808 State

Interview and review
by Ewan Frolich
Trinity Centre Bristol

Acid House originals turned pioneering electronic icons, 808 State have just released ‘Transmission Suite’, their first new album since 2002's ‘Outpost Transmission’. Cementing their reputation as an essential act, both as scene forefathers and as torchbearers for boundless avant-garde electronica, the album was released to critical acclaim, with The Wire Magazine praising: “808 State’s music has lost none of its foreboding, finesse and power.”

Formed in Manchester in 1988, 808 State are widely recognised as one of the prime originators and shapers of UK dance music. Breaking out with singles such as "Pacific", "Cubik" and "In Yer Face", the band also became the first electronica act to craft longform dance music albums, well before the likes of Leftfield and Orbital with whom they are often compared.

In a career of intrepid exploration now stretching across five decades, the band have released genre defining LP's including "Ninety" characteristic of their early acid house era recordings, to indie-dance crossover classic "ex:el", plus a subsequent array of uniquely boundary-pushing albums such as "Gorgeous", "Don Solaris" and "Output Transmission". In the process, they have attracted the attention of major stars including Bjork, Manic Street Preachers' James Dean Bradfield, Elbow's Guy Garvey and more, who have all collaborated with them.

Continually experimenting with new forms and styles, from drum and bass and other elements to techno, whilst always seeking to move forward and create 808 State have amassed a remarkable and essential back catalogue. Its most recent instalment, ‘Transmission Suite’ was released in 2019 to critical acclaim.

As one of the very first fully live techno acts to hit the road, 808 State’s on-stage reputation has always preceded them and their sensational 30th Anniversary shows (‘808 State: 30’) in 2018 were a just reminder of why they remain one of dance music's best live acts.

When they visited Bristol, Ewan (who was barely born the last time they released a record!) couldn't keep away...


The Mancunian pioneers of Acid House, and electronic dance music more widely, didn’t fail to impress as they brought a captivated crowd on a journey looking to the past and to the future. A mixture of old timer ravers reminded of the music of their youth and a younger generation exploring the sonic variety of 808 State were brought together at The Trinity Centre in Bristol. Andrew Barker couldn’t make it on the night so the line-up consisted of founding member Graham Massey using (and using well) an impressive range of instruments throughout the show, impeccable accuracy from Carl Shorrocks on the live drums, dancing around the programmed drums with apparent ease, and in place of Andrew was Graham’s son on the programmed drums.

The set opened with the classic ‘In Yer Face’ which most people of my generation are more likely to recognise as the song remixed by Bicep although the original was a top 10 hit when it came out. The first half of the gig remained not too far away from the pioneering acid house that brought the group to fame, complete with mesmerizing laser show, and Graham hopping between keys, saxophone, and guitar effortlessly. The show picked up pace towards the end with a deeper and dirtier feeling to the bass still kept the futuristic, spacey synths that have come to define much of the group’s work. After an intense climax that must have been around 170bpm the show ended to calls of an encore and 808 gladly accepted. They closed with their latest release, a remix of Eve by Trance Wax, full of airy pads, soft pianos, acid house drums, and a trancey synth riding over it all.


A few days after the show I had a chat with Graham on zoom a and got the chance to delve a little deeper into hiss “jazz-informed informed punk attitude”, bits and pieces on current events, and of course, Manchester.

Interview with Graham Massey

What were you listening to when you were growing up and getting into music?

I was born in 1960 and had two older brothers who were buying The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and when you went to the cinema they used to play The Shadows in the interval. The cinema had bass and it was really spell binding for me to hear that because your domestic record player didn’t have any. I also remember being in a cafe my dad which had a jukebox with really good bass playing Telstar by The tornadoes. There was all this space-age, glamorous instrumentals that went in early and some of that carries into 808 in its melodic sense. Growing up in the 60s and all the space race stuff was an early input and I was really into the space thing. I was a keen amateur astronomer so not just the rockets but looking out. We all though were gonna be living on different planets back then.

Electronic music like the Human League and Cabaret Voltaire became affordable and there was a “this is how you use synthesizers” thing going on. I saw the Human league in about 78 and they had a slideshow showing science fiction visuals. The first group I was really into was Hawkwind, another space facing band with a lot of noise and synthesisers, and they had a great lightshow. The first group I was in was a space rock band, around the same time as punk. I’ve never had a music lesson but when we were doing post-punk back then it didn’t matter, it was about having a go. If there was a wind instrument you’d just have a go. That’s how the sax playing came about. I’d been playing clarinet and bits of sax in my band The Biting Tongues. The main sax player left his sax behind that evening and if he hadn’t the sax playing wouldn’t have been on that record. There was a band we played a few gigs with called Rip, Rig & Panic from Bristol and they had a similar vibe, a jazz informed punk attitude. I’ve learned to make music with noise and to make music fearlessly. It’s the attitude that’s more important.

When rave came along, and I got interested in studio craft, I did an engineering course in the mid 80. Atari computers then came about at the same time with samplers and samplers to me were such an open door to what I’d already been doing which was messing with noise. Synthesisers were prohibitively expensive when they first came out but once you got all this midi stuff like DX7s people were giving it away.

What was Manchester like and how is it changing?

Manchester had an emerging club scene where various people from disparate clubs came together in a place like The Haçienda. It was a melting pot where social barriers came down, sexual barriers came down, and it was kind of a first true reflection of our city. A lot of the raves around Manchester were in places like Blackburn and Rochdale, a surrounding circle of smaller towns that were probably a little more damaged than Manchester.

Manchester is going through a great change at the moment with the city centre living thing. There’s a lot of property development and not a lot of social housing. It’s all for profit and the money comes from all over, places like China, Russia, and the Middle East and it’s taking on a London like quality. I wonder how that will affect the culture of a place like Manchester which has one of the most astounding musical legacies on Earth! There’s diverse and original music that’s come from our city and I wonder whether that can continue when a city operates in a different way. I don’t want it to become a museum. You see what’s gone on in Liverpool where it’s about The Beatles and there’s a certain amount of that with The Haçienda. That period of music has become really polarised and about certain figureheads and it’s unusual when you see Bez on Master Chef and Dancing on Ice and that kind of thing. You do get a polarisation where The Happy Mondays seem way more important than they were, I mean they were important at the time but I’m not sure they were that important. The Stone Roses were similar, the west-coast guitar/bass thing didn’t fit in with what we were doing in the clubs and they had to bend their sound to fit in, The Happy Mondays did as well. Luckily for us we’d spent a lot of time bending other people’s records into clubs. Sometimes I feel that 808 has been written out of that Manchester history a little bit too much. I feel like we were doing the music that truly reflected the mood and forward-thinking nature of that revolution which was Acid House. We didn’t have that frontman quality, we were faceless, but the whole scene was about being faceless. The division between the audience and crowd was deliberately blurred and it was easy to get lost in the fog.

How has the relationship between the DJ and the crowd changed?
The DJ has a lot of power now. Back then the music was much more mixed and was about manipulating the journey of the night. You expect everything to be genre-based now and there’s less dynamics. People are curating nights as well and I can understand that, you want somebody to maker those choices rather than it be based on some hot record at the time. You get some interesting line-ups but it’s almost like the audience doesn’t put much importance on artists, there’s so many records and there’s no stories and no personalities around the records.

Who was the drummer?
Carl Shorrocks was the drummer and he’s usually with us but we’ve had a series of drummers over the past 20-odd years and half way through the tour we switched drummers. I love drummers and the energy they give to a show. Carl’s amazingly accurate as well in how he plays to the groove. The rhythms are complex and layered in 808 and we think about the role that doesn’t obscure the all the programmed drums.

What’s next for music and are there any new artists you have your eye on?
I think there’s a schism in the way music is delivered now. In certain ways you have a feeling that the traditional music industry is dying off. When we first signed to ZTT records in 1989 we’d come from an underground situation. We had our own record shop, our own radio show, our own t-shirt. We were in a good position to be independent yet there was such a shift in music that we fastened ourselves to Warner Brothers to enter public life. That sort of thing changed the roots of electronic dance music I think. In the streaming world you’re either a Bandcamp cottage industry kind of thing or more towards record companies that will only invest in certain kinds of acts. Then you’ve got the main dance record companies like Mute and Warp somewhere in the middle. It’s weakening though I think.

All these things were born of a certain moment. The next thing will come from the underground. There’s just so much music out there, Bandcamp constantly throws up music in a live feed and it can be completely overwhelming. I follow things through friends and we share tips, word of mouth. You need people you can trust to guide you through. When we started there was someone like John Peel on Radio 1 and if you got on that he was playing to the entire country. It was almost like a given if you’d just done a record you could get it on that show and you didn’t doubt it which meant there was an optimism in what you were doing.

When we were growing up in Manchester and the only people we could play to were a handful of clubs in the centre and you knew that the music business was this little circle of events and the water was inviting. People didn’t keep you out. You were rubbing shoulders with people like Joy Division in a comparative way. That’s what it needs, these little scenes from the ground up. I feel that when I’m in Manchester or Leeds and a set of acts get grouped together and support each other regularly. It’s about making community. A musical community. I don’t know whether I read it slightly differently because of my age but when we had the studio in the Granada complex for our last record, that was like a little village. There were a lot of studios and creative projects and we’d all bump into each other. Our recent GoGoPenguin remix came out of that. Their drummer is obsessed with Aphex Twin and it’s almost like electronica done acoustically. They were recoding in our building and get interested in our synths and consequently they’ve done a remix album called RMX and it’s got people like Cornelius, Squarepusher and Shunya. I really like what Shunya’s been doing, and I got in touch with him about my project Tool Shed which is about live improvising.

It’s been weird with the pandemic. It’s put a buffer on the communal interaction between bands and that and it might take a while to get over. Sometimes I go into the city centre and it all seems a bit singer-songwritery at the moment.

What did you think of the crowd at your Bristol gig?

In the gigs we’ve done recently we’ve noticed that age group of the audience has kind of been filtered. The slightly older people are perhaps a bit more cautious and don’t go out and it means the audience to us seems a lot younger this time round. That’s a different energy and that’s great for us because the music should work without the history. We always like playing things like festivals where we can win a new set of people. It feels sporting to us to play to the unfamiliar and see if it still works.

If you could come to Boris Johnson in a dream, what would you say?

It’s really weird having him in the city at the moment cos the conference is on at the moment. The protest isn’t particularly reported even though it’s traditionally a massive gathering every time the conference is up. It feels like you’re going up the motorway on a national express coach and the driver is the Joker. It just feels out of control. I’ve never known anything like it, and we grew up through Thatcher. Obviously, some if it’s the pandemic but can you think of a worse person to have during a pandemic?

Chips or Cream Buns?
Can I choose both?
I don’t think you can
Chips then.

Ewan Frolich


Massive thanks to Graham and to Rob at Sonic PR for their time and help


wers to questions...It's never about looking forward to it. Actually maybe I should change the
script, maybe we are looeir musicm the 3rd album?