|Report from NME, 9 January 1993:|
THE TWO crop-headed geezers are gaping as the sound of an asthmatic soprano sax and chirruping birds waft out into a room altogether too big to be called just a room. They stand there silently gawping at the fit-inducing lasers, purple and blue, while the cerebral thunder of 'Pacific', 'Olympic', 'One In Ten'. 'Plan 9', 'Cubik', 'Control' and 'In Yer Face' hits them. Then 808 State go off. The geezers pull themselves together, and then one of 'ern goes: "That were fuggin alrite, that was."
And so 808 State boldly go where no ravers have gone before, taking their strange, bottomless music to the Madness audience. They're not slow in letting the crowd know how great they are, saying, "And now, all the way from Sunny Manchester, the wonderful 808 State!"
It's an approach that you might use in front of 5,000 E-heads, but beer monsters are a different kettle of Grolsch. 808 State know that no-one's much interested in them tonight, but still they're out there doing what's necessary. "Let's see some dancin' in the place. You did pay, after all."
808 State remain subtle and versatile in a genre that doesn't really respect either trait. 'Pacific' and 'Cubik' remain as alluring as ever; the mystifying version of 'One In Ten' (why do it?) draws the only purr of recognition from the audience, who would probably rather have seen UB40 up there, or even have just sung along to the Christmas classics playing through the PA, given the choice in advance.
This is like Depeche Mode circa 1982 going out in front of a Motorhead audience. But all the same, there are a few converts, apart from the two baldheads. There's a man with a ZZ Top beard, who yells for more at the end, and some dancers for whom a good time isn't necessarily about singing along to your old favourites.
There are, incredibly, still people who don't know this music. Clever, wry, and oddly moving despite the "Come on Birmingham!" exhortations, 808 State are as good a place as any to start. That really were fuggin' alrite.