Mates in 808 State, Front magazine, 2002

Mates in 808 State, Front magazine, 2002


[Ah yes, the lads mag days. Front magazine. Different times, different people. My writing style was let off the lead during this period, so this 808 State story feels more like a fanzine piece – and I’ve always been partial to fanzine writing. Back then I was visiting as many of my cultural heroes as I could while I could get away with it. Richard Ansett’s photos were superb here, and I’d love to own the T-shirt worn by Graham Massey on this day. The header was a play on a section of Front magazine, Mate In A State, whereby very, very drunk friends who should have been in bed with a bucket by their side had been photographed by slightly less-drunk pals. As I say, different times, different people. Andy Barker is, of course, no longer with us. And the bit where I have a go at UB40 – I like UB40 today.]

The first time 808 State played TOTP in 1989, the producer asked to speak to ‘Bob’. Bob State. Silly BBC buggers. Perhaps the producers were one of the 40,000 who watched 808 in Manchester, 2002

Words: Lee Gale  Photography: Richard Ansett

Manchester is gleaming after the Commonwealth Games. The city stands as clean as a four-year-old after a thorough, parental spit-wash. Even Moss Side is spotless and there isn’t a gangster to be seen. Then again, it’s only two in the afternoon and the real villains will still be in bed, or on cocaine somewhere.

The three members of 808 State, Graham Massey, Darren Partington and Andrew Barker, are sat on a concrete terrace at Castlefield, not far from Manchester city centre, looking across to moored-up barges on the canal. FRONT is late. Man U fans had clogged up the motorway northbound, on their way up from Surrey, and brought the M6 to a halt.

Just a few Saturdays ago, Castlefield was swarming with folk, as 40,000 crammed into the area to see their favourite Manc music acts. As the sun was setting, locals were treated to 808 State tracks old and new. “It was mad,” squints Massey in the sunlight. “The police had to shut off the streets when we were playing because it was so busy.” Old favourites such as “Cübik” and “Pacific” were remixed, and new material from Outpost Transmission – 808’s new album was aired.

808 State haven’t so much aged as widened. They’ve put on a few pounds, but that happens when you get older. Partington is obsessed with Peter Kay – in fact they look so alike they could be brothers. Massey fights a smile as scenes from Phoenix Nights are told by Partington in their entirety. “It’s great!” Partington chortles. “And did you see Potter’s Pink Paradise? Ha-ha-ha!”

Public interruption no. 1: as photos are taken, an old woman approaches. “Are you famous?” she calls over. Barker nods: “We did quite well in the Commonwealth Games.” The lady smiles: “Oh aye, what were you in?” Partington looks at the canal and says, “International narrowboating.” She walks away happy. She is from Manchester and fully expects to have her leg pulled by men.

The Ox on Liverpool Road is recommended by 808. This trio of thirtysomething Mancunians, such a vital link in British youth culture, order Stellas and tell us that the food’s nice in here. Their 1988 debut album, Newbuild, heralded the start of acid house. Massey may well be the spokesman for the band, but Partington speaks more. “Think about Newbuild,” he flies. “It’s only now, on recollection, that you realise how important that album was. People talk about Shoom [club night seen as the start of acid house] and the whole f***ing thing down London – meanwhile, in Manchester, in a small studio, Newbuild was already pressed.”

Public interruption no. 2: a 40-year-old woman on the table along, from a group of four Manc mams, shouts over, “Scuse me? Scuse me? Are you famous?” “You what?” Partington says, cupping his ear. The woman bawls again: “Do you do the voice for the ITV Digital Monkey?” Partington laughs out loud: “Thank you!” “You sound like him,” the woman continues. “Ha-ha-ha!” Partington laughs. He can’t believe it. He does sound a bit like ITV Monkey, though.

808 state could well be Manchester’s most important group of the past 25 years. Along with Orbital, KLF and (ex-band member) A Guy Called Gerald, 808 State set the mould for dance music which has lasted pretty much to the present day. Quadrastate was launched in 1989, more easy on the ears than Newbuild, but it was “Pacific State”, originally a demo, full of summer saxophone, that gave the group a push towards the big time.

“I remember feeling distinctly pissed off playing ‘Pacific’ on that Late Show,” Massey says supping on a pint, “because the BBC engineers were projecting Stonehenge over us. It was like, what the f*** is this? That’s not what we’re about.”

Public interruption no. 3: a man in his mid-20s. arm around girlfriend, strides past and clocks the lads. “Eh, 808 State! It’s 808 State, Debs! It’s 808 State! How’s it goin’ fellas?” Salutes are given.

The new album, as Massey says, “is a return to electro for us”. It’s closer to Ex:El than any of their past albums, and a million times better than their 1993 debacle Gorgeous, which was poor.

“That’s the general consensus on Gorgeous,” Massey comments. “The reason why it was bad was because we were just so busy at the time.”

But a collaboration with UB40 is close to unforgivable! Are you UB40 fans? Partington cringes: “No, no, no, no, no!” Massey explains: “Darren used to make all these mad mixes all the time. He did Elvis mixes before all these other Elvis mixes.”

Pint four is purchased. Locals dressed in Next are darting into town for a night out. Massey’s favourite club is White Rabbit, run by Andy Votel, a local music producer and DJ: “They put some interesting bands on at the moment. It’s a regular for me.” DP is a fan of Sankey’s Soap. “Sankey’s, he’s got tribal there. Friday, Saturday, it’s wicked.”

It were different in 808’s day, of course. They used to break into buildings to hold all-night raves. Partington recalls, “That double-glazing firm across the road from the Hac! The day after it went bankrupt we got in. We cleaned it out and when it got going that night, when the police came, we told them it was Brian’s leaving do. The copper’s weren’t bothered so long as we didn’t block the road with cars. I think all that will come around again. Manchester’s got a history of after-hours parties, going back to the jazz and reggae scene in the 70s. It’ll happen again.”

Massey raises a finger: “Remember The Kitchen, in Hulme? It was two flats knocked into one, It had an ultraviolet light, so it was like a room full of teeth!”

Interruptions 4 to 17: Man U were at home, and City played in Leeds. By half-six fans of both teams are mingling in the pubs. They say hello to 808. “My granny used to go to Maine Road,” Massey tells a Blue. “She took four house bricks to stand on because she was so small.” The fan laughs: “Can’t see that being allowed today.”