|808 STATE - THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE|
17th March 1990
WHEN IS A REMIX NOT A REMIX? WHEN IT'S BEEN DONE BY MANCHESTER TECHNO-WIZARDS 808 STATE. PUSH TALKS TO THE BAND ABOUT THE SAMPLING REVOLUTION, THEIR NEW EP, 'THE EXTENDED PLEASURE OF DANCE', THE HITS, THE WRITS AND THEIR PLAN TO PLAY ON TOP OF A DOUBLE-DECKER BUS TRAVELLING TO ATHENS. PICS: STEPHEN SWEET
"THE PROBLEM WITH THE MUSIC BUSINESS IS that it's just not ready for a lot of what's going on at the moment, it can't keep up with many of the ideas that have developed over the last couple of years," declares 808 State's Martin Price. "Take Black Box and 'Ride On Time'. There was all that fuss about the vocals being lifted from a Loleatta Holloway song, but the original record had been released in an acapella form specifically so that DJs could mix it with other tracks. Then, as soon as Black Box took that idea to its logical conclusion, everybody started complaining about it.
"A lot of people in the industry seem to have problems with us too. I mean, we always have to refer to ourselves as a band when we're not a band at all, we're a production team which makes our own records. Try explaining that to somebody who works fora record company and watch them scratch their heads in bewilderment. Most of them would undoubtedly be confused if they came to see 808 State live. They wouldn't know what the fuck to make of us having a mixing desk on the stage.
'When 808 State first started, we did a lot of live work and what we'd basically do would be to start playing and mixing tunes at the back of the club without being announced. Most people would keep dancing, but every so often someone would come up to us and ask when the band was gonna start playing. We'd tell them that we were the band, that we'd already played several songs, and that if they wanted to see and hear someone like the fucking Walking Seeds they should off and come back next week. The old indie heads couldn't cope with us any more then, than they can now.
"That's the thing, you see: we're modern, we're living and working in the 20th century, we're moving and looking forward all the time."
FOLLOWING the success of last year's "Pacific State" single , and the recent release of the critically acclaimed "Ninety" LP, Manchester's 808 State have now issued a three- track EP craftily entitled "The Extended Pleasure Of Dance". It includes new versions of "Cobra Bora" and "Ancodia", two of the highlights of "Ninety", both barely recognisable from the originals. The former is a particularly aggressive instrumental, the fast rhythms almost disfigured by the slash of synthesized strings and the savage jab of a piano. At times it sounds like a bold re-working of Rhythim Is Rhythim's "Strings Of Life", the classic Detroit techno track and long-time rave fave.
"Ancodia" is more mellow, even though there's no noticeable slackening of the pace set by "Cobra Bora". The beat is softened by the careful spread of luxuriously textured keyboards and the numerous melodies are circular rather than angular. Many of the intricacies of the original song have been removed - there's less scratching and percussion, and less under-the-surface noise - and a beautifully soulful, gently echoed voice ripples throughout.
Graham Massey, the man generally perceived as 808 State's technological wizard, may say that he's never been especially fond of the tune, but he's much happier with it now than he was before.
Martin: "But we don't see either of the tracks as remixes. What we've done in both cases is take the original apart, and then build it back up into something totally different. I think that they now complement each other nicely. The basic idea of doing an EP rather than another single was to be able to show that we could come up with a tune which was a lot harder than 'Pacific State' and, at the same time, something showing our more soulful side."
PART of 808 State's appeal has always been their ability to alter musical direction from one record to the next and it's hard to believe that the new EP is the work of the same people who, less than two years ago, released "New Build", an album of sharp Acid tracks. They've recently remixed some of their older material for release in America and they note, with a mixture of pleasure and horror, that "half of it has ended up sounding like heavy metal , and the other half like camp Seventies disco music".
Are they themselves starting to get a little confused? Graham: "Not confused, as such, but I do sometimes feel that we're a balancing act, perpetually running along a tightrope. Still, it keeps us excited and that's the main thing."
Andy: "The weirdest thing is that we never make a conscious decision to change, it just happens. The end result depends on how we feel at any given time. When we re-record something and it turns out completely differently it's not because that's what we necessarily want, but because we have no real choice."
Graham: "Our early tracks had a really pure sound, and a lot of that was to do with the limitations of the equipment which was at our disposal. In some ways, it's actually easier to work with those limitations, and now that we can have all the gear we want, we find that we sometimes get stuck in a quagmire of possibilities."
Martin: "But whatever the changes from one record to another people seem to be able to recognise that it's 808 State, and that's something which can't be said about most House acts. I think that we've got our own identity - even if none of us could tell you exactly what it is - and we're constantly trying to improve it, constantly looking to create the perfect track."
"CUBIK" is the third track on "The Extended Pleasure Of Dance", and by far the most strange. A monster of a bassline pushed to the fore when least expected gives it a certain instability, another of the keyboards could quite easily be mistaken for an elaborate air-horn, and the tune ends as if somebody has literally thrown a spanner in the works. It also features the sort of crazed guitar solo more common to a sub pop record. It sounds like they're taking the piss.
"Graham bought himself a midi guitar that he could connect up to a keyboard, and when we were doing the track he started playing this wild heavy metal solo," recalls Martin. "I've always been really critical about rock music, but we all thought that it sounded real good and we're well pleased with the result. It's a top tune, it's got a lot of guts. As for taking the piss, well, Graham had some socks stuffed down his trousers when we recorded it, and he was certainly rocking out - 'Playing like a motherfucker', I believe the expression is. The world should also be told that his guitar is bright red and shaped like a star."
THERE'S more cheek in the fact that, whether unintentionally or otherwise, the two or three snippets of vocals deep in the mix of "Cubik" sound remarkably similar to those on A Guy Called Gerald's recent "FX" single. Gerald is a former member of 808 State, and a legal wrangle over Gerald's contribution to "Pacific State" has been dragging on for months. Gerald has recorded a track entitled "Specific Hate" for the B-side of the "FX" remix, and Martin is also obviously extremely bitter about the whole episode.
"The latest news is that a musicologist has been brought in to break the track down into the constituent parts and judge the value of this or that element.
"But whatever happens, Gerald has made a right cunt of himself over this thing, especially by doing things like 'Specific Hate'. When he played up here the other night about 150 of our fans stood outside of the club in protest against him."
808 STATE have just returned from playing a one-off gig in Berlin ("The crowd were hip to us which was only to be expected - the Germans invented tech no didn't they?") and in the next few weeks they will appear as special guests of Happy Mondays at Manchester's G-Mex, and play a club date in their home town at which they plan to perform one 20-minute long experimental track.
Having always maintained that the studio is their most important instrument, they hope that these shows will prove that they can also work in another environment.
Martin: "We're doing them under our own terms and we won't be playing totally live because of not wanting to conform to the set-up that everybody is used to. We'd rather play some bits live, and have other stuff on tape in the same way that Human League used to work. I've lost count of the times that I've been disappointed with a live act which sounded nothing like they did on vinyl. Hopefully, the day will soon come when people would prefer to hear a clear sound and see a well- presented show, rather than worry about whether tapes are being used or not."
Graham: "Backing tapes don't necessary mean anything anyway. Baby Ford, who we played with in Berlin, did a totally live set, and it was as exciting as watching him make his dinner. Not that we want to make our shows seem like demonstrations of our studio technique, it's just that we'd rather they were more like happenings. Other people have tried that, but the important thing is to give it vitality. I saw The Beloved last night and although what they did took a form similar to ours, it was a complete flop simply because they didn't put any energy into it."
IN addition to their live performances, 808 State have plenty of other forthcoming projects to talk about. Martin's idea of taking a double-decker bus to Athens in the summer and playing on the roof en route can be laughed off, but their work with fellow ZTT artist MC Tunes is a little more serious. The two acts have recorded a single called "The Only Rhyme That Bites" based on samples from the theme music to "The Big Country" which will be released as 808 State Versus MC Tunes ("We rigged it so that he lost") in a form similar to a reggae sound systems battle.
808 have also signed a trio of new Manchester dance acts - Technosis, K Class and Beatronic - to their own Creed Records, the label which they set up to release "New Build", and Graham, whose production credits have included Inspiral Carpets and The Shamen, has plenty more re-mix work in the pipeline. He says that he's starting to feel "more like an appendage to a mixing desk than a human being".
Moreover, his work as half of Biting Tongues should not be forgotten and, after a long delay, a new Tongues album will be released in April.
Graham: "Although 'Ninety' hasn't been out that long we've already started work on the next 808 LP. We want to put it out as two 12-inches, so that the tracks will be of a better quality for the club DJs. We've also drawn up a list of vocalists - all unknown -that we'd like to use in the future. I have problems writing lyrics and if we could find somebody to work with, it would be a real relief.
"The point is a track should always have a focus, and the reason why 'Pacific State' did so well was because the saxophone line was featured like a lead vocal. We're always looking for voices to sample or an instrument to use in that way."
Martin: "But when it comes down to it, all that we do is exactly what we want at any given time. We're not offering some mind-blowing experience, we're not doing anything particularly weird - I stopped putting bugs into a miked-up jam jar and giving it a good shake years ago - and we don't have some great message to deliver. 808 State make good, solid dance music and people should just accept it for what it is. It's for people who go out a lot rather than for people who stay at home and theorise.
"Besides getting paid and keeping Andy and Darren off the building sites, the most important thing is that we enjoy ourselves, that we have fun. People think that just because we play a techno-type music we're dour and robotic, but we're not like that at all. Getting into 808 State is like having a holiday with the Marx Brothers."