|808 State: Deluxe Remasters
It certainly wouldn't be overstating the case to describe 808 State as the godfathers of UK techno. And to commemorate the 808 State's twenty years of existence since their formation in Manchester at the height of the acid house explosion in the late- 80s, ZTT have repackaged, remixed (by 808 State's Graham Massey himself) and reissued the four albums the band recorded for the label - each coming with the obligatory sleeve notes aplenty and bonus discs featuring rare and previously unreleased tracks. Wow!
Of course being based in what was soon to become known as 'Madchester', 808 State were well placed to pick up and ride the Hacienda-powered wave of the dance/rave explosion of the late-80s/early-90s, scoring huge hits with anthemic dancefloor-filers such as 'Pacific', 'In Yer Face', and the mighty 'Cubik'.
However, unlike many of the one or two-hit wonders who followed in their slipstream, 808 State's solid grounding in the Manchester post punk music scene (Massey in particular a member of avant punk-jazzers Biting Tongues) ensured that the band was well placed to subtly modify their sound once the baggy/rave party began to degenerate into one seriously bum trip.
And so, after the ZTT debut of 808:90 and the exuberant hands-in-the-air hard house of 1991's Ex:EL, 1993's Gorgeous is an altogether more sophisticated and blissed out affair featuring downtempo melodic tunes and guest vocal duties from Ian McCulloch (of course, we won't mention the collaboration with UB40!).
Then after a gap of three years, th' State returned with Don Solaris which took things into the realm of epic cinematic-sounding global techno, with driving rhythms given added oomph courtesy of the occasional electric guitar and punctuated by stabs of drum and bass and seductive 'loungy' vocals from Lamb's Louise Rhodes. For me, it's easily the most enduring of this quartet of albums.
Meanwhile, if you want to get a handle on 808 State's modus operandi during the 90's, you could do a lot worse than check out 'Contrique' from Gorgeous, wth its sampled Joy Division bass line, junglist drums and big Balaeric-style vocals.
[Reviewer: Ian Lowey]
808 STATE Deluxe Editions
Mancunian rave pioneers display their hidden gifts
Madchester veterans 808 State never quite got their invitation to the top table of '90s dance music magnates, not being as club-friendly as Leftfield, as "challenging" as Aphex or a shock-horror banned-video proposition like The Prodigy. They could host an18,000-capacity "turbo rave" with the best of them, though, and in Pacific and Cübik they had singles that have outlasted Firestarter. This mammoth re-release project - their first four albums, each with a full extra CD of archive material - gently points out that 808's strong suit was a questing spirit and a willingness to have a go at anything. Depth and variety are uncovered in the accomplice tracks to 90 (primal rave) and Ex:El (stadium techno with guest star vocalists). Only Gorgeous's truncated efforts to appease radio programmers dates badly - this is music that does not work at three minutes 30 seconds. Best of all is the neglected Don Solaris, a sparking junction box of house, jungle, hip hop and pan-ethnic music from 1996.
[Reviewer: Andrew Harrison]
29th October 2008
808 State 90
'Forward-looking' is one of the most over-chewed bones in dance music, but when 808 State made 90 in 1989 the urge to rush forward into the coming decade was palpable. With the departure of Gerald Simpson and his Acid expertise, which had laced their first two albums, the group stepped out of the shadow of Chicago's House sound and set about creating a garish collage of Herbie Hancock, soul boy sax and Skinny Puppy, all viewed through a B-boy's Cazals. While they were good-time Mancunian lads, theirs was - as stated by Martin Price in the 90 booklet - a Ballardian, 'bring on the end times' futurism, in direct opposition to London-centric doe-eyed Summer of Love optimism. It was appropriate that they signed to ZTT, as a culmination to Art Of Noise and cá s far-from-utopian dreams.
The incandescent excitement of 90 is undimmed by time, particularly with the addition of a disc of unreleased and EP versions. Most of 1990's Ex:el retained the buzz, but was a consolidation of their position, not a further advance. 808 State's tragedy thereafter is that they disowned the DJ-led, teeth-gnashing Hardcore movement born of "Cobra Bora" and"Cübik" which would lead to Jungle's hyper-accelerated experimentation in favour of a slower, more gestural stadium Techno, leaving 1993's Gorgeous sounding both quaint and overwrought even at the time. By 1996, outflanked commercially by The Chemical Brothers and Prodigy, and creatively by Jungle and electronica, they turned in the baroque, almost Prog rock Don Solaris, with its 5/4 time signature ballad "Lopez" and piled-on drums - but its synth presets and sluggish, clunking breaks felt even more retrogressive.
[Reviewer: Joe Muggs]
808 State 808:90
Electronic milestones given deluxe treatment
For sonic trailblazing and inestimable influence 808 State remain among our most important groups. Formed in 1988 during the biggest youth movement since punk, they released two albums before signing with ZTT. Their major offensive started with Hacienda anthem Pacific hitting the Top 10 in November 1989, while gaining the accolade of being the last record Derrick May played at Detroit's legendary Music Institute. 1991's Ex:el is their masterpiece, yielding hit singles including Cubik/Olympic, In Yer Face and the euphoric Lift, while displaying life beyond the rave with new, exotic influences as Björk and Bernard Sumner guest. Riding Madchester, they sold out Wembley Arena with Happy Mondays and headlined Glastonbury in '92, paving the way for the likes of Orbital and The Chemical Brothers to take it live.
1993's Gorgeous was another beauty, mixing crowd-destroyers such as Timebomb with cinematic, multi-strained outings. Ian McCulloch guested while they pioneered mash-ups on UB40's One In Ten, scoring their biggest hit. 1996's Don Solaris effectively replaced samples with live playing, guests including James Dean Bradfield on Lopez (coming with a rare Eno remix). Along with sleevenotes by RC's Ian Peel, these monumental reissues produced by founder member Graham Massey feature bonus CDs trawled from the mostly-unheard 808 archives. Pure history showing the real beautiful future.
[Reviewer: Kris Needs]
Volume 3, Issue 299
29th October 2008
For sonic trailblazing and inestimable influence 808 State remain among our most important groups. Formed in 1988 during the Manchester acid house revolution which, in terms of musical depth and innovation was beating London to the punch, they released two albums [Newbuild and Headstate) before signing with ZTT, who are now reactivating the subsequent four albums in deluxe form produced by Graham Massey. Their major offensive started with Hacienda anthem 'Pacific' hitting the top ten in November 1989 while gaining the accolade of being the last record Derrick May played at Detroit's legendary Music Institute. After consolidating their signature blend of riotous breaks, cheeky samples and roof-raising riffs with 808:90, 1991's Ex:el ejaculated forth as their masterpiece, yielding hit singles including 'Cubik'/'Olympic',' In Yer Face' and the euphoric 'Lift' while displaying life beyond the rave with new, exotic influences and guests Bjork and Bernard Sumner. Riding Madchester, they sold out Wembley Arena with Happy Mondays and headlined Glastonbury in '92, paving the way for names like Orbital and the Chemical Brothers to take it live and do the same in years to come. 1993's Gorgeous was another beauty, mixing crowd-destroyers like 'Timebomb' and 'Stormin' Norman' with cinematic, multi-strained outings like 'Europa'. Ian McCulloch guested while they pioneered mash-ups on UB40's 'One In Ten', scoring their biggest hit. 1996's Don Solaris effectively replaced samples with live playing, guests including James Dean Bradfield on 'Lopez' [coming with rare Brian Eno remix]. Along with detailed notes by Ian Peel, these monumental reissues feature bonus CDs trawled from the mostly-unheard 808 Archives. Pure history.
[Reviewer: Kris Needs]
2nd October 2008
The ZZT Years Remasters
A none-too-brief history of dance courtesy of Manchester’s bleep-merchant laureates.
You always knew that there was something different about 808 State. Back in the day, even the indie kids who hated music that was devoid of guitars, picked up on the band – providing one of the earliest avant-garde crossovers twix rave and indie. Here, the bands four albums recorded at the height of their fame, for stupidly hip record label Zang Zang Tumb (who had already given us the cutting edge of cutting edge from bands like The Art of Noise and Frankie Goes To Hollywood) are remastered and re-released with a bonus disc of b-side, remixes and all the usual gubbins.
‘90’ came first. Of course, it’s the album that brought us the magnificent ‘Pacific 202’ – funny to think that a cutting edge dance track was discovered by ‘Ooh’ Gary Davies on his hilariously monikered ‘Bit In The Middle’. The album sounds understandably dated now. The nineties rave scene was incredibly distinctive, more so than other scenes, and the combination of tinny 808 drums (hence the name) and blissed out keyboards is both of its time, and out of time – far from the aggressive style of contemporaries like Altern8 and The Prodigy.
The following year’s ‘Ex:el’ spawned the bands biggest singles – ‘Cubik’, ‘Olympic’, ‘Lift’ and ‘Oops’ – none of which really stray much from the formula – but rather augment it and for much of the time, blow on its tummy to make raspberries. The artificial yet uplifting strings, voice samples, and crackling high-hat create that ‘In Sound From Way Out’ feeling – in these enlightened times promising a bright future, and a safe past. Plus of course, ‘Oops’ marks an early effort from Bjork, outside the Sugarcubes, and ‘In Yer Face’ is known to millions as the theme from ‘The Word’.
Outside the main crux of the group, there was the MC Tunes project, sadly not documented here, so instead we move on to ‘Gorgeous’. In the previous 2 years there had been changes in both musical tastes and the membership of the group, and it showed here. A blistering dance remix of UB40’s ‘One In Ten’, a song whose anthemic focus had shifted from employment, to HIV positive, to any kind of minority group. ‘Gorgeous’ also featured vocals from Ian Maccollough of Echo and The Bunnymen. Already the shift away from rave culture was obvious in the bands output, with new kids on the block such as Underworld and a revamped Prodigy only a couple of years away, but it was what happened next that really changed everything.
Don Solaris was the end of a 3 year gap for 808 fans, and the world was a different place. Britpop had changed the musical landscape beyond recognition, and to release another album in the same vein would have been commercial suicide. Desperate to shake off their ‘rave’ connotations, the band switched to a more experimental side to be replaced by a more drum and bass, breakbeat and ethereal electronica bent. Cementing this change are vocals from members of The Manic Street Preachers, Lamb and Soul Coughing. Don Solaris has a more relevant sound, and was among the first dance albums to enlist guest vocalists of stellar magnitude in such great numbers. There were tell-tale sounds that gave away their roots, but as their response to this brave new world, Don Solaris was a triumph. Alas, the world wasn’t ready – and in fact, this album sounds more relevant today than it did then – a worth contemporary to Leftism, Exit Planet Dust and Endtroducing – but at the time, fans weren’t ready to let go of the past and, relatively, the album was less successful and their last for ZZT.
808 State were one of those bands who were a constant. There throughout the genesis of the modern dance music scene, and yet, never the biggest name. But we should take this opportunity to reflect on all they achieved, and continue to do to this day in their occasional live appearances. The bonus CDs don’t really add much to the story, save for curios and completeness, but for me this is both a predictable (I hate augmented re-releases) and a moot point – because across all 8 CDs (don’t get excited – they’re 4 sets of 2, not a box) you see some of the music that shaped the electronic music scene. It’s worth of your praise, and worthy of your re-evaluation. Start with Ex:el as the heavy hitter, then go for Don Solaris as the most contemporarily relevant, then see how much money you’ve got left. 90 is seminal but dated. Gorgeous is, comparatively, mostly filler, though still great.
[Reviewer: Chris Merriman]
2nd October 2008
It is tempting to buy into the notion of Mancunian music as being like some kind of slovenly, parka-clad relay race. Sulky team Joy Division put in the groundwork for team Smiths who prance all the way to team Stone Roses who sullenly hand the baton directly to team Oasis who slouch off towards the finish line with a knock-kneed gait that suggests they've just crimped a turd off in their Joe Bloggs jeans. It's tempting, that is, if you've been watching one of those soul sappingly reductive documentaries on Channel 4. Because in reality, away from the self-aggrandizing and gleeful myth building encouraged by the likes of Tony Wilson, this linear model just doesn't bear any scrutiny. Now that these slack jawed rock-docs have become our main source of music information it has become immutable FACt that The Stone Roses came after Joy Division in the stretch of the Manc-graph marked 'Acid House', rather than being a pleasant beat combo with a penchant for early 70s funk who went to a nightclub a few times, and actually had little to do with the city's musical heritage.
Some notions of lineage hold true in Manchester, but these don't include the retro, Liverpudlian-model bands such as Oasis or Stone Roses. It applies more to the undeniable strain of avant garde influenced, futurist bands, at once grappling with the city's industrial heritage and the discofied express desire to get down. This leaves us with a very tangible link between not just Joy Division but many of their peers, such as A Certain Ratio and Madchester's true acid house heroes, 808 State.
By 1990 they'd already had two albums out (Newbuild and Quadrastate) and Simpson contributed heavily to 'Pacific State' before leaving to have a hit with 'Voodoo Ray'. But the band's genesis in post punk is still obvious. The woodwind, bird call ambience of 'Pacific State' is only a hop and a skip away from the north face of 'Force', A Certain Ratio's last album, which practically sounds like a half empty Hacienda waiting to explode. The song (included here in its '202' and 'Britmix' guises) was borne out of an attempt to recreate the vibe of 50s exotica or Tiki music and apply it to acid house. This Polynesian vibe turns up at various points in 808 State's career and is more fully explored on 'Sunrise'. Their use of ACR's jazz funk, fusion and a nomadic way with various world forms saw a few compare them to Fourth World funkateers John Hassell or Eno and Byrne on their My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts album and spiritually at least, to Miles Davis. (Perhaps the nod is contained in tracks 'Spanish Marching' and 'Spanish Heart'.)
Price and Massey themselves would have rejected the notion that they were spiritual heirs to Joy Division though. They attacked with equal vehemence the idea that there was any continuity between the punks or hippies and acid house. They saw their cut and paste ethic as a Ballardian reflection of "the end of society". And when you listen to the hectic nature of '808080808' you can still feel the fracture with what had gone before sharply. As they told Simon Reynolds at the time: "Nobody wants to see a load of idiots torturing themselves on stage with guitars any more. This is about machines, punk was about arm power. The muscles and sinews in dance music are when you're sweating your bollocks off on the dance floor."
On _90_ 'Magical Dream' incorporates an icing sugar keyboard riff and heavily processed woodwind over an insistent house beat and 'Anacodia' is all ruffian electro, hip hop scratching, avant funk and techno. Still Manchester was refusing to listen to the diktats emerging from clubland in London; the northern city had the common sense to ignore the rules being laid down about what would and wouldn't wash under the genre tag of house. They wouldn't have made sense in the context of the capital and perhaps this is why they refused to sign to London - the label that eventually bought out Factory, who they also refused to sign with. ZTT, it seemed, were more in line with their vision of a truly eclectic dance music. The literally bonkers sounding 'Donkey Doctor' was leant on by The Shamen for their dreadful 'Ebenezer Goode' but elsewhere 808 have survived the aging process surprisingly intact.
The second of the ZTT albums ex:el is one of the best dance albums recorded; in the context of house music sitting alongside Frequencies by LFO and Leftism by Lefftfield. This isn't to say it didn't set up a few tropes we could have done without such as the indie/rave crossover single. Even though 'Spanish Heart', featuring Bernard Sumner, sounds better now than it did at the time it certainly also sounds like the blueprint for The Chemical Brothers' less inspired but commercially successful duets with Noel Gallagher or Kele Okereke. This said, the debt that the duo obviously owe 808 State can't be stated enough. Tracks such as 'Leo Leo' featuring huge breakbeats, hectic techno bass pulses and ecstasy rush-triggering walls of noise, would have been big on the club circuit when they were history students in the city. The one collaboration that worked well was with Bjork who adds her otherworldly warble to 'Ooops' and 'Qmart', making a necessary and pleasant counterbalance to the dark technofied strata of 'Nephatiti'. Despite it's name this track isn't so much an exercise in Egyptology as Ancoatsology, with its moody 3am sub bass and terrifyingly urban cyber acid breaks. This habit of peppering the 'intelligent' world fusion with slabs of heavy down home acid worked extremely well and the lounge futurism of 'Lift' made a surprisingly good bedfellow for tracks like 'Cubik', a remorseless reaction to the Belgian techno of Rhythm Device's 'Acid Rock'.
After ex:el Price left this most unusual of groups for the most usual of reasons: musical differences. The band came close to calling it a day but a tour of the far east revitalized them and they recorded Gorgeous as a three piece. The album reflects house culture's magpie tendencies and raw proto-mash up state. 'Contrique' reflects rave's tendency to eat itself by featuring a big bass lift from Joy Division's 'She's Lost Control'. But it seemed like the band had settled into a formulaic approach to structuring albums. It opens with the bridging track that acted as a link to the album before ('Plan 9') and then breaks out the big indie guest - this time Echo and the Bunnymen's Ian McCulloch ('Moses') but at this stage Mac was washed up and his inclusion is incongruous, to put it politely. And this is before we get to the oddity of 'One In Ten' featuring UB40. This again is a proto-mash up, which had been an unlikely hit hence securing it a place on the album. To be fair, this slice of proto-jungle is hardly as bad as it could have been but also still a far cry from what A Guy Called Gerald was achieving elsewhere. Better is their happy clappy bootleg of The Beatles vs The Jam which had all of the samples removed to leave a seratonin pumping slice of gospel house in its place. Thankfully they hadn't entirely turned their backs on the hardcore assault, and tracks like 'In Yer Face' and 'Timebomb' spoke of a band occasionally still catering for those wishing to have it large.
If the quality control had slackened somewhat then the productivity had grown exponentially. The second disc of Gorgeous is perhaps the most interesting, with plenty of proto-jungle and tribal house stompers. The pan global 'Bombardin' and the evil analogue burble of 'Insane Lover' proved that when they didn't over think everything they were still on fire.
They took a break of about three years before releasing Don Solaris and given that the hyper-accelerated world of dance ages in dog years, this was perhaps too long. Commercially they saw a host of bands that they inspired (The Chemical Brothers, Underworld) overtake them while they regrouped and rethought their game plan. A whole album's worth of material was scrapped and it's a fair guess (given the 12" material they had been working on in the intervening years) that the abandoned tracks had more than a nodding acquaintance with drum and bass. Now this would have been seen as a bold move if they had come up with something forward looking in its place but very few would claim that Don Solaris is satisfying in the way that ex:el is. Too much of this album (i.e. some rather than absolutely none) is full of execrable second wave trip hop, polite and soulless jazzy blunted vibes and tracks like 'Azura' featuring Louise Rhodes from Lamb did little to distance the band away from the bilge being pumped out by Olive, Sneaker Pimps and the like.
Worse tracks such as 'Joyrider' are abysmally over accomplished world jazz with meandering live sax solos and kalimba. In short, it has little to do with the adrenalizing experience suggested by the title and is just more Cafe Del Mar coffee table trance guff. To be fair James Dean Bradfield's appearance on 'Lopez' is of a much higher calibre. Perhaps it being released amongst the pressure and the expectation of Everything Must Go, it's not amazingly well remembered but it was a top 20 hit and showcases one of the most consistently underrated rock vocalists of the last 20 years breaking free of the constraints and associations of the day job. (Well, partially; Nicky Wire wrote the lyrics for him.) The song calls to mind one of the sublime moments from Brian Eno's Another Green World, so perhaps it's not surprising that the ambient music pioneer remixed the track to great effect.
But we get as far as the eighth track before we hit the problematic shift in the fundamentals of dance that had occurred since the last album: jungle. 'Balboa' is a satisfying enough effort, all Korg Prophecy acid farts and chopped up Lalo Schifren chase breaks but they can't help but gild the lily and it ends up being one of those 16:9 ratio widescreen tracks like 'Bang On' by Propellorheads rather than something Pascal and Hype would have dreamt up. The name itself should give you an idea of the well oiled, Hollywood, overwrought musculature on offer.
Perhaps it's better to stick to the bonus disc of 12" tracks which show that even in their mature phase, 808 State could still be a band not to fuck with.
[Reviewer: John Doran]
22nd August 2008
4x808 (Reviews of four seperate 808 State Reissues)
Okay, insteada draggin' this out endlessly, let's cut to the quick. On 6th October 2008, four 808 State albums will be reissued, all remastered and featuring bonus tracks. More on that can be found clicking here. But what are the LPs like? Well, four bite-sized reviews can be found over the jump...
808:90, when it first appeared, was weirder than anything else on the Acid House scene... and it's still pretty weird. It captures the cold steely soul of Kraftwerk and the funk of Chicago and New York house. It's also got that shufflin' stoner groove that made Manchester, MADchester. However, don't be put off by Northern posturing, this LP sounds a little-dated in places (only as much as say, Screamadelica) but is surprisingly fresh. Where a lot of old electronic LPs only fit the time they were made, this was obviously so far ahead of the game, that our brains are only jus' catching on now. Marvelous! Stand out tracks are the famous-as-fuck 'Pacific 202', the Man-Machine sly-groove of 'Ancodia' and the off-its-tits 'The Fat Shadow'. The bonus disc is more E friendly.
Ex:el, released in '90, is more riff-laden than 808:90 and kinda suffers for it. It's still got the clicky electro grooves, mixed with blissed out moments, but in 2008, it doesn't compute as well. That said, this LP features 'Spanish Heart', featuring Bernard Sumner on guest vox as well as the famed Bjork outing, 'Ooops'. However, completely owning the set is the still phenomenal 'Cubik' which is the Smoke On The Water of Acid. Sneaky contender is the brilliantly monickered 'Lambrusco Cowboy'. Bonus disc features 'In Yer Face' and the brilliant 'Olympic' (Euro Bass Mix). Over the two-discs, great... but not their best work in hindsight.
'92 release, 'Gorgeous', saw 808 State incorporating the live instruments more than before, something Graham Massey had always been keen on. Of course, now, that's not too big a deal... but back then, it was seen as pretty experimental. Bunnyman, Ian McCullough feature on the decent 'Moses' and a remix of UB40's 'One In Ten' appears... however, this LP marks the rise of the Italo Piano and the 'soulful' singing women that blighted many-a release back then. If you're into all that, you'll love this LP... however, if you're after something more brutal, more hypnotic, then this won't be the one for you. The second disc is where it's at though... with hard-as-nails techno and acid... and the absolutely beserk 'Marathon' which may never be accurately reviewed.
'Don Solaris' came out in a time when 808 State had been away and off the boil. I think that was around '96. Orbital had taken the crown of Intelligent Dance from them and Aphex Twin had pretty much rearranged the way we all thought about electronic records. So back 808 came with their weirdest and most coherent LP to date. Mixing the familiar 808 steel pulse ('Joyrider' and 'Balboa') with drum 'n' bass (on the cracking 'Azura' featuring Lou Rhodes). However, the big draw for this was the James Dean Bradfield guest spot on 'Lopez', which is still one of the oddest records ever released under the dance umbrella. 'Don Solaris' saw 808 State releasing their best work since 808:90. Bonus disc is patchy at best.
Okay, so which should I buy then, bozo?
Depends how much money you've got. If you're an 808 State fan, you're going to need all of these releases because, for the most part, the second disc is a valuable mine of unreleased mixes of classics and weird tracks that'll rewire your 808 State thinkin' mind. The addition of extensive... and interesting... liner notes are also a worthy addition to any existing fan. However, if you're kinda interested in buying some electronic music for a change, then it's a toss-up between '808:90' and 'Don Solaris'. '808:90' sounds like something that a Kraftwerk fan needs to own, whereas 'Don Solaris' is a bit more crossover and would appeal to the rock fan who occasionally dabbles in electronic music. If you buy '808:90' and like it, then make your way onto 'Ex:el' and the second disc will blow you away.
[Reviewer: Roman Clef]