Volume 2, Number 93
"Ere, didn't you used to be 808 State?"
After three years of hiding away, 808 State are very excited about their latest LP, "Don Solaris". We are in their Manchester lair-cum-studio, an expansive den with enough keyboards and analogue equipment to excite the pants off Rick Wakeman. A very bad drawing of a Roland TR-909 drum machine hangs on the wall behind the trio of Graham Massey (engineer, elder Statesman), Darren Partington (DJ, loudmouth) and Andrew Barker (DJ, quiet one). Darren holds his hands in the shape of a giant spacehopper and says: "When you've got an album like ours, you feel like you've got balls that big." It has to be said that Darren's trousers look perfectly normal to the untrained eye, but no matter.
What we want to know is where these acid house warriors belong in the pantheon of dance music. Pioneers without even realising it, 808 State were playing live before anyone told them that dance acts weren't supposed to do that sort of thing. Formed seven years ago, they had their first hit ("Pacific State") in November 1989, when most rave kids were still dreaming of owning a pair of Technics 1200s. Then there were collaborations with the likes of Barney Sumner and Björk (on 1991's "Ex:El") well before John Lydon had gone into the studio with Leftfield.
So where the bloody hell have you been for the past three years? "In here," pipes up Graham. "We wanted to wait for the right climate. There are very few artists working in this area that last more than a few records. We've been doing this for seven years, which is quite a unique thing. Last time round, the competition was Dancin' Danny D, Baby Ford, and possibly Guru Josh."
They might not be high in the public's consciousness these days, but it would be a mistake to underestimate the importance of 808 State. Around since the first wave of UK house and techno, their art has always been to assimilate American influences into a wholly British package, presenting a brew of melodic techno, ambient house and what has been subsequently termed trip-hop. With genre-bending acts such as Orbital and Everything But The Girl currently storming the charts, how does that leave the Staters? "Well, everything's open now, isn't is?" says Partington. "You can go out and buy albums by Orbital, Tricky and Oasis and it's OK."
Which means it's "OK" to have borrowed lames Dean Bradfield from the Manic Street Preachers on the new, moodily layered track "Lopez". "The tune needed a real twist to it, just to polish it off. Using his voice in an unusual way helped create something totally different." Indeed. Although "Lopez" is the most successful track on the album, the latest single, "Bond", which features Doughty from US alternative act Soul Coughing, is another measure of the album's broad musical soundscapes. Other tracks have been bolstered by contributions from Louise from Lamb and Ragga, who was last heard on Tricky's debut LP. And none of the tracks on "Don Solaris" shows any sign of a juddering four-to-the-floor house rhythm.
And, as Darren so eloquently puts it, the band are "ready to rock". "We want to play the main stage at festivals now, like Underworld did at Phoenix and Orbital at Glastonbury." So are you ready to come out of spaceships at Wembley Arena? "Pods, actually," Graham interjects. Has your mum finished the glitter cape yet? "And the glove with the ring on it!" says Darren. "I'll be skulking behind me pod," adds Graham.
You are entering the State of Spinal Tap.
[Author: Bill Brewster]
The single "Bond" and album "Don Solaris" are both released on June 17 on ZTT