808 State
SALVO / ZTT 5.9.11

Lets start with the obvious.
808 State are named for the Roland 808 drum machine. Beloved of electronic musicians in the eighties, the 808 came to define a decade. It’s over twenty years since the band recorded Pacific State and this is a career retrospective.

Flow Coma isn’t a fair starter – not a historical intro – it’s been ripped up to date and into outer space with the slash cut burps and busy antics of Aphex Twin. Fun though. Pacific State is the one you’ll know as the real start – the first single to go really big. Jumping on the recently invented Acid House bandwagon, it became one of the defining sounds, mixing jazzy beats with drum machines and repetitive keyboard riffs. In Yer Face takes the sound and amplifies it. Cubik gets remixed into a slightly annoying artefact that’d be a right laugh once, on a dance floor, but irritating after a few listens. What you hear over the early original tracks is an English band trying to play Electro (like Afrika Bambaataa’s Planet Rock), getting it a little off and inventing Rave – the genre so successful that Thatcher’s government legislated against it. That’s right; a government was so afeared of people partying in fields that they banned the unlicensed playing of “music characterised by repetitive beats”. Timebomb is a more authentic document of the time. Awesome stuff for getting ripped to your tits and dancing to.

Unusually, 808 State became an albums band as well as a singles band, seeking a coherent core to each slab of vinyl that broke with the established norm of the only dance albums being compilations. Keeping one sound and mood through the album happened to keep the synapses happy when punters were on MDMA. Change does rather ruffle your feathers when you’re on certain psychedelics.

As dance ossified into genres you weren’t supposed to break, 808 believed they were stretching the limits but I’m not entirely convinced. It’s more that they didn’t care what label people put on them. And well they might not – they were playing live shows in arenas and stacking them in. The rest of the packed album is solid and by the end you’ll see they had laid the foundations of Techno. Along the way they’d clocked up an interesting collaboration with an Icelandic Indie singer from The Sugarcubes – pre-solo career. She gets all Latin and it grooves very nicely. Nicky Wire pops in for Lopez – with a widescreen-effect mix from Brian Eno. Two new tracks are appended – one with that annoying Bounce beat. It would have made an interesting journey to hear the original tracks through the years but this approach makes for a more interesting listen and will keep the bass bins in your car happy (whaddya mean you’ve not got any…….).

Ross McGibbon