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808 State

Pioneers of the acid house/rave scene, 808 STATE will probably be remembered for at least one track, the timeless `Pacific’, guaranteed dance-floor filler from its late-80s inception right up to now. Sampling-friendly and sparse anthemic vocals (some by famous guests), the group were once described as TANGERINE DREAM on speed. Of course, fans of the group, and the techno movement in general, would be in their element to point out they’d paved the way for successors The PRODIGY, ORBITAL, The CHEMICAL BROTHERS, and UTAH SAINTS.
Formed Manchester, England… in late 1987, seasoned synth exponent Graham Massey (from New Hormones and Factory Records alumni, BITING TONGUES) and fellow Hit Squad programmer Gerald Simpson, frequented the Eastern Bloc music store owned by Martin Price; the trio to be took their nom de plume from the Roland TR-808 drum machine. Interested as much in hip hop as the Chicago-filtered techno side of things, the combo sorted out a recording studio under the wing of Price’s own enterprising indie imprint, Creed.
By September ’88, 808 STATE kick-started their campaign with the gloopy and detached NEWBUILD {*7}. Comprising seven tracks – including `Sync/Swim’, `Flow Coma’ and `Headhunters’ – that were said to have inspired AUTECHRE and APHEX TWIN, the trio issued another 12-inch, the single `Let Yourself Go’, which prophetically saw the last of Simpson who was to make his own mark through A GUY CALLED GERALD on the spring ’89 hit track, `Voodoo Ray’.
Almost immediately roping in Andrew Barker (keyboards/bass) and Darren Partington (keys/congas/e-drums), 808 STATE dispatched their third release by way of mini-set, QUADRASTATE (1989) {*6}. This showcased the first throw of the dice for `Pacific State’; soon to be simply `Pacific’ after the coaxing of ZTT Records to bolster its possibilities even further. Needless to say, the acid-house classic reaped rewards and a Top 10 spot, and even featured – as `Pacific 202’ – on 808’s parent set, 90 (1989) {*9}. Oh! the numbers!
A ground-breaking set of tracks in every sense, the album didn’t sell in mass quantities, but it did generate a plethora of pundits who staked the trio’s claim as the next big thing in electronica dance music. From `Magical Dream’ (featuring the chilly ACR-like vox of American Vanessa Daou) and `Ancodia’, to the aggro-edged `Cobra Bora’ and the cosmic `Sunrise’, the 808 STATE of play was fully underway; the subsequent 12-inch minor hit EP, `The Extended Pleasure Of Dance’, featured remixes of `Cobra Bora’, `Ancodia’ and the fresh dancehall-shredding, `Cubik’, which went on to become a Top 20 hit in its own right when twinned with `Olympic’, later in 1990. Incidentally, the ‘State also composed the theme tune for TV pop/chat programme, “The Word”.
And whilst their previous set was turned in by Tommy Boy Records – with bonus tracks to boot – in America as “Utd. State 90”, the 808 squad were grinding out collaborative efforts with MC TUNES (aka Nicholas Lockett) on single platters, `The Only Rhyme That Bites’ and `Tune Splits The Atom’; spawns from the album, “The North At Its Heights”.
With their feet truly lodged within the dance floor door, the prolific 808 STATE followed up with one of the best techno 45s of the era, `In Yer Face’, a Top 10 breaker and a groove-splitter taken from their trippy Top 5 album, ex:el (1991) {*9}.
A tougher set all round that featured NEW ORDER’s Bernard Sumner as guest on the track, `Spanish Heart’, there was also room on board for Icelandic pop pixie BJORK (ex-SUGARCUBES) who truly “debut”-ed on the not-so-sonic `Oops’ (a Top 50 volley) and `Qmart’. The year ended with the rather derivative `Lift’, yet another Top 40 entry, but paired with an exclusive “sound garden mix” of `Open Your Mind’. Sadly, Price dropped out later in the year to form Sun Text.
However, after a collaboration with BOWIE on a version of `Sound And Vision’, 808 STATE surfaced briefly in summer 1992 with the not-so-explosive `Timb Bomb’, their weakest link so far, but not as ill-advised as their 808 STATE vs UB40 joint re-hash of `One In Ten’, that reached the Top 20 that Xmas. Willing to experiment, or just simply pander to an altogether un-masked sound of techno-pop, the single `Plan 9’ only just scraped into the Top 50. And when 1993’s Top 20 dint, GORGEOUS {*6}, was caught posing in its own reflection, the astute use of IAN McCULLOCH on `Moses’, seemed somewhat surplus to requirements next to relatively unknowns Barrington Stewart & Rachel McFarlane on `10 x 10’, and Caroline Seaman on `Europa’.
Having already worked on QUINCY JONES material, 808 STATE remained increasingly dramatic and atmospheric, as evidenced on their solitary `Bombadin’ minor hit of ’94.
In such a short space of time, Massey’s posse had went from heroes to zeroes in the light of new skidoos on the block LEFTFIELD, The PRODIGY, ORBITAL et al, so it was no surprise when their warped jungle-styled electro hit the buffers with DON SOLARIS (1996) {*6}. `Bond’ and `Lopez’ – featuring, respectively, M. Doughty (from SOUL COUGHING) and James Dean Bradfield (of MANIC STREET PREACHERS) – had given the group a path back into the Top 50, but the formula that took in guests from the alt/indie world was wearing thin; incidentally `Azura’ (a flop 12-inch single) employed LAMB’s Louise Rhodes.
Save for a few singles on obscure labels after ZTT dropped them on the back of a remixed `Pacific’ / `Cubik’ double-A hit, Massey, Barker and Partington remained below the parapet until the release of OUTPOST TRANSMISSION (2002) {*5}. More oblique than their earlier efforts; with input from the likes of ALABAMA 3, ELBOW’s Guy Garvey and SIMIAN’s Simon Lord (`Crossword’, `Lemonsoul’ and `606’ respectively), the record was hardly in step with current trends but was probably all the better for it.
808 STATE went on an indefinite hiatus thereafter; Massey almost immediately reuniting with BITING TONGUES; and again in 2009 to perform in “A Factory Night” in Brussels.
As sure as eggs, it was inevitable that Manchester’s acid-house pioneers would re-group; though Partington left in January 2015 after being sentenced to 18 months for dealing class-A drugs. Undaunted, Massey and Barker kept the ball rolling with a 30th anniversary gig in 2018. This enabled the duo to gauge a response for fresh tracks, and with added guests: Phoebe Pope (vocals), Jan Bures (bass), Carl Sharrocks (drums) and Howard Jacobs (percussion), October 2019 saw them drop their long-awaited hour-long 7th set, TRANSMISSION SUITE {*7}, having already issued EPs `Initial Granada Report’ and `Subsequent Granada Report’.
Not unlike their heady heyday of house, the acidic and absorbent record was what one would expect: a rich textured travelogue of jittery jaunts that would make YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA or JOHN CARPENTER blush. Star tracks were `Tokyo Tokyo’ and the tribal `Ujala’ (from the “Initial” EP) and `The Ludwig Question’ and `Cannonball Waltz’ (from the “Subsequent” EP), though `Angol Argol’, `Trinity’ and `Huronic’ were equally effective.
© MC Strong/MCS 1994-2004/GRD // rev-up MCS Nov2019

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