808 State may have been quiet, but they’ve never gone away. With a 2021 tour and new album Transmission Suite, they should be back on your radar for the autumn.
Recorded in the former nerve centre of the Granada broadcasting empire, ‘Transmission Suite’ became the band’s first new material since 2002’s ‘Outpost Transmission’ and arrived as a long overdue and welcome addition to their catalogue. More stripped-back and conscious of space than the music that first made their name in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the new record draws a line between their home city and the original Detroit scene that birthed techno, and reflects on the pivotal roles they played in defining electronic music as we know it. Evoking the past, present and future, the album pays homage to the musical heritage of the genre 808 State continue to push the boundaries.
We had a word with Graham Massey to find out what’s what:
P3dro: Where are you and what are you doing?
Graham: I’m at home and, we’re doing this tour at the moment, but it’s only weekends. I did one gig on Friday and I’m still recovering. I’m not match fit at the moment. It’s not like getting on a bus with a suitcase anymore, it’s more dotted about. It suits us, though.
In the week, I’ve got a remix to start and finish by the end of the month. So that’s this week.
P3dro: You’ve been quiet for a while, what was the kickstart for coming back into action?
Graham: We’ve never stopped doing gigs, although we’ve not made a record for ages. It’s largely to do with the fact we never had a gathering place. For years we had a studio in Manchester, where we used to operate an almost 9 – 5 type of existence, going in there and having a momentum of writing. In 2002 we put out a record called ‘Outpost Transmission’, but the people who put that out went bust within weeks of it being [released]. So we effectively nose-dived at that point and we lost the studio.
So, we continued doing gigs for a while. And got into other projects. There were all sorts of side projects, remixes and things like that. And then in about 2014 I had a project to do a thing with Jeremy Deller, for Manchester International Festival in which I was the musical director. That gave me some funding to set up a studio in the centre of Manchester at the old Granada Studios. I moved in there with all my equipment and there was this fabulous room there – the old control room – with about 60 TVs. It kind of looked like Mission Control with all these brilliant curved desks and 1970s furniture. The ultimate Man Shed.
Once I was in there, we had a place to get together again and many projects came out of that room. It was social hub. There were a lot of other studios in there as well, for other musicians, and a radio station and a TV station. So, they had bands coming in all the time. It was like a musical village. It was a great place to be. It worked and we gained some momentum again. And that’s how the record [Transmission Suite] came about. Momentum is really important in music.
If you do get the physical copy [of the record] there’s a story on the sleeve notes which explains the site and the piece of ground where Granada was built and the history going back to when it was a Roman fort. But that intersects with our story from those times when we were on Tony Wilson’s TV programmes when we first started. There were many of our big Manchester gigs in the 90s at the arena that’s at the side of the building. It feels like our little spot.
P3dro: Looking at the list of venues you’re playing for the tour, you seem to be playing more kind of gig venues, rather than the more dance orientated spaces. Was that a conscious decision?
Graham: Yeah. I think there’s a mixture on this tour. It’s been put together by the promoter [and their circuit]. What feels weird for me is we’re on quite early at these gigs, which doesn’t feel natural sometimes.
P3dro: Are you trying to reach out to a different kind of audience?
Graham: We don’t have a lot of conscious decisions. It’s not like we can say “Oh, we want to go and do a stadium tour” There may have been times when we did that, but it waxes and wanes. And I think the sizes of the venues may to do with the fact we haven’t made a record for years. It’s as simple as that. We did a tour in 2018 to celebrate our 30th anniversary and it was similar venues. It’s a nice feel for us to get [feedback] from the audience.
I’m very interested in getting a younger audience. People we’re working with now weren’t even born when we were making our [hit] records. Even our manager wasn’t born then! So, we have to keep re-addressing these things. We’re very interested in reaching new people.
P3dro: The new album strikes us as being a bit more subtle from some of the earlier output. Your PR talks about making landscapes with your music.
Graham: This album is an almost more graphicy, type sound. Almost more Escher like patterns that seem to rotate, almost like earworms. We didn’t want to fill it with more stuff.
It’s 15 tracks. I couldn’t reduce it to less than that. We’d done a lot of work on it.
P3dro: There’s a whole different discussion about bands releasing albums or a few a few singles. You see the album as a whole?
Graham: Yeah. I haven’t been able to break out of the album thing. Because I’m old! It’s just the way I think.
P3dro: One of the things we got out of the new album is clearly the likes of Faithless and Orbital, with whom you grew up, but we also get bits of Cabaret Voltaire in places. Is that something that resonates with you?
Graham: I was amazed when Richard H Kirk died last week [to learn] how many people he had influenced. And that music is sometimes over looked, and I’m guilty of it. We think year zero for dance / electronic music is 1998. It seemed like for us, that was a starting point when the whole rave culture kicked in. But, of course, there was a whole lot of electronic music going on in the 70s, the post-punk attitudes with synths and what they could do with them.
Of course before that, there was a whole other set of musicians [doing similar]. The first synth band I saw was Tangerine Dream, when I was about 14. We didn’t know what that was at the time. We didn’t know about Krautrock, it’s roots, where it had come from or what it was thinking about. There was this whole tapestry of electronic influences from the 70s.
Virgin Records in Manchester was a cultural hub where people hung out and swapped ideas. That was about when punk was happening, it was exciting. American music was coming through. Bands like DEVO and The Residents just blew our minds.
I had a friend who was a huge Throbbing Gristle fan. His idea of fun and entertainment was to play the 24 hour box of cassettes. I’ve done enough Throbbing Gristle! There’s definitely an influence. One of the first bands I went to see was Hawkwind – that idea of using tape and noise. That was about volume, sonics and overwhelming sensations. If I start there, we’re not a million miles away from that now.
P3dro: Recommend a band or an album we should be listening to right now.
Graham: Go Go Penguin. The re-mix album, called RMX. It’s a collection of all kinds of piano, bass and drums. That’s the one I’d recommend.
808 State tour dates:
Friday, September 24th – Newcastle – Riverside
Friday, October 1st – Cardiff – Tramshed
Saturday, October 2nd – Bristol – Trinity Arms
Friday, October 8th – Sheffield – Foundry
Saturday, October 16th – Manchester – Ritz
Friday, October 22nd – Glasgow – Platform
Friday, October 29th – Brighton – Concorde 2
Saturday, October 30th – London – Earth
Friday, November 5th – Liverpool – Arts Club