When 808 State toured America in 1991, techno and rave music was still very much underground here and the group’s shows provided many people with an introduction to the music. But when the group returned this spring, headlining a package tour with Meat Beat Manifesto and Supreme Love Gods, it was a different situation entirely. Sitting in their tour bus prior to their show in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the three members of 808 State took the time to talk about their band and the state of dance music in general.
“We’ve noticed a difference because it’s got a foot in the door now, where as when we first came over it was a little bit novel still. Now everyone knows about it and has an opinion.” explains Graham Massey on how techno has caught on in a big way since their last visit..
For the 808 State, touring means more than just plugging their latest LP, Gorgeous. The group feels that it is important to get out into the clubs and see what is going on. Audiences in different areas respond differently to various styles of rave and dance music, and observing what is going on will have an impact when the band returns to the studio to work on new material.
For their live shows, 808 State rely on DATs for the bass and drum parts. They do have some sequences coming straight off a computer, but the groups says that this is too risky to make a big part of the sound, especially in America. Another reason for the DATs is that it’s difficult enough getting some of the older equipment into the studio without it breaking down, so bringing it on the road is out of the question. The group uses keyboards, guitar, sax, and percussion triggers to play the live parts and in the future hopes to also use a vocorder.
“We’ve got it to a point where it’s completely different every night,” explains Graham. “It’s quite interactive now.”
While intense hardcore techno is still being overplayed, 808 State have chosen to slow things down with Gorgeous. Feeling that style has been overdone, the group is going back to the more house-oriented sound that originally inspired them back in the mid-80’s “It’s coming down. It’s hit a peak. It couldn’t get any faster, it couldn’t get any more annoying or aggressive,” says Darren Partington. “And that’s it, forget it now, let;s try and go somewhere else.”
“It’s going back underground as well to a certain extent,” adds Graham. “Which is a good thing. Techno is now pop music. It’s official, it is pop music. I think Gorgeous is a back lash against some of the aggressive, 180 bpm. We were making Gorgeous while that was being played in the clubs and in the big raves.”
That type of techno is often made by DJs or rave kids who get together, string together a bunch of samples and emerge with a white label. Graham says that in England several pirate stations emerged that play hours and hours of music that sound like it was being played at the wrong speed.
“That was dragging anything remotely good down in everyone’s eyes,” he says.
The members of 808 State explain that is the Djs and record store owners who control the direction of dance music. The import shop owners can decided whether or not they want to order a track and pass it on to the Djs, and the Djs themselves are prone to sometimes starting trends that go against good music. But the group says that some of the major DJs have been kicking in with good music over the past year and are back on track.
“It’s at the point that I like which is that it doesn’t have a name at the moment; something’s going on and no one’s given it a label yet,” says Graham. “And the minute they do it will probably be over and then everyone just follows the formula and does it. That’s the way it goes. Its good when it’s in turmoil and it is at the moment.”
While 808 State’s music is primarily instrumental, they have used such guest vocalists as Ian McCullough, Bernard Sumner and Bjork Gutmondsdottir. In 1990, the group collaborated with Manchester rapper MC Tunes, first on the single “The Only Rhyme That Bites” and then on his full length album, The North at Its Heights.
808 State recently worked with Robert Owens (Fingers Inc) on a cover of “Gimme Shelter” for a charity compilation. Most of the time, it is the singers who approach 808 State, and the group refuses to do collaborations just set by record companies for purely commercial reasons.
“It’s too C+C Music Factory., That’s not what we’re about,” says Darren. “Yeah, we’re dance music, but we like to be a little bit on the edge, we like to play around. It would be somebody taken out of context.”
808 State are following up their tour with Meat Beat by going out on the road in America with fellow Manchester band New Order. Once all the touring is done, they will put the finishing touches on their own studio. The group admits that the amount of writing they have done in the studio in the past was “a bit foolish really,” so setting up their own facilities will give them even more freedom.