|Report from Wax Magazine, August 1996:|
Text: Tony Naylor, Photography: Melanie Cox
Among the cod philosophising that ZTT insists is essential to each of their releases, one sentence on the cover of 808 State's 'Don Solaris' stands out. It reads: "808 State have a great world system which works through a constant form making all sorts of potentially eclectic material come out very mysterious and awe inspiring. "Allowing for the obligatory pomposity, most would agree 808 State were one of the first post-acid acts to thoughtfully twist the raw elements of beats and technology.
In 1996, however, it could be well argued that the baton of creativity has been passed on. Following the high point of 'Ex-El', where house euphoria kissed all musical comers, who are 808 State? Are they rock or dance? Are they still capable of stirring our feet or is it strictly put your feet up and relax?
Choosing to answer these questions with a free open-air gig in Manchester was a brave move. Prophets are always scorned in their own land and no doubt the professional Manc cynics would have the knives out for 'Don Solaris.' More to the point, with 3000 eager young things packed into Castlefield Arena it could have been a massive anti-climax. After our appetites were whetted by some soaring house DJing courtesy of, among others, Darren and, Andy, there was a clear excitement about the place. Dilated pupils abounded - the kids wanted quite simply to 'ave it!
Opening with single 'Bond', fronted by Soul Coughing's Doughty, left most a little baffled. The crowd were ready to reach for the skies accompanied by 'State to State' or some other such gem. What they got was a rather over-worked plod which owed more to the industrial rock of Nine Inch Nails than was healthy.
The vibes were pleasant, as you would expect when 3000 people are being entertained for free, but for the first few tunes things refused to gel. Much of 'Don Solaris' is subtle and subtlety takes time. For most of the people here these new tunes were alien.
But, we were willing them on to light the touch paper and with 'Azura' they did just that. Complex but firing drum'n'bass, topped with Louise Lamb's delightful vocals, put a spark in the belly. Finally, you had to jostle for space to dance. With the rather rough-arsed jungle of 'Banacheq' they repeated the trick. Suddenly they seemed alive and vibrant and the crowd responded in kind.
The touch paper lit, we waited for the explosion. 'Pacific' and 'In Yer Face' didn't disappoint. The appearance of MC Tunes, and the potential of 'The Only Rhyme That Bites', was greeted with downright hysteria. Unfortunately, that was perhaps one concession too far. But as the last light drained away and the lasers began to carve out mesmerising images all around, we revelled in the nostalgia. Hands in the air and knowing grins, 'Madchester' reborn for tonight at least.
|Report from Mixmag, August 1996:|
Author: Mark White, Photo: Simon King
THE 808 State boys have been around the house scene from its triumphant birth, weaving their glorious textures around the mashed-up heads of those pioneering clubbers. But their brooding presence has been relatively quiet for most of this decade, until now. Their new album 'Don Solaris' takes listeners through all the twists and turns and genres now present in dance and mixes it up, top stylee. So here they are, under the skies at Manchester's open air Castlefield Arena playing a free gig for Euro '96, less than a week after a terrorist bomb ripped the heart out of the city. It's been proved dance bands can take it away live, but can they bring something more - a sense of relief, of escape, to people still getting to grips with this atrocity?
There's been a buzz around town for days. The area round the arena is in the most vibrant part Manchester, along the canal side where new bars open almost weekly. And it's chocka, with thousands here to see the band everyone's heard of. A feeling of hope crackles through the air. The boys are back in town.
Once they take the stage, 808 State don't appear to be visually stimulating - at least not at first. But the Eastern-flavours of 'Joyrider' insistently calls the faithful to prayer. A guy turns to me, spliff in hand, and shouts: "This is bigger than the bomb." And then it happens. The music and crowd suddenly gel and they take it higher and higher, and with no roof on the venue they never stop rising. Graham Massey starts bouncing round on the stage and the keyboard players wiggle their bums. There's sledging beats, rock guitars and, erm, even MC Tunes - but it all works. The floor of the arena is a seething mass of bodies.
"Top banana," screams a completely lost it girl on the stairs. There isn't a drug good enough to describe the feeling when the opening riff from 'Pacific' floods through the carnival atmosphere. Thousands punch the air as one and the sky shivers with delight. Ragga, guest vocalist on 'Mooz', astonishes with her phenomenal presence and old-style bluesy shouting over the pulsing drum n' bass rhythm. "Fucking brilliant," shouts Massey as the heroic band make their exit, the punchy bass riff from 'Cubik' lingering in the air like a long, hot Summer day. To paraphrase the Skinner and Baddiel soccer anthem: 808 - you came home.
|Report from DJ Magazine, 18 July 1996:|
Words & pics by Billy Fenton
Not content with a few 'Live' PAs in dowdy suburbia, 808 State celebrate the arrival of their extraordinary new LP, 'Don Solaris' with an extraordinary free outdoor concert. Early start time and free entry ensures a refreshing combination of people: parents and kids; old folk; and the inevitable mad hippy nutter. The venue is an outdoor dancefloor surrounded by seating amongst the Victorian red brick of industrial Manchester. By the time the band take to the stage, the venue is packed with expectant smiling faces as the State, bolstered by live percussion and drums, launch into 'Bombadin' to a loud roar. A steady stream of guest vocalists make up for the band's lack of pop star charisma, including "Dow—teh" from New York on 'Bond' and the lovely Louise Rhodes from Lamb offering breathtaking vocals over the drum & bass groove of 'Azura'. The highlight is when MC Tunes stomps onto stage and bounces straight into 'It's A Head Thing'. Sure, 808 State were playing to a converted home crowd but they proved that their new material could cut it live, and sent a clear message to the other top dogs of dance: watch your backs, fellas.
|Report from Melody Maker article, 6 July 1996:|
Author: DAVE SIMPSON
Is this the way the future's really meant to feel? Or just 20,000 mutants standing in a cobbled amphitheatre? Either there's an extremely mad scientist on Manchester's council these days or else the city's youth are living proof that excessive use of Ecstasy or alcohol can destroy or rewire the brain. Take heed, kids, these people are not like us;faces mangled and confused like creatures from "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", mumbling incoherently in tongues known only to the barman. If Oliver Stone were to make a movie about outdoor rave culture, this would be it, starring everyone from the girl who's so out of it she spends ages mumbling at me before realising that's her boyfriend stood behind me, to the onelegged bloke who spends the whole gig playing air guitar with his crutch. They're all shuffling around like outsize- clothed buoys on a sea of flyers for "808 State live and free", in which Manchester's prodigal sons return from a four-year studio incarceration with a bonzer new album and a free gig to reclaim their role as pied pipers of everything amblin'. Once, when all Mondays were Happy and Roses came in varieties of Stone, the magnificent 808 invented stadium house, paving the way for the successes of Leftfield and Orbital.
Nowadays, arenas aren't big enough to hold their sound and so they're appearing here, bouncing lasers off surrounding buildings like crazed Jean-Michel Giros and employing Railtrack carriages to pass by on overhead viaducts as a surreal extra to The Maddest Show On Earth. Somewhere in the chaos, the three tenors of Nineties sax-led electronica are huddled on a tiny stage, blasting out a succession of top tunes. Some sound a bit like Orbital and Phuture, but also like Acker Bilk, Glenn Miller, ancient tribal drum tattoos and Seveties beardos Weather Report, mixed together and hurled in a rocket ship marked destination Venus, 20001. Facing this crowd, 808 aren't The Shamen but shamen, dazzling the gurners with a freeform liquid techno-jazz that seems to drip down from heaven itself. Nevertheless, they do have their very own Mr C. Darren Partington looks like a trendy postman and, in keeping with 808's musical sensibility, incites us to form Krautrock groups - "Make some Neus, Manchester!!" - and every sentence ends with the word "maarrvellous". The Leonard Sachs of techno! Did I mention sax? The cue for 808's Graham Massey to take up his trusty alto and invite huge cheers of nostalgia and recognition for "Pacific State", the best rave anthem ever, but certainly not so scared as to tum down an extended jam/coda with a guest spot from Miles Davis' ghost.
Did mention guest spots? The Mad Show has them as well (but the less said about MC TUNES' face the better), with LOUISE from Lamb coming on all alien Ella Fitzgerald and M DOUGHTY from Soul Coughing doing that old industrial "Terminator" routine with consideralbe aplomb. All that's needed now is a finale and ye olde "Cubik" manages to sound like a million "Dr Who" themes rolled into one, while a load of laser "808 State" logos flash up on buildings and confirm that for tonight, at least, 808 have taken over Manchester. And, let's face it, somebody should. Maarrvellous.