808 State’s founding member Graham Massey talks ahead of their headline Norwich show
PUBLISHED: 13:12 14 November 2018
Courtesy of James Masters
Electronic pioneers 808 state will return to Norwich on December 7 to headline The Waterfront with support from special guest LONE.
When electronic pioneers 808 State last played Norwich Waterfront it was on the venue’s opening night in 1990. On December 7 they finally return bringing a show that takes a fresh look at their 30-year back catalogue and promises new material from the band’s forthcoming album. Founding member Graham Massey talks ahead of the tour as the band look to the future with one foot in the past.
“We’ve never stopped playing live,” he explains. “It looks like a reunion but it really isn’t. It’s an update of the shows we’ve been doing.”
Building a set from a 30-year back catalogue is like DJing Massey says. “You have to think of the flow of the music and where it’s taking you to and when we’re playing live it’s generally quite intense. We’ve got a lot of softer more ambient stuff that we tend not to play so much.”
Advances in technology have boosted the 808 sound. “In recent years the technology has got smaller and the connectivity of the old and new equipment has become vastly improved and therefore we’re able to put that into old music and make it more tweakable,” Massey explains. Add to that live instruments including guitar, saxophone and drums and the band has “an organic, go anywhere kind of element to it.”
The band are joined on the tour by fellow electronic artist Lone. It was a name Massey had heard compared to early 808 State many times before he met him in London at a gig with A Guy Called Gerald five or six years ago. “I sat next to him at dinner and we just started talking about how he was a massive 808 fan when he was growing up. All that techno just went into his brain as a child so he grew up with it. It’s second nature to him.”
The band have been supportive, remixing Lone’s latest track Temples as well as taking him on tour. “We didn’t want to dress it up in a relive the dream kind of way,” Massey says of the new shows. “We wanted to show what was happening now with a different age group and Lone was an obvious choice.”
And while 808 State are inspiring a new generation, the younger artists are influencing them too. Graham and bandmate Andrew Barker have sons in their late teens and early 20s. “We get a lot of feedback from our kids on what they’re listening to and Lone was one of the people that they were playing up in the bedroom all the time,” he says. “When we write music we’re taking opinions from them.”
It’s giving 808 State’s music a longevity that has taken Massey by surprise. “When we were doing the early records like Newbuild we were thinking ‘how long will this last?’ Most things in music lasted a couple of years then. To think that this music would be listened to in 30 years time is certainly unexpected.”
808 State have remixed and collaborated with an impressive list of artists which includes David Bowie, Bjork, New Order and The Stone Roses. But it’s an early remix they did for avant-garde trumpeter Jon Hassell that sticks in Massey’s mind. “He recorded with Brian Eno,” Massey recalls. “I really loved his records and he was interested in getting a dance remix in 1989 which was quite unusual, so I was utterly thrilled to do that,” he says.
He is also proud of the work they have done for Yellow Magic Orchestra, “the Japanese Kraftwerk”. “So many threads go into their music. So much musical history ends up being processed through this electronic way making it a very interesting kind of music,” he says.
The work is part of a strong connection with Japan and their technology which “runs through 808’s history like a thread”, says Massey. “We love going to Japan and using their technology. When we first went we were presented with some cover versions of our music by the technicians at Roland which was such a great honour!”
Now the band are working with Roland and other companies to shape the future of music technology. “We get to test Roland’s new equipment when it comes out. They ask us what else it needs and they take that kind of thing on board.” They have also created new sounds for Moog synthesisers.
As the band look to the future they find themselves reconnecting with the past as they record their new album in an old Granada TV studio in Manchester. “It’s a very atmospheric studio,” Massey says. “It’s almost like people just left it one day, like an abandoned space station. It’s full of this old TV equipment with 80 monitors on the wall and miles and miles of wiring.
“It was the first place we appeared on TV in our first few months, after Tony Wilson saw us above a pub in Bolton and invited us on.”
It is a place steeped in musical history where the Sex Pistols and Joy Division had their first TV appearances. Going further back it is where David Bowie and Marc Bolan played and the studio where the Bay City Rollers’ Shang-a-Lang show was recorded. “We’re in this musical ghost centre and it’s imparted a sense of a musical power spot to this new set of recordings,” says Massey.
It is also at the heart of a Manchester scene that is still thriving. Many visiting musicians pass through and local luminaries Mr Scruff and Go Go Penguin have studios nearby. “Manchester is full of music as usual. Manchester produces brand new music all the time,” Massey declares proudly.
“It’s good that all this new music flows through,” he says. “You can get clogged with history but for a musician it’s all about the moment and what’s happening at that point in time.”
The show at the Waterfront will be a moment to experience a fresh live rendition of music that has shaped the UK electronic music scene whilst getting a preview of this influential band’s latest sounds.
• Tickets to the show on December 7 at The Waterfront are available for £20 advance from the UEA Box Office website.