August 7, 2014 8:03 PM   Subscribe

808 State is an English electronic group that formed in 1987, and take their name from the Roland TR-808 drum machine and their shared state of mind. As a trio, they produced their iconic track, Pacific, which fused influences of house music, jazz fusion and exotica. The group changed membership a bit over the years, but one way or another 808 State have released six albums* to date, and a number of singles, EPs, and promotional discs. 808state.com has a ton of information, including an extensive visual discography, a list of other productions and remixes, and over a gig of demos, live tracks, and other non-album audio to download. Given the group's 27 year-long history, there's a lot more to see and hear.

* The total number of albums is conservatively listed at 6 on Wikipedia, while Discogs currently lists 10 albums by including an EP, an album that was reformatted and retitled for US release, a delayed compilation of early tracks, and the album that 808 State produced for MC Tunes. The most liberal album count is up to 17, counting all the original releases listed with (album) under their titles on the 808state.com visual discography.

The extended, truncated history of 808 State
Graham Massey was making music since grammar school, first as a member of Aqua, then in Danny and The Dressmakers, Crispy Ambulance, and finally he settled down for a bit with an experimental/jazz/rock group, Biting Tongues. That group released three-ish albums and a soundtrack (Discogs and BitingTongues.com don't agree on release classification) in the course of eight years (sample videos: Compressor, Meat Mask Separatist, Read This, and more in a playlist). In the late 1980s, Massey was doing double-time, moving Biting Tongues towards more midi and electronic experimentation, while he was also "the electronics geek" in a trio with Martin Price ("the Northern Soul fan") and Gerald Simpson ("the expert on the evolving American house scene"). They first formed a hip-hop group called Hit Squad Manchester (who only one song on a limited-distribution split record, which was the only release to contain all five future members of 808 State), then switched up to make acid house as 808 State.

That line-up of 808 State only lasted for a few years and one album (Newbuild [full album]; reviews), but in that period, the trio produced 808 State's most popular track with that jazzy, exotica-influenced tune, Pacific, which got them on Top of the Pops. Simpson split to work solo as A Guy Called Gerald, and he released his own peak track, Voodoo Ray, around the same time. He has gone on to a lengthy career of his own, but that's getting offtrack. In 1988/9, 808 State was working on Quadrastate [YT playlist], which includes Pacific State, the last reference of Simpson's work with the group. Quadrastate also marked the introduction of Andrew Barker and Darren Partington, aka The Scratchmasters, as members of 808 State, bringing their DJ experience to the group. Around the same time, Biting Tongues were recording their third album, Recharge, but their label Cut Deep folded after only releasing one single, Love Out. Recharge was a rare promo-only "lost album" until 2003, when it was first officially released by LTM (Les Temps Modernes).

Just in time for the 1989 holidays/end of the year, 808 State released their second album, Ninety [full album], tagged as "new age house," which Massey hated, or called "lush techno." The album was re-released in the US as Utd. State 90, with bonus tracks including Boneyween, Kinky National [remix of "State Ritual"], and tracks taken from prior singles and EPs. Keeping up the rapid pace, the group released ex:el [full album] the following year. That "integrated collection of hard dance tunes" included two notable artists: Bernard Sumner of Joy Division and New Order, and Björk Guðmundsdóttir of The Sugarcubes. 1991 was also the year 808 State were listed alongside Quincy Jones and David Bowie on the record covers of two remix singles, even though the group's role was limited to remixing the tracks.

In 1992, Martin Price left the band amicably, to focus on his own efforts, which included work with the groups Pornography (sample: LMG) and Switzerland (sample: Inflight). Neither group produced much, and Price continued to be involved in music business, but he moved out of the spotlight to better balance business and family time.

808 State, once again a trio, released the album Gorgeous in 1993. Some reviews praised it for the glowing warmth, compared to the hardness, harshness of ex:el, while others panned it for its "number of fairly anonymous and forgettable guest singers". The non-notables included Ian McCulloch from Echo & the Bunnymen on Moses, the collaboration with UB40 in One in Ten [video], Caroline Seaman from the short-lived group Heavenly Bodies on Europa, and studio singers Barrington Stewart and Rachel McFarlane in the happy-clappy gospel-house tune 10x10 [video], which also featured a sample of The Jam, who had sampled The Beatles.

If you're looking for more detailed reading material at this point, Record Collector put together an extensive article on 808 State up to this point in their career.

State to State is a compilation of rarities, live and new tracks that were sent for free to 808 State fan club members to appease or tide over fans in 1994, with whom they'd share more information via their information service also called 'State To State,' which was "available on something called Internet, a bulletin board via computer." That year, they also were the first artists to co-hosted the Party Zone on M.T.V, to promote their new single, Bombadin. The single was inspired by hearing "The Goodmen" in a club (likely their song Give It Up, here with a strob-tastic video), and its world premiere was as the finale music to the Todd Oldham Winter 1994 fashion show in New York, featuring Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Kate Moss, and others [video without audio, sadly].

Interviews in 1994 mentioned a due out in early 1995, driven by strong melodies rather than aggressive electronics. The whole year passed, and no new music was released, though they did tour, DJing and playing live sets and release some remixes, including Naomi Campbell's single, I Want To Live.

Don Solaris [YT playlist] didn't come out until June of 1996, due to having recorded many songs that weren't connected, requiring the group to sit down and make the tracks a cohesive album. To build excitement for the album, a mysterious one-sided record was released by "Two Fat Ladies and a Duck," British bingo-calling slang (AKA bingo lingo), with a Sure Is Pure remix of the future album track, Joyrider. This album went further to extend the group beyond "dance" and into some other territory. In the US, 808 State were often classified as "alternative," which made Darren Partington pretty happy. Vocalists included Mike Doughty from Soul Coughing on Bond [video], Louise Rhodes from Lamb on Azura [HD video], James Dean Bradfield from Manic Street Preachers on Lopez [video], and Ragnhildur Gísladóttir AKA Ragga on Mooz. Bond, Azura and Lopez were all singles for the album, and Ragga was previously heard on Tricky's 1995 album, Maxinquaye [full album], in You Don't.

1997 was a quiet year for 808 State leading projects, with their only release being the Lopez single, the final single from Don Solaris (the track was reworked by Brian Eno and The Propellerheads), but it was active for remixes of other people's work, including the return of Rolf Harris' song Sun Arise [one remix on Grooveshark] and a remix of Mansun for the Spawn soundtrack. Next year saw the first of many reissues, with 808 State hitting a decade of releases. First was the Pacific 808:98 / Cübik:98 single, then the compilation 808:88:98. The next year, 808 State released three singles: a split with Jega featuring the new track, Quincy's Lunch; the return of MC Tunes and a few new remixes of 808 State, and Invader, another new song with a few remixes and a b-side.

Then things got really quiet. There were still some productions and remixes in the next few years, and Massey worked with the nebulous Homelife group, after a bunch of those folks played with Massey's wobbly group of improvisational musicians he calls Toolshed. In January 2002, 808 State released a video collection, Opti Buk with State to State 2, the second dig through the archives for lost gems. At the end of the year, the latest/last album from 808 State came out. Outpost Transmission [extended playlist], a return to bleepy form, while incorporating something of the current era's styles. The album opened with Simon Lord of Simian providing vocals over 606, Guy Garvey of Elbow on Lemonsoul, and Rev. D Wayne Love and Larry Love appeared courtesy of Alabama 3 on Crossword.

Two years later, Aphex Twin's Rephlex Records dug way back through the archives for Prebuild [Grooveshark], a compilation of tracks originally recorded in 1987 - 1988. Then in 2008, Rephlex re-issued Quadrastate, and ZTT Records re-issued 90, ex:el, Gorgeous and Don Solaris, as part of the remastered and expanded 808 Archives series. In a 2010 interview, Graham Massey looked back fondly on the early years as the key period for 808 State, not talking about (or at least, not written up as having talked about) Gorgeous or Don Solaris. His top 5 808 State tracks were Pacific State (1989, Quadrastate), Cubik, In Yer Face, Nephatiti, and Techno Bell (1991, ex:el).

Also in 2010, the four re-issues were re-released as the first four releases in the new ZZT/Salvo "Element" series, with no apparent difference from the previous expanded editions, besides artwork. The following year, 808State: Blueprint. The compilation will included ‘revisited reversions‘ of In Yer Face, Timebomb, Cobra Bora, Nimbus, and 606 along with rare remixes and two brand new tracks: Metaluna and Spanish Ice. The compilation was followed by a digital single of Cubik 21, an expanded edition of MC Tunes versus 808 State - The North At Its Heights, a stand-alone digital reissue of State To State 2, and another digital archive collection, State To State 3. The final 808 State release came out in 2012, with another re-issue, O.T.E.P., four bonus tracks previously only available on the U.S. and Japanese editions of Outpost Transmission, free to stream, and downloadable if you share your email address.

Beyond 808 State
Darren Partington and Andy Barker have been involved with a few little projects outside of 808 State, but Graham Massey has a significant (and growing) list of writing, arranging and production credits, with Björk (particularly Army of Me [video]) being the artist most commonly associated with Massey, outside of 808 State.

He also has a solo project, Massonix, which first surfaced in 1990 in the form of the single, Just A Little Bit More, which included a mix with vocals by Barrington Stuart. In 2006, there was a digital single, Graham Massey (Massonix) Meets Shinzou Sound - Cicada Distortion, which is still available, and Subtracks, a selection of aquatic-themed tracks from 1996-2006 (sample track: Pulsars), released by Skam. Massey also produced audio for a twelve-part radio series on Resonance 104.4 FM, titled Hollingsville, broadcasted by Ken Hollings, the Biting Tongues vocalist. Finders Keepers issued the soundtrack as a weird split with a set of music composed for the Swiss Cheese information board from Swiss electronic jazz genius Bruno Spoerri. Between Subtracks and the Hollingsville split, Massey was the mastermind (and drums) for a quartet of female organ players, Sisters Of Transistors [video], partially created to help him make use of his keyboard addiction.

Graham Massey also has uploaded a good number of videos from his various projects to YouTube, but if you want to dig through 808 State music, enjoy Grooveshark's varied collection, album tracks uploaded to YouTube by 808 state... forever, and the mother lode of music, 808state.com's collection of sounds and DJ gigs.

Fun facts and final tangents
Both Pacific and Voodoo Ray were featured in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas soundtrack in the SF-UR station, which wasn't released as the mega-soundtrack, but can be heard in full on YouTube. Shut up and dance, you fools!

And whatever grievances there were between Gerald Simpson and Graham Massey have been mended or forgotten (though Simpson and Price might be a different issue), as the two got together for an interview before a show of all-analogue live acid house jams, and they chatted about the history of 808 State and A Guy Called Gerald, their love of gear, and why Roland hardware was used so widely.

Voodoo Ray was supposed to be Voodoo Rage, but there wasn't enough memory in the sampler to hold the entire quote from the samples taken from the Peter Cook and Dudley Moore skit, Bo Duddley.
posted by filthy light thief (29 comments total) 79 users marked this as a favorite
Didn't need to read further than the first two words. One of my favorite acts of all time. The Trouser Press Record Guide described their music as "kaleidoscopic," and it's the perfect word: endlessly permutating drum patterns, sidewinding sequencer lines, off-kilter edits, and some truly inventive remixing, often turning songs completely inside-out save for one or two signature elements. There's nobody in dance music, save the Art of Noise, that I worship more.
posted by mykescipark at 8:12 PM on August 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh man, Utd. State 90 was an integral part of my college soundtrack, but I never really followed them much after that (though I gotta give a nod to their remix of the Stone Roses' Made of Stone). Thanks for providing untold hours of delicious, glorious distraction!
posted by scody at 8:15 PM on August 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

We're not worthy! We're not worthy!
*bows down to flt*
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 8:16 PM on August 7, 2014

Wow flt. Thanks!
posted by kandinski at 8:27 PM on August 7, 2014

Holy moly! Already very much familiar with the 808 State and Guy Called Gerald discographies, but so much more to dig into here, not sure if I'll ever make it to the end of the post!

Also, Guy Called Gerald's Blow Your House Down was a staple of Detroit parties back in the day; still have my copy!
posted by p3t3 at 8:37 PM on August 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

the hell!
posted by chinston at 8:42 PM on August 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I love you flt.
posted by erebora at 8:50 PM on August 7, 2014

So... where do I start here? My scuba suit is on and I'm ready to dive in. Should I just do that?
posted by raihan_ at 9:23 PM on August 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, but remember the water has green lazer light show all over it, so if you feel a little disoriented that's perfectly normal.
posted by dabitch at 9:47 PM on August 7, 2014

Wow, most incredible wall of text I've seen on Hawaiian music [woo! west coas,t best coast!], will check out later. Thx.
posted by obsolutely at 9:48 PM on August 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

808 State and Utd. State 90 turned me on to electronic music in a big way ...... and I never looked back.
posted by blucevalo at 9:58 PM on August 7, 2014

I was a teenager, secretly staying awake in bed after 11pm listening to The John Peel Show on headphones, and heard 808's 'Let Yourself Go', their first single. I think it immediately reprogrammed part of my brain.

As I got older I did in fact let myself go a bit.

Thanks filthy light thief, this is wonderful.
posted by BinaryApe at 10:30 PM on August 7, 2014

Holy crap.

All these years I thought "808 State" referred to Hawaii.

Area code, yo.
posted by notyou at 10:44 PM on August 7, 2014

I haven't opened any of these links but this could be the only place I can share this. A friend had a baby today (8/08) and named him Firstname Roland Surname and I am flipping out waiting to ask if he is named after the TR-808.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 11:01 PM on August 7, 2014 [6 favorites]

Also: The Fairey Band have brass band versions of Pacific and Cubik as part of their Acid Brass series - both excellent CDs.
posted by BinaryApe at 12:24 AM on August 8, 2014

Pick a reason to flag : They should have sent a poet
posted by fullerine at 2:22 AM on August 8, 2014

I loved Let Yourself Go, but it I found it impossible to get hold of until some kind soul gave me their copy. Listening to 808:90 and ex:el I always felt there was something missing, probably the contribution of Simpson. I think the most obvious demonstration of what is missing is on LMG by Pornography which includes the excellent 'all I want is the bass' lyric which is followed by... no bass at all. 808 State obviously put alot of effort into making their beats interesting, but they never managed to make them funky. There were so many lovely bits in their songs, but no one track ever delivered all the goods, which was frustrating as I really liked their inventiveness.

I liked In Your Face, seeing them play that and Cubik at the Wembley Arena with a laser show was fantastic! The Flutey Mix of Olympic was also a favourite, although like most 808 State stuff not much use for the dancefloor. I don't think flt mentions that a mix of that song was used as the theme for The Word, in a kind of Manchester will eat itself kind of way.

I think my favourite 808 State memory was watching Red Sonja on mute while listening to ex:el. It was my Dark Side of the Rainbow experience! Much better than the sum of it's parts.
posted by asok at 2:37 AM on August 8, 2014

Oh my. To my shame, I had no idea they had more than a small handful of albums! Ex:el was one of the first CDs I ever bought, because I liked the cover, but when I listened...wow. It taught me there was a whole other direction of electronic music that didn't involve lots of aggressive, angsty posturing.

Today is gonna be Nostalgia Day!
posted by mittens at 5:03 AM on August 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

True story, I lost the timer to my Boggle game in 1991 or so and needed to find a 3 minute song to play to time the game. I settled on Cubik, which is perhaps the most agitating possible way to play a 3 minute Boggle game. It ends with a building crescendo that, while trying to form words out of a grid of letter dice, sometimes actually makes you scream out loud because of the tension. 23 years later I'm still using it as "The Boggle Song". I might know Cubik better than anyone on the planet...
posted by mcstayinskool at 5:41 AM on August 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

obsolutely: Wow, most incredible wall of text I've seen on Hawaiian music

From the 808 State FAQ
The US state of Hawaii often uses the nickname "The 808 State" after its dialing code "808" but it is not confirmed weather this was ever used before 1988, and therefore derivative of the Manchester band.
I'm pretty sure the 808State.com site is a fan effort, thus the wishy-washy answer.

(And now I feel obliged to make a good post on Hawaiian music to balance this stunt post)

posted by filthy light thief at 7:08 AM on August 8, 2014

This FPP is getting forwarded to a few friends. Fantastic post, flt, brings back many memories.
posted by arcticseal at 7:42 AM on August 8, 2014

mittens: To my shame, I had no idea they had more than a small handful of albums! Ex:el was one of the first CDs I ever bought, because I liked the cover, but when I listened...wow.

ex:el was also one of my early introductions to electronic music, along with Black Dog's Spanners (first three songs), thanks to the Iron Feather Journal mega-zine, which I oddly picked up in a Borders store.

I picked up Don Solaris years later, browsing eBay for good, cheap CDs. I had no idea they had another album, and a couple years later, was surprised and excited to see Outpost Transmission, which I prefer over Don Solaris. I didn't know about the 2008/10 expanded remastered reissues until going through the 808state.com discography page. Lessons for everyone!
posted by filthy light thief at 7:59 AM on August 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I remember 808 State, I just can't remember why.
Now.... to plunder the links!

But I am killed dead by the last line.
posted by Mezentian at 9:35 AM on August 8, 2014

This is the sound of my young adulthood. I have a lot of digging to do here.

posted by humboldt32 at 10:17 AM on August 8, 2014

Gud gawd y'all !!! ;-))))
posted by Twang at 12:31 PM on August 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Holy shit this is an amazing post. Goodbye weekend...
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:14 PM on August 8, 2014

Damn... "A" for effort. It'll take me a while with the links. Nice post.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 3:58 PM on August 8, 2014

oooh Black dog too, this is nostalgia day!

Saw 808 play in 1999 (I think) in Amsterdam. As I danced in the green lazer-light show, I giggled at how old school it already felt.
posted by dabitch at 8:26 PM on August 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I must disclose that this was a stunt post, in that it was my 909th post, on August 8th (8/08), posted at 3:03 AM GMT. There, my soul is laid bare.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:36 PM on September 2, 2014 [7 favorites]

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