Report from Wax Magazine, August 1996:
Castlefield Arena, Manchester
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.