808 State
Clash Music Total Music
30 September 2011
Total Music

Although founder member Martin Price is no longer a member 808 State remain a very viable going concern to this day, some twenty years after their initial love of American dance music initially brought them together, and with re-mastered and expanded versions of their ZTT helmed masterworks Ninety, ex:el, Gorgeous and the vastly under-rated Don Solaris now available (earlier works Newbuild, Prebuild and Quadrastatic are also out on Rephlex) Andy Basire tracked down Graham Massey for an e-chat and got him all nostaglic about his early days as a prog obsessed teenage with Eddie Jobson and Jean Luc-Ponty fantasies

Graham Massey:“I got an electric violin when I was 15 and used to try and play along to Mahavishnu Orchestra LPs. Anything with electric violins on I gravitated toward – Hawkwind, Curved Air, Roxy Music, Frank Zappa. I must have been hard to live with wah wah-ing away on that thing. But it got me into a band via a school mate (Colin Seddon) and we mostly did cover versions of Gong which is quite challenging. The same year some of us started a ‘Punk’ band called Danny And The Dressmakers, made an ungodly row and filled up cassettes with profanity. Then Colin and I joined Biting Tongues [who were] like university to me.”

By the late ‘80s however all thoughts of convoluted time signatures and twenty minute solos had been blown out of the water by what Graham was hearing from over the pond, in particular the dance music you could hear at Eastern Bloc in Manchester a record shop run by Martin Price who would go on to form the hip hop motivated Hit Squad Manchester with Graham before discovering acid house and releasing their first album Newbuild, under their new moniker 808 State – on Price’s Creed Records. Innovative from the off they were soon being chased by labels including the nascent ZTT.

Graham Massey:“A combination of things [made us choose ZTT]. Our manager was well in with them back in ‘89, and they courted us hard. We were talking to a few others back then like Factory. I think there was some rivalry between Paul Morley (ZTT) and Tony Wilson. ZTT didn’t really want to mould us, they realised we knew our onions, especially as Martin (last name) had Eastern Bloc records and we had made an impact already on our own label, Creed. ZTT kind of just plugged us into Warners which meant we got some weird stuff onto daytime radio, which back then was pretty groundbreaking. ZTT also hooked us up with Tommy Boy Records in the US, which was a good move – they were the right people to handle us. Shame there wasn’t some equivalent hook up in Europe.”

Total Music: It must be a bit of a blur now but what are your strongest memories of the whole Acid House scene?

Graham Massey:“Just a great flow where one thing fed the other, it was all new and open to ideas. The Hacienda obviously [fed] a lot of that energy, but it was all over the UK back then. And visiting the U.S and Japan at the beginning of their rave scenes [meant] I was getting a sense of the Global Village for the first time. It now seems like a very optimistic time where goodwill carried things forward, but that could be my perspective.”

Total Music: Obviously Manchester was at the centre of things around this time, but for the first time musical boundaries were really being blurred, did you feel part of a scene with bands like the Mondays and the Roses?

Graham Massey:“Well yes and no. There was a great civic pride in the music scene but it wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t centred around American dance music, the club scene was the source of that energy and the bands fed off that. We didn’t fit into the media as easily – there was no identifiable front man. We didn’t really know how to put on a gig at the beginning and once we were popular that was a big issue. It was all a learning curve and we probably made a lot of daft decisions, it was rolling chaos apart from in the studio which was filled with the oxygen of new technology – computers, samplers, synths – there was a parallel revolution going on there.”

Total Music: It could be said that you helped Bjork reinvent herself after the Sugarcubes given that her first real dance track was with you guys on Ex: El?

Graham Massey: “I think we are often given too much credit for that. Bjork was heading out on her own path anyway, but she was listening to our early records a lot and wanted to do something as complex, beat-wise. She was very brave to get up at some of these big raves with us and do the material off Ex: El, but she’s got balls of steel as she has demonstrated in her artistic adventures to date. I have nothing but admiration for where she has got to on a musical level. She’s a figure like Bowie was when we were growing up, responding to work around her but growing it into new forms and presenting it as a body of work where you build up trust and can follow on an adventure and mark times with it.”

Total Music:What is the current state of 808?

Graham Massey: “Well we’ve all [got] different lives now, but it’s great to meet up for the odd gig, all the old humour comes back and its nice to play the greatest hits set. I’ve tried to diversify to keep music flowing as I believe I’m capable of my best stuff based on what I’ve learnt about being a music maker, but I also believe in taking care of the music that we’ve done. It struck me doing the reissue project how fragile music is – tapes get lost or broken and that’s it gone. We probably should have split up years ago but we are tenacious northerners who never do what they should, which is what made it in the first place. You wont find sense in any of it…

Ninety, ex:el, Gorgeous and Don Solaris are available on ZTT/Salvo now. For more information, see www.808state.com.