GRAHAM MASSEY – 808 STATE EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEWMay 23, 2020
The last time we spoke with the 808 State lads in Manchester was in issue 4 with Andy Barker filling us in on what was happening. This time around we got to have a good ol’ natter with Graham Massey about his early life and on the band’s latest incredible album ‘Transmission Suite’ and his thoughts on today’s scene.
Mike Mannix: Congrats on the new album, great work, a lot of diversity with the late 80’s sounds?
Graham Massey: Cheers Mike, people keep saying that but it wasn’t a deliberate step if you know what I mean, it was kind of a return to electronics in a way, a pure form of it, but that came right at the end of the process of making the record. It was much more expansive than that and the record in my head was bigger than that, and it turned into something similar with what we began with, it was the completion of a circle if you want.
MM: Music is cyclical, although I am not saying your album is retro, it is just taking back some elements out of that era. When the younger crowd first listen to it, it is all brand new.
G: Yes, there is a kind of repetition of that early period, its sort of what made the records have that kind of immediacy, this sort of joy that easily get lost in the process. If you can build that awareness as a DJ and to what you are returning to, you found that those records have the fundamental elements that Acid House had, this kind of alienated quality.
It talks joy in its tonality, and in a way that’s how I got interested in Acid House. Those were the elements that became part of the diagram, of that technology. My personal experience with it was experimentalism, sort of a post-punk thing and that was a whole world of improvisation, so to me when Acid House embraced this alienation that’s when I felt like I could align myself alongside comfortably.
MM: Because you had this punk era that completely broke down what was classed as a format for a track and smashed that wide open.
G: Yes, it kind of cut itself from the history of music. It wasn’t part of the timeline then whereas House Music did have roots in gospel, choirs, and lots of other elements, and these lines began to disintegrate.
MM: What was the catalyst for you? Did you feel you were onto something promising or was it gradual?
G: We didn’t have enough of that music coming through, it was more an urge to add to the pile if you know what I mean, to grow the music.
We weren’t always on the same page and this was why you got those interesting things happening because of the diversity of the people that were in the group at that time. At the beginning we were a trio, me, Gerald, and Martin, and you would definitely get different things if you divided us on separate rooms with different people. But anyway, we weren’t thinking too much about it at the time, it was just anytime we had the chance of making a record we would do it because it wasn’t an easy thing at the time, it was a rare and expensive opportunity.
I acquired the skills of being a recording engineer at that point, it was all very exploratory in that capacity with that technology coming through of having samplers on computers, which eventually gave me the skills to do everything I make today. It was very exciting and you know what, the world was our oyster so we could just set off on an unknown journey…. And what a journey it turned out to be.
MM: Did you envisage the whole Top of the Pops thing? How did that land on you?
G: Really awkwardly haha, I mean that was the intention you know, but never in a million years would you think that we would get that noise we were making anywhere near the charts but the whole culture changed suddenly and we were in the right place at the right time with the wrong music. I kinda miss, mixing different things together and against each other, that’s what made British culture, those newer records next to what was going on in this suburban pubs and clubs
the whole culture changed suddenly and we were in the right place at the right time with the wrong music
MM: The pop charts was always a mishmash wasn’t it?
G: Yes, and it fed off each other as well. I think it was a really interesting time in music it was this lovely kind of popularism versus experimentalism that made it so special. We were never that pure and out to set ourselves aside from the culture. We were trying to come into the center in some ways but we were so left field and yet we was on Radio 1. Everyone was happy that we were kind of successful, and then of course we had to present ourselves as a band.
When we started out we were happy doing raves and were usually positioned around the mixing desk at the back of the club/warehouse & certainly not on stage being performers! When all of a sudden we had to do big venues in Manchester with 12000 people, you had to put a show on and it was a real struggle to know what to do and how to behave.
Our solution was to make it louder with more lights, people were so excited and loved it because we were more of a community with a purpose rather than a band and its fans. That was a really brilliant time for us because when we first went on tour we weren’t just representing our music, but also the rave scene and therefore everyone we played for all felt inclusive and revolutionary.
MM: And did you think from there you would do a tour in the States?
G: Again, we went from just about getting comfortable in England with that feeling of moving the scene onto starting again in the States because we were on Tommy Boy Records. They were pretty much involved in all the different clubs and scene but we were a group from England, and we were pushed into a sort of industrial framing, they didn’t know where to place us so we were always placed alongside the likes of Depeche Mode which was a bit uncomfortable for us at first.
We would find pockets of raves in various places in the early 90’s in the US when it wasn’t really established yet and people were really pioneering it. There was a Techno station in California that started to get the rave thing together out there and we were pretty popular on that station, it was all based on radio at the time. There was also a big rave scene in Texas we didn’t know anything about so we got there and it was quite established, and in Florida, but it was really proto at that point, nothing like it is now!
MM: So that was good timing. You caught in the wave in the UK then in the States.
G: Yes we did, and you know what, we were also out there with LFO as they were on Tommy Boy as well so there was this kind of a lucky Northern (UK) sound and we were there to represent it.
MM: As well as some of the indie bands from Manchester like the Happy Mondays?
G: Yea, I mean we always had this association with the ‘Mondays because they were at the hub of it in Manchester so it was only natural that we would end up playing on the same stages as them. They were really supportive to us and because it was pretty cool to have an Acid House band with your band back then, so we were a support band for many of the Manchester bands it was an interesting melting pot.
we always had this association with the ‘Mondays because they were at the hub of it in Manchester so it was only natural that we would end up playing on the same stages as them
MM: Why do you think this huge melting pot of creativity exploded in Manchester (UK) with this Indie/Dance crossover and so many different types of bands?
G: I think Manchester was just big enough to have a confidence. Cities need to have the right size and fluidity to have a structure to support the energy of bands. Liverpool in an interesting case where at the moment there’s a lot of activity there because it is not too big, enough to “get space” and cheap enough for this creativity and spontaneity to happen.
I worry about Manchester at the moment because it is getting a lot more built up you know, all these big buildings in the city center for accommodation, there’s a shift from social housing to aspirational housing so the demographic changes into a sort of aspirational business kind of people and it affects the night scene. Manchester always had 4 universities around it so immediately you have a young captive audience for youth culture and that was an important factor there.
There is also a point in time when that thing had not gone too ballistic, now I feel the whole thing is run by businesses again in terms of breweries and things like that. And there’s a great tradition within the working class in the North West where the music was held in such high regard. When I grew up in the 70’s it was an amazing time for music as music was such an identifier, we use to swap records at the bus stop in the mornings on the way to school, all this mixture of music was really important, a social thing that created this community. It was held in such high regard that the ‘musical tastemakers’ were strong in Manchester and were really rooted in the working class.
the ‘musical tastemakers’ were strong in Manchester and were really rooted in the working class.
MM: What are your thoughts on how it is today compared to when you started 35 years ago?
G: You know we all have kids now and they are taking on the culture, they’ve got their own version of it but it is pretty much rooted in that thing that happened at that point. The way of how you sort of participate in musical activities its pretty much based on that blueprint we were starting in the 80’s so you can get audiences that are spread over 3 generations which never really happened before and I think it is a brilliant mixture.
That stacked generational diversity is a new thing which we noticed when we were playing in the Warehouse Project at the end of November a big venue that was made up of different generations, it was not segregated, and no one was excluded. I think it is very encouraging that each generation has its own pride, sets of values and what they do with that music, and I love it when I don’t know what is happening, just that something is happening especially when you hear clues about it bubbling up through community radio.
Radio was also so really important to us back then, I remember when we put out the weekly chart over the radio that would get taped on cassettes by folk and brought back into Eastern bloc with people looking for the sounds, it was like a perfect loop. I think radio is so important to gather around, it is such a social bonfire.
I remember when we put out the weekly chart over the radio that would get taped on cassettes by folk and brought back into Eastern bloc with people looking for the sounds, it was like a perfect loop. I think radio is so important to gather around, it is such a social bonfire.
MM: What’s in the pipelines for you guys?
G: We did the Blue Dot festival this year and we were playing in front of a lot of people who never saw us before because it is a big family audience with a young crowd and people were surprised on what an 808 State show is, with its dynamic and musicality we love doing that. Our next live gig is playing in Dublin 1st February in the Button Factory which should be very special as its 10 years since we did that in Dublin.
Editor: The 808 State event in February at the Button Factory Dublin was special and even more poignant now with current world affairs. It was the band’s first live gig in Dublin in over 10 years and they played to a full house it was packed to the rafters with fans from all over Ireland and the UK. The atmosphere was electric. They played out with a full live setup on drums, guitar, sax, and synths, it was tight and delivered that quintessential 808 sound we all love, banging out all the hits for over 90 minutes to a rapturous up for it crowd. Think 1990s atmosphere, nailed! Brilliant night!
In hindsight we really appreciate how lucky we were to get to enjoy such a massive night considering how fast things changed over the following weeks due to C19.