Tuesday, 5 June 2007
808 State: 90
It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time when decent dance music was relatively hard to get hold of without buying expensive 12 inches from obscure record shops. Before DJ mixed comps and tri-annual superstar DJ radio show cash ins, those of us living outside of London had to survive on fourth hand pirate radio tapes or dodgy chart pop house hits.
Enter then 808 State with Ninety, the breakthrough album that saw the previously obscure Manchester four piece rise from northern acid house heroes to Top of The Pops and fifteen minutes of fame.
Since the acid house wave broke on English shores in 87/88 British techno had a proud and distinctive history of innovation. One man with his ear to the techno ground was Gerald Simpson working in a virtual vacuum to produce maybe the first genuine UK acid and techno sounds. Long before the London fashion press jumped on the band wagon, ‘A Guy called Gerald’ was already fashioning his own version of the crazy computer music drifting from across the pond.
Looking for an outlet for this burst of creativity Gerald hooked up with experienced electronic experimentalist Graham Massey and Eastern Bloc records boss Martin Price, to form 808 State. Named after iconic Roland 808 drum machine, the group scored local hits with the albums Newbuild and Quadrastate; slabs of drawing inspiration both from classic American house mixed with UK industrial pioneers.
During this period the rave scene had hit big in the UK and Manchester in particular was surfing the wave of the so called second summer of Love and the newly emerging ecstasy scene. The loved up and laid back vibe of the E scene, changed the direction of 808 State, and in the summer of 88 Gerald laid down the haunting sax melody of Pacific State.
However was all my have been peace and love in the clubs, the band were growing further apart, causing Gerald to leave in late 89 to pursue a solo groove, whilst the remaining members drafted in local upstart DJ’s the Spinmasters. Despite this, the energy and enthusiasm of the Manchester club scene could not be contained any longer resulting in the ‘Madchester’ scene of 89/90. Swept along on this tide of enthusiasm were 808 State who saw the re-released Pacific State climb to number 10 in the charts.
On the back of this success and at the height of the Manchester Scene, 808 State released 90, an album that had little in common with the rest of the genre, but was snapped up by ravers all over the country, eager to buy into the energy of the E fuelled revolution.
In many ways 90 is inconsistent with the scene of the time, the pulsing industrial rhythms foresaw the boom in electronic listening music from the likes of Warp that was around the corner, more than the sweaty hedonism of the times. Alongside the sublime Pacific, tracks such as ‘Magical Dream’ combine a superb combination of melodic bass & synth with crisp breakbeats and polished vocals, adding to the ethereal vibe of the record. More traditional dancefloor moments such as Donkey Doctor with its liberal use of Cybotron’s ‘Techno City’ and Anacodia with its Hip Hop influence, point more into the experimental direction 808 State took into the nineties. The album ends with ravers comedown delight Sunrise, a sinister but compelling mixture of tone and rhythm that preceded the bubble of rave bursting in the early 1990’s.
808:90 was not as flawless musically as many later British electronic albums, but its timing was impeccable. To all those who saw acid house as their time and the moment that changed their lives forever, the record managed to bridge the gap between the full on laser and strobe environment of the club and the back to mine chill out session.
To many, like me though it was a chance to get our hands on a long player of this new music that was actually ours, hailing from rainy Manchester and not Middle America gave 808 State a homegrown resonance we could identify with, along with a collection of killer grooves. Whilst some of it feels a bit dated today, if you have any interest in the evolution of British music 90 is a must, if only to experience the comedown bliss of Pacific State at least once.
If you like this try
LFO: Frequencies. Warp
Various: Retro Techno. Network
DJ: Pierre: Phuture and Other Classics. Trax
Nightmares on wax: A World of Science. Warp
Baby Ford: Ford Trax. Rhythm King
Various: Pioneers of the Warped Groove. Warp
Various: The Hacienda Classics. Virgin