TAKING THEIR NAME FROM THE ROLAND TR-808 DRUM MACHINE, THE MANCUNIAN ELECTRO KINGS CAPTURED THE UNDERGROUND RAVE ETHOS AND TURNED IT INTO OVERGROUND CHART SUCCESS. THEY SIGNED FOR ZTT IN 1990
Graham Massey, founder member of 808 State, explains how it was a TV show that first brought the band to the attention of ZTT. "Our manager Ron Atkinson, tipped off ZTT to watch an 808 State vs MC Tunes appearance on BBC2's Snub TV, an alternative teatime youth show," he recalls. "Paul Morley was really enthusiastic. Factory Records and Deconstruction had already made us offers but we could see that ZTT would give us the most attention, in that they didn't have any other acts at that point in time. They were the label least likely to interfere with the music.
"We took Trevor Horn and ZTT out in Manchester a couple of times and I think it was an eye-opener for them. There was The Hacienda at full pelt, but we also took them to The Thunderdome, a harder rave club where Darren and Andrew from 808 had the Saturday night set. The age group was younger and police helicopters were circling above. I think Trevor thought it was apocalyptic.
"ZTT never imposed anything on us style-wise, as they knew we were in touch with the Zeitgeist. They had a job convincing [parent label] WEA of our potential, though. I mean, we didn't look like Grace Jones - more like a Dickensian street gang."
Massey recognises how much the label contributed to 808 State's success. "It felt like a family business - very parental," he says. "Trevor was so generous. He'd give us old bits of kit and write us proud faxes."
But he also points out 808's importance in the label's history. "I think 808 State were the last great ZTT experiment," he says. "And in ZTT's tradition of radical pop music, we managed to add to the legacy."