Interview: 808 State
The Quietus Rocksucker
3 June 2013

On June 21st, acid House legends 808 State will be part of a mouthwatering bill for the FAC51 Haçienda night at the Coronet, London so we caught up with 808 spinmaster Darren Partington for a natter about that, his new outfit Big Unit, how the patronage of Aphex Twin introduced a new generation to 808 State and why Glastonbury is a way of life…


We recently spoke to Peter Hook, who you’ll be sharing a bill with at the forthcoming FAC51 Haçienda extravaganza at the Coronet in London. He raved about your performance at the recent Haçienda Festival in Japan, saying that you “put Delphic to shame”…

The thing about 808 State though is that we’re tried and tested, there’s a lot of experience in the band to fall back on. It’s 808 State’s 25th anniversary this year so we’ve been quite a few little gigs; we were in Bristol on Saturday supporting Happy Mondays and it was really good. People were coming out and getting on it, which was fantastic.

We DJ under the Haçienda banner, which is great because we don’t have to play cheesy ’90s dance/rave; we play proper ‘history of dance music’ stuff, which is what we used to play at the Hacienda anyway, so we’re booked at the Haçienda as 808 DJs as well. The crowd that turn up are a lot more discerning, they know what they like, so we can really stretch it.

When we put a bit of time and effort into our set, and it goes down well and is appreciated, that really brings a smile to my face. I wouldn’t do it otherwise, d’you know what I mean? It’s about educating people, playing the classics, not about playing a set of cheesy ’90s rave. Since we’ve been working on the Hacienda brand with Hooky over the last few years, it’s revitalised my love for it and I want to do it all over again with Big Unit, on my own terms. This is my band now.

808 State was a collective of people, Big Unit is my band and I’ve got some amazing people in it. The support for it has been great – it could have gone tits up, like, “What are those 40-year-olds singing about?” – but we’ve got the right tunes, we’re playing the right thing and we’ve got all the right notes all in the right order!

The DJ’ing that Andrew [Barker, 808 State bandmate] have been doing with the Haçienda has been great; we supported Happy Mondays on Sunday in Brighton and they gave us an hour, to juice up and lubricate the audience before the Mondays came on. We’ve had to go back out there and see if we’ve still got it; well, trust me, we’ve still got it.

How was Bristol VegFest?

It was fantastic, absolutely brilliant! The Farm were on before us which was good because we hadn’t seen them in a while, then Hooky went on and DJ’d for about an hour, and by the time we went on the crowd were bubbling. Bristol’s always been clued up from the early rave scene; we have a lot of love for Bristol.

VegStock is great: it’s by the river, outdoors, and everyone’s on the piss all day. There’s good food, good people and good music: what’s not to like? I was really pleased it went so well because the old-timers can be hard to please! People have asked if on the tour bus we’re still smiling and happy, and trust me, we’re still smiling and happy.

How does it feel to have such legends as Aphex Twin and Autechre citing 808 State as an influence? Is the feeling mutual?

It was so nice that Aphex Twin ended up revitalising our early albums that we put out on our own label. He’s the king of electronica, know what I mean? The man is an absolute legend, so for him to tip his hat to us opened 808 State up to a whole new audience, a different generation.

He’s stood the test of time. Who’d have thought we’d still be in the game all these years later? I’ve been in the game altogether for 27 years and when we first started we struggled to get any articles in the NME. People said it wouldn’t last, but we didn’t do too badly out of it, did we? Aphex Twin is still going strong now, even getting better and better every year.

How did the Simian collaboration on “Outpost Transmission” come about?

James [Ford, drummer] was studying in Manchester, and we’re very much like Spinal Tap in that we’re constantly losing drummers left, right and center, so James ended up drumming for us for a while. He just got involved with the 808 family and to this day he’s still a very close friend to all of us. It was so good to see how popular Simian became and what amazing work they did, and it was so nice to work with him.

We’ve never been afraid to ask people we respect to work with us; we’ve done remixes for Bowie and Soundgarden, we’ve worked with James Dean Bradfield from Manic Street Preachers, Tom Jones, Guy Garvey from Elbow, Bernard Sumner from New Order, Ian McCullogh from Echo and the Bunnymen… These are people we grew up listening to, so to get to do a song for them, and for them to accept it, is amazing. It’s been a pleasure and a privilege, know what I mean?

Do you intend for Glastonbury to be your “lost weekend” again this year?

We worked really hard at The Unfairground the last few years and no one knew it was there. The people who work at The unfairground are amazing: they put a lot of time, effort and passion into it. We just got a phone call about three years ago asking if we could help out and we’ve never looked back. This year, it’s going to go off; it’s going to be one of the coolest places at Glastonbury.

I keep going back to Glastonbury every year trying to find bits of my brain that I lost there fifteen years ago! It’s like a homecoming. Glastonbury is a way of life, and anyone who understands that will know exactly what I mean. It revitalises me, stokes me up again and I’m well happy for the rest of the year after it. If I spend a week at Glastonbury, I’ll be fulfilled spiritually, mentally, physically, everything. Then I can carry on with the rest of the year. It’s that good.

What do you think about the longevity of the Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer, and are there any contemporary artists that you think use it in an innovative way?

That drum machine is just an amazing piece of machinery. It’s the reason we’re called 808 State. You can’t surpass it. It’s like a great singer: people say Aretha Franklin is the goddess of gospel, and she is, and that drum machine is pretty much the best drum machine there will ever be. It’s got all the right features.

People are passionate about it; it’s actually going to be part of a tattoo I’m planning to get. I’ve done it myself in conversation, asked, “What’s your favourite drum machine?” You can judge a man by the drum machine he chooses!

What have you been listening to lately?

I’ve been listening to a lot of mixes that people have put up on SoundCloud, mostly bedroom producers rather than known names. We have an 808 DJ crew and we’re constantly swapping stuff, even if it’s only twelve hours old. One of the best things I’ve seen live this year is Disclosure; I think they’re DJ’ing at Kendal Calling so I’m going to make a beeline for them.

Otherwise, I like to walk around a festival and stumble upon people, d’you know what I mean? Glastonbury’s good for that, certainly little festivals are too, and Kendal Calling is very much like that. When you get to my age it’s nice to have that window of opportunity for someone to get into your life. It can be a wonderful feeling.

Darren Partington, thank you.

808 State will play a live set at the FAC51 Haçienda night at the Coronet, London on June 21st


[by Jonny Abrams]