808 State’s contribution to dance music is often understated. It is curious how a band formed in the north west of England can be considered as pivotal as contemporaries from Detroit. Indeed, many people to this day falsely confuse them for being American. Once you learn otherwise, it comes as little surprise that the origins of the band can be traced to Madchester. Martin Price was the owner of Eastern Bloc. Importing the most obscure dance music from the States at the time, the record shop was widely regarded as being highly influential to the city’s thriving club scene.
Graham Massey had enjoyed moderate success with Biting Tongues - an in-house band on New Order’s Factory Records. In 1988, the duo’s shared appreciation for electronic music would unite them in the studio along with a certain (A Guy Called) Gerald Simpson. Initially, they worked as engineers on other artist’s records. But soon they would begin to make their own music. With the release of debut EP Newbuild, 808 State was born.
Put out on Creed Records, it would launch the outfit to the forefront of the UK techno scene. Soon after, Simpson would breakaway to pursue his highly successful solo career. In his place, Price and Massey would recruit Andrew Barker and Darren Partington - who had previously worked together as a DJ tandem known as the Spinmasters. This quartet would be the 808 State line-up that enjoyed the group’s height of success. In 1989, they dropped the Quadrastrate EP, which would include their most famous track - Pacific.
Now it wasn’t only the UK scene taking notice, but those on the other side of the Atlantic. As Manchester became the focal point of British pop culture, 808 State became poster boys for the movement, and were soon being ushered in the same breath as the Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays. Perhaps it was this association that subliminally prompted 808 State to record an album. At the time, the concept of a techno act releasing a long play was virtually unheard of. It was the single format that dominated, but 808 State were about to buck the trend - becoming pioneers in the process. The release of 8-track 90 (Ninety) in 1990 on ZTT would be the catalyst for further dance act to visit the album format. Who knows, maybe we owe 808 State a lot of gratitude for paving the way for the likes of Orbital and Underworld?
The material on the album was largely ambient, and it could be argued that 808 State inadvertently assisted in the rise in chill out room in venues, as a result. During the period that followed, Price would begin to take a backseat - opting to focus on solo projects. He stopped touring with the other members and the founder would eventually relinquish status as a permanent part of the group, appearing and collaborating sporadically. The newly formed trio would steer into a new direction. They turned their hand to remixing - reworking hit records for the likes of David Bowie and Primal Scream - making them fit for the dancefloor. In the studio, they hooked up with leading guest vocalists. Bjork, Echo and the Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch and James Dean Bradfield of Manic Street Preacher all featuring on their music. They would even introduce rap MCs to their productions.
After a period of inactivity, the band re-emerged in 1996, changing their sound once more. 1996’s Don Solaris was experimental in nature - and covered a multitude of styles from the spectrum of rave, including D&B and trip-hop as well as acid house. Integral to the band’s success, has been their formidable live show. Incorporating the legendary Roland 808 drum machine - what else? - into their stage set-up, 808 State were the first techno act to tour like a band. Innovators in the truest sense, current acts such as KiNK and Recondite would surely not be about if it wasn’t for the foundations laid by the seminal Mancunian group.
Back in their hometown, 808 State kick-start a new era for Manchester, returning to the city during the debut season of events at Mayfield Depot - the expansive warehouse space being used by WHP. They touchdown on Saturday 30th November on the Feel My Bicep line-up. Lining up alongside fellow pioneer Jeff Mills, plus Floating Points, Midland, HAAi, Willow, Hammer, Brame & Hamo and of course Bicep themselves, it’s amongst the most impressive date of the programme.
Still recording fresh material, 808 State are currently based at Manchester’s Old Grenada Studios. Brand new material is in the pipeline, with forthcoming album Transmission Suite likely to drop in the Fall. Transmission Suite is scheduled for release on 11th October.
Tickets for Feel My Bicep and other WHP shows are on sale now.