A full year and a half after Manc rave legends 808 State were due to hit Cardiff’s Tramshed – we ran an interview and everything – they’re finally here! Assuming they can fill the van’s tank up, natch. Carl Marsh spoke to one half of the duo, Graham Massey, earlier this week.
Perhaps coming to Cardiff for this Friday’s gig at a time when petrol pumps are running dry hasn’t been serendipitous?
Yeah, well, we can’t fit that gear on my bike. It feels like each gig is a triumph in itself, you know.
How was it at the first gig last week – it must have been a relief to be back touring?
It was last Friday, and it was good. It was up in Newcastle, and it felt like it was testing, as playing a new set in front of an audience is always where you never know how it’s gonna go – putting new material with the old material, and getting a balance. And it felt good, and that the work had paid off. And it’s a good crowd as well, as I’ve not seen a crowd for a while. [Laughs] It felt familiar, but it was just great that enough people came out to make an atmosphere.
For the experience that – fuel permitting… joke! – people will hopefully experience on Friday, will it be the whole spectrum of tracks along with those from the last record, 2019’s Transmission Suite?
Yeah, it’s always the whole spectrum. We’ve never just done one [album] like that – we kind of take it for granted that we have to do all the big bangers. And it’s great to do the big bangers! I’d never get fed up with the big, big tunes. It’s very enjoyable. They’re kind of vehicles for playing live as well, as sometimes people are surprised when they see 808 live because there’s a lot of live things going off – guitars and saxophones and drums. So, you know, it’s not just knob-twiddling, though occasionally before lockdown, I went around Germany doing a sort of electronica tabletop kind of show. But this is much more of a band situation: people are like, “oh, you’ve got a drummer?” We’ve had one for 20-odd years!
It’s funny you mention a saxophone – there’s one in maybe your best known track, Pacific State. Is it true that the story behind ‘that’ sax is that it wasn’t planned – it just happened to be in the studio laying around?
Yes! It was left in the studio by my friend overnight, and we just would try things like that. I was doing an electronic record at that same time, but with a full brass section, so there were these kinds of experiments like that going on – but it wasn’t nearly as successful as that record.
I’ve always been around musicians, and with me being in a studio-based thing, there have always been musicians around, and it creates that kind of energy and attention and all the things that make music exciting for me. We’ve had many musicians move through to 808 State as a live act but are never in the studio. So that’s been a thing of permanent flux during the past 30 years.
Technology in the late 80s and early 90s seemed to improve at a hyperdrive pace. Was it the technology or the club scene that inspired you the most during that period?
Yeah, I always think the technology’s forgotten in the equation of those times. I think it was very important to have accessibility to it. But obviously, we were out practically every night in nightclubs. Martin Price from 808 State had a record shop, Eastern Bloc Records in Manchester. So all the American import records were flowing into the shop, and Darren and Andrew – the two DJs – had a radio show in Manchester. The imports went directly from the shop into a chart on their radio programme. Then onto the cassette players of Manchester. And then those cassette players of Manchester would appear in the shop. You know, “have you got this one? Have you got that one? What about the one that goes “ner ner ner ner…”
And I was one of them! [Laughter]
808 State, Tramshed, Cardiff, Fri 1 Oct. Tickets: £22. Info: 029 2023 5555 / here
words CARL MARSH
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