Matters of State (2)
7 magazine article, 8 December 1999


"But what’s the difference between that and the Cream albums?" contends Darren, "except they’re in a different order and may have a different DJ mix." Despite being a fine techno DJ himself, this brings Darren onto another pet hate – the all-consuming power of the DJ. "If you let DJs predict what’s happening, they’ll take the power and it’s frustrating."

But surely the role of the DJ, the clubs, the white labels, the crowd-as-star is what ultimately differentiates dance from everything else? "That’s important and that still goes on," says Darren. "But there has to be people making dance albums that will stay with people and take things forward. Also, I don’t think DJs are that open to breaking new tunes. In the early 90s, breaking new records is how a DJ forged a reputation. I don’t think there are enough DJs sticking their necks out and creating that domino effect on other DJs."

So where has dance music gone wrong? "For an 18 year old who goes to Gatecrasher, it probably hasn’t gone wrong at all," reasons Graham. "But that’s not dance music," roars Darren in exasperation. "That’s Rank Leisure, that’s Mecca." "All I’m saying," counters Graham, "is that it depends on your perception. We can only see it from the long perspective and judge what we find exciting about dance music on that."

Massey slyly grins when I point out that they’re sounding like Spirit of 88-ers, old geezers bemoaning that fings aint what they used to be. "I know," laughs Massey sheepishly. "I know exactly how it sounds." Nevertheless, if there are to be elder Statesmen of dance, then 808 State must surely qualify for that particular peerage. They are, after all, the ones whose debut album ‘Newbuild’ influenced not only techno heads but also the weird beard electronists behind Warp. "At that point there wasn’t any rules," says Graham. "You had the freedom to explore music in a way that doesn’t happen now."

"Everyone is an expert now," says the very quiet Andy Barker. "That’s not a bad thing but it has imposed a ceiling on what other people can do." Around the same time, 808 State were already lugging heavy machinery on stage and putting on a proper live techno show. By the time their enormous hits fully kicked in (see the glowing ambient beauty of ‘Pacific State’, the radioworkshop creepiness of ‘Cubik’ and the robo-crunch of ‘In Yer Face’) 808 were playing to 15,000 people at Manchester’s G:MEX and mapping out the rules for stadium techno. For all the books and articles written on The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays, it was 808 State who were truly plugged into the new dawn of Manchester and acid house.

Perhaps more pertinent for today, though, is the way 808 State were the first to use non-dance collaborators as guest vocalists, whether it was Bjork, Ian McCulloch or the Manics’ James Dean Bradfield. "When we asked Bjork to sing on Ex:El," says Darren. "She was the queen of indie. Now she’s the queen of dance. It was done more out of mutual respect than anything else. With our collaborations, it was a way of opening up dance music to other people." >>

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