808 State Your Mind
The Vibe Magazine
Issue 70
October 1991
Page: 20

Interview by Jeff K

Wake up America, techno has arrived, and at the forefront of this assault are England's 808 State. Touring to promote their new Tommy Boy release "Ex:El", the mancunian techno-gods finally arrived in Dallas, a city they knew little about but a city they wouldn't soon forget. Their in-store appearance at Bill's Records was a mob scene, and so was their show at Deep Ellum Live. Nearly 1000 people raved as laserbeams danced overhead; the band and tour manager gleefully admitted this was their best gig yet. The three members touring included Graham Massey, 31 (GM); Andy Barker, 23 (AB); and Darren Partington, 21 (DP), all of whom were willing to sit down and chat about touring, music, and more.

Isn't this your first nation-wide tour of America?

DP - Yeah, last year we did a gig with the Happy Mondays at the Sound Factory in New York for the New Music Seminar, but that was it.

What are your initial perceptions of America?

AB - We like it! The people are really into it.GM - Americans are "good consumers" which is quite gratifying. England is full of cult things and attitudes so you tend to get bogged down. If you make an impression in England, you become a has-been.

Where is your fourth member, Martin Price?

GM - Well, Martin runs Eastern Bloc Records back in Manchester, and right now he's got a lorra things on his plate.
DP - Normally, he's on stage with us; however, nobody's committed. We're a production team, not a band dependent on anybody.
GM - We're a pretty flexible unit. You're touring with a DJ, Chris Collins, and an MC, Alfonso.
GM - Whenever anybody sees 808 State on stage, it's never just the four of us, it's a huge team, we bring the party out!

When you guys are in the studio recording, do you make a conscious effort to write stuff for the dance floor, or do you get your favorite remixer to spice it up?

AB - We don't necessarily get remixers to get it on the dance floor, 'cause in England whatever we do normally gets played in the clubs.
DP - Before we tackled "Ex:El", we said we're not going to make a dance album. We've seen dance albums, whether they be soul, rap, or whatever, and they're selling an album off one feeling. With "Ex:El", we tried to express ourselves as what we really are - a good strong musical team - and we could also be diverse. That's the idea of using Bernard Sumner and Bjork. You've got hard-core tracks and mellow tracks. We intended to give people an album they could listen to all the way through.
GM - In the studio, you're just concerned with writing a good tune, not where you're gonna put that tune. When we did things like "In Yer Face" and "Cubik", we never thought of putting them in the charts. If you went to a record company with a thing like "Cubik" and told them it would be a Top Ten smash, they'd tell you where to get off!
DP - If 808 State started to use the Ten Dance Floor Commandments - Thou Shalt Use a Good Breakbeat, Thou Shalt Use a Nicked Bassline - we'd end up like the rest of 'em.
GM - There's a lot of that at the moment on the other side of the pond.You struggle to find a gap where you can be noticed. There is so much out there, you want to stand out when your record comes on the dance floor. You want to make an impact. I think that's where we've succeeded in England; we've done some classics, you know, songs that get played at the end of the night.

Speaking of classics, how do you feel about all the "Cubik" rip-offs: flattered or angry?

GM - It depends on who did it and if it was done creatively; some are good and some are shit!
DP - The Altern 8 one was a compliment, but our record label said "If that record moves five more places in the pop charts, we're gonna sue". We were like, "No, you don't do things like that". I mean, we take samples from other people, it's give and take, that's the whole idea.

Do you find time to keep up with the dance scene, the charts, with techno?

DP - Because we've got the record shop and I'm a DJ and we've got our own radio show on Sunset Radio, we're totally on top of it all the time. Now I don't listen to anybody specifically, but I do listen to labels, like R&S, Hithouse, Music Man, and Flying.
GM - You've got to follow people you can trust. You can't really trust a lot of the bands yet because they might do one brilliant track, then you have to wait four or five times before another good one. People trust labels, producers, and remixers.
DP - I tell you, the R&S label in the past year and a half has been fantastic and consistent, the label of the year easy!

The hard stuff is real big right now.

DP - Yeah, the big tune in Manchester when we left was "Charly" by the Prodigy. That hit #3 in the commercial charts.

How do you feel about the increased desire for Techno? When you started, there wasn't this kind of support for your ideas; now there's plenty.

GM - It's a very personal thing. Some nights you go out and you think it's all brilliant. Another night you might hear the same records and think it's all so brainless.
DP - It depends on the DJ. Not to sound big-headed, but we were there a couple of years ago, we witnessed it when it was fresh. Now we're getting it second-hand. In fact, where I live there's 14- and 15-year-old kids doing what I did two years ago.

Doesn't that say something about the availability of the technology?

DP - Exactly, and that's good, it's progressing so fast. The immediacy of the scene was one of my turn-ons for getting into dance music. You could sample, didn't need a bassplayer or drummer, no personnel problems, you could just go in and do your tune.
GM - It still comes down to personalities and that's what counts. You gotta have input into these records. Anybody can make a techno record these days.
DP - But it shows, mate!
GM - I get tired of it, every day I get this Shit through my door. After a while you get bored with it and it's bad for the scene. It's up to the DJs to filter all that out. The DJs have a responsibility to keep this style of music going.

808 State's underground image seems almost as important as the music; is it this way in England?

GM - In England, we are sortof marketed like a pop band. It's been quite difficult for us 'cause that's not what we set out to do. But we do want to get to people.

Are shows like Top of the Pops a necessary evil?

GM - Doing shows like Top of the Pops and interviews with magazines like Smash Hits helps us get to the younger generation. They're all into techno, forging their ideas. There's a flow of energy coming from them.

A couple of quick Smash Hits questions: Darren, if you were a dog, what kind of dog would you be?

DP - I'd be a fluffy dog!

Graham, If you were a color, what color would you be?

GM - Orange!
DP - We've been there and it's great. Some bands say, "We're too serious, we're musicians, we're not having that." Well, that's cutting yourself off.
GM - The important thing Is that we are getting to the 13- and 14-year-olds and it means something to them. It's their pop music now. They're not listening to rehashed stuff like The Doors, it's not theirs; they need something to identify with and grab onto.

You guys do lots of remixing these days; anything in the works?

GM - Yeah, we just finished remixing a David Bowie single, "Sound and Vision" from his "Low" album. Thee's also a remix we did of Quincy Jones' "Back on the Block", and a remix for Yes.

Yes!? Why Yes?

GM - Well, you get all these people knocking on your door and you think, "Yeah, what could we do with that?" The temptation to pervert and twist these things is what gets us.

Will we see anything new from 808 State?

GM - Yeah, we got loads of stuff in the can waiting for the new album, which should be out around March '92.
DP - Once this tour is done and we've taken some time off, we're gonna have a new single out on white label. Nowadays, it takes us 3-4 weeks to turn a single around in England and that's not what we're about normally. We're gonna have to do it our own way again, the way we used to: get a couple thousand whites out, not with 808 State on it, just get it out on the streets and see how it reacts.
GM - Without 808 State on it, you really do have to stand on your own two feet amongst the other stuff. Nobody's gonna give you any leeway when you're 808 State.