IS THIS THE way the future’s really meant to feel? Or just 20,000 mutants standing in a cobbled amphitheatre? Either there’s an extremely mad scientist on Manchester’s council these days or else the city’s youth are living proof that excessive use of Ecstasy or alcohol can destroy or rewire the brain.
Take heed, kids, these people are not like us: faces mangled and confused like creatures from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, mumbling incoherently in tongues known only to the barman. If Oliver Stone were to make a movie about outdoor rave culture, this would be it, starring everyone from the girl who’s so out of it she spends ages mumbling at me before realising that’s her boyfriend stood behind me, to the one-legged bloke who spends the whole gig playing air guitar with his crutch.
They’re all shuffling around like outsize-clothed buoys on a sea of flyers for “808 State live and free”, in which Manchester’s prodigal sons return from a four-year studio incarceration with a bonzer new album and a free gig to reclaim their role as pied pipers of everything amblin’.
Once, when all Mondays were Happy and Roses came in varieties of Stone, the magnificent 808 invented stadium house, paving the way for the successes of Leftfield and Orbital. Nowadays, arenas aren’t big enough to hold their sound and so they’re appearing here, bouncing lasers off surrounding buildings like crazed Jean-Michel Giros and employing Railtrack carriages to pass by on overhead viaducts as a surreal extra to The Maddest Show On Earth.
Somewhere in the chaos, the three tenors of Nineties sax-led electronica are huddled on a tiny stage, blasting out a succession of top tunes. Some sound a bit like Orbital and Phuture, but also like Acker Bilk, Glenn Miller, ancient tribal drum tattoos and Seventies beardos Weather Report, mixed together and hurled in a rocket ship marked destination Venus, 20001.
Facing this crowd, 808 aren’t The Shamen but shamen, dazzling the gurners with a freeform liquid techno-jazz that seems to drip down from heaven itself. Nevertheless, they do have their very own Mr C. Darren Partington looks like a trendy postman and, in keeping with 808’s musical sensibility, incites us to form Krautrock groups — “Make some Neus, Manchester!!” — and every sentence ends with the word “maarrvellous”. The Leonard Sachs of techno! Did I mention sax? The cue for 808’s Graham Massey to take up his trusty alto and invite huge cheers of nostalgia and recognition for ‘Pacific State’, the best rave anthem ever, but certainly not so scared as to tum down an extended jam/coda with a guest spot from Miles Davis’ ghost.
Did mention guest spots? The Mad Show has them as well (but the less said about MC Tunes’ face the better), with Louise from Lamb coming on all alien Ella Fitzgerald and M Doughty from Soul Coughing doing that old industrial “Terminator” routine with considerable aplomb. All that’s needed now is a finale and ye olde ‘Cubik’ manages to sound like a million Dr Who themes rolled into one, while a load of laser “808 State” logos flash up on buildings and confirm that for tonight, at least, 808 have taken over Manchester. And, let’s face it, somebody should. Maarrvellous.
© Dave Simpson, Melody Maker, 6 July 1996