31st October 1992
Believe it or not 808 State are about to release their sixth album - but is it 'Gorgeous'?
Andrew Barker: "To tell the truth we're fucked up..."
Graham Massey: "That's our excuse for the way we look these days..."
Darren Partington: "We've been in this business a long time now and, yes, we are basically fucked..."
Graham Massey: "We'll probably look like Ronnie Wood in about five years time..."
808 State are as baggy as they've ever been. Suffering and showing it. The ever-growing publicity machine is wound up and ready to propel the new album, but the pioneers of power-house, caged in a Warner Music hospitality room, sick of the sound of their own voices, dying for a beer, would probably only laugh if it snapped. They've been through it once already you see, in America. Talking, smiling, DJing, playing their way from state to state: "Shoving it down their throats." as Graham puts it. Trying not to smirk at the tech-no-rave hysteria that's sweeping from New York to San Francisco.
"Techno to me is Derrick May and Transmat, that sort of thing. Techno to me isn't all this hard, aggressive stuff." spits Darren, 808's veritable mouth on two legs. "And you know, Derrick May's not a bad lad when you get inside his head. People have got misconceptions about him over here, he's unknown which is unfair. On the surface his attitude seems to come across too much, he says things out of context. But he's got a passion for music and that'll do for me."
"Everyone kept talking to us about this new rave nonsense, and we were saying in interviews, 'You started it! You gave us the idea! We just copied and developed it.' If it wasn't for Juan Atkins and Derrick we wouldn't exist; we'd have had no direction."
It's something the UK excels at; latching on to someone else's culture, tarting it up, and selling it straight back to them. The Rolling Stones did it with R&B and 808 State may well do it all over again. 'Gorgeous', their sixth long-player (if you include the MC Tunes collaboration, 'The North At Its Heights', the hard to find 'Newbuild', and the 'Quadrastate' mini-LP), puts Manchester's sound-scapers back on the map, a lengthy sixteen months after the release of their last album. It's been a testing time for the band, not least because founder member Martin Price left, to return to his Eastern Bloc .record store, and to concentrate on Switzerland, his solo project.
"It was a brave move for him," admits Graham. "to leave something as established as this. It's like being in a family, and I suppose, if it's not working out there's no point dragging it on any longer than necessary."
'Gorgeous' sounds like Orbital in places; like The Future Sound Of London at other times; occasionally it's a little too close to rave for comfort; but mostly, it sounds like nothing else on earth. It could only be 808 State. There's no 'In Yer Face' or 'Ooops' here; instead you'll find great walls of spiky sound, like'Contrique' and 'Nimbus'; multi-layered deep drifts on 'Southern Cross' and 'Orbit'; as well as the ubiquitous guest spots, so favoured by 808. Caroline from This Mortal Coil pops up, as does Ian McCulloch; Peter Hook lends a Joy Division bassline, and UB40's 'One In Ten' is remade to baffle us all.
"We've had to wait months to get this album out, because of hassles with the label moving so slowly. It's been horribly frustrating for us." sighs Graham. "A lot of people have been asking, 'Does it sound different now Martin's left?'. But I think it's got an 808 identity to it still; a new improved one, progressing from where 'Ex.EI' left off."
"Over the last year since we've put anything out, it's been a bad time for dance music." frowns Darren, who still presents a show on Manchester local radio, alongside Andrew, the quiet man of 808 State. "A lot of shit has happened. A lot of really bad records have hit the charts. I think the music's so furious now because the Ecstasy's so shit, it's more like a speed, whizz thing today."
"You end up with the dynamics of heavy metal, mixed with break-beats." adds Graham. "Some of the more interesting music coming out of clubs now, is being brought on by a real smoking atmosphere. Stoned, rather than amphetamine fuelled. You don't have to be on ten all the time."
It's hard to see exactly where 808 State are going to fit in now. If you try to pin them down and slap a label on them, they'll just kick you hard and run off in a brand new direction. However many times they punch a hole into the pop mainstream. they're not losing their space on the dancefloor for anybody. Beneath the caustic opinions and acerbic wit, there's three of the most amiable characters you'll ever meet; a wad of enthusiasm; a profoundly creative unit that's just itching to put out as much music as possible in the future. We discuss contemporaries; are there any? A few names are tossed about, but there's a fault in the theory with each. Let's face it, they're unique. For instance, who else in techno-house can play live like 808 State?
"We turn into dance rock & rollers on stage, we can't help it." grins Darren. "People expect you to come on with a little keyboard and be very polite, but we can rock with the best of them. The music takes on another quality. Some types expect a dance band to come across as a synth and two lycra tarts, we never will though."
"A synth and three lyrca tarts, that's what we are." jokes Graham.
"...when people see 808 live they really see what we're about." continues the irrepressible Darren. "We're not dick-heads you see. We're not fashion conscious, we're not image conscious. No label or manager's gonna mould us into something we're not."
To put it simply, take them at face value. Accept no imitations. It's been a hell of a journey for 808 State, since the shimmering sound of 'Pacific State' first slid across the muddy fields and seedy warehouses of 89. And they've got a good few miles to travel yet.
"It's been great, seeing the world and letting some other bastard pay for it. To come off a building site and start making money doing something you love is amazing. To be creative and not like a machine all your life is the best thing that can happen to anybody." says Darren, turning serious. "When you start repeating yourself though, that's the time to stop. You'll know that within yourself. As long as we're taking dance music somewhere else, I'll still walk into the studio and be part of 808 State. We can be around for another five, ten years, no problem..."