“Pacific State” by Dawn Gardner
From the beginning “rave” was supposed to be a faceless musical form rebelling against the cock-and-coke excesses of 80s hair metal, and the drab “woe is me” insularity of indie rock. The emphasis was to be taken off the performer, and turned back onto the all-important audience who, in this new era of dancing and drug taking, were the true stars. For the most part this anonymity was the norm, to the point where acts became almost interchangeable, and the distinct whiff of novelty began to creep in. The name of the act with the rave version of “Hong Kong Phooey” may be lost to history now, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.
Despite face masks and aversion to Smash Hits interviews, there were a few acts of the rave era who managed to become recognisable brands in their own right. 808 State were arguably the first and definitely one of the best, building up a devoted fan base through relentless touring and a series of great albums and singles released at the tail end of the 80s and throughout the Nineties. You might not recognise any of these guys if they passed you in the street, but their music has become iconic in its own right.
The band formed in mid-80s Manchester around a nucleus of Factory stalwart Graham Massey, Eastern Bloc-owner Martin Price and Gerald Simpson, who would later leave to peruse his own successful career under the name A Guy Called Gerald. 808 State were one of the first acts to take rave out of the clubs and fields and into the British charts, and by extension the nation’s living rooms, with influential hits like “Pacific State” (a chill out classic and the birth of ambient house) and “Cubik” (whose riff is to dance music what “Louie Louie” is to rock’n’roll). Back in school in the early Nineties, a few of us would pass round a cassette of the 808 State album ex:el, its rock hard beats and swooshing synths fuelling our imaginations to what raving might actually be like, long before we ever could. Twenty years later and I know that we weren’t the only kids listening.
Now the Manchester pioneers have released a sort of-best of compilation that pulls together some of their career’s highlights alongside a bunch of unreleased bit-and-pieces, remixes and previously unreleased out-takes. 808 State were a huge influence on the second wave of UK dance pioneers from the mid-Nineties, like Autechre, Orbital, Future Sound Of London and Aphex Twin and even a quick scan through their list of non-dance collaborators proves the kind of respect the band command. Blueprint kicks off with a remix of 1988 “Flow Coma” by Aphex Twin, it features liner notes by Orbital’s Phil Hartnoll and elsewhere on the album you’ll find spots from Brain Eno, Bjork, Trevor Horn, Ian McCulloch, Elbow’s Guy Garvey and Manic Street Preacher’s James Dean Bradfield.
Blueprint is a good album, and one recommended for long term fans and newcomers alike, though I’m still waiting for a straight-up greatest hits comp with the original extended 12” mixes of these classic tracks. Alternatively, I might just go and pick up the remastered, double CD packages of four of their original albums (90, ex:el, Gorgeous and Don Solaris), which have all been re-issued with bonus material and are available from the official 808 State website. The band are also currently giving away a free “21st Anniversary” remix of “Cubik”, which you can get right here:
808 State’s music still sounds great after all these years, whether you simply want to travel back to a different, more innocent, era or even if you want pumping-up, ready for action in the right now. The intro to “In Yer Face” (an all-time, hands down dance classic) is still chillingly prescient to this very day, a reminder that maybe the past wasn’t so innocent after all, that we’re still facing some of the very same problems today:
There are new forces in the world
A conflict between the generations
A powerful feeling that the American system
is failing to deal with the real threats to life…
808 State “In Yer Face”
808 State “Pacific State”
808 State “Cubik”
808 State “Flow Coma” (Remixed by Aphex Twin)
808 State “Olympic”
808 State “808080808”
808 State ft James Dean Bradfield “Lopez”