We've been talking about it," Massey adds, "but there's nothing solid. We did a thing in Manchester in October where Gerald DJ'd, that was a bit like a class reunion."