THE RETURN to G-Mex, the core combat zone of the Manchester thing, could have been disturbing. Like, is there a thing going on anymore? The acid scene has moved underground like the northern soul scene of 20 years back, and the hits have become routine.
But the atmosphere in G-Mex was kickin’, an adrenalin rush of complete commitment as the discerning paid their respects with the biggest crowd yet for this type of thang – 10,500 energy soaked bodies paying up to 35 quid for tout tickets, checking out the anonymous club gurus turned anonymous bigtime pop outfit.
808 State are the true heirs to the underground crossover crown, the not-playing-the pop-game evasiveness that New Order played out through the ’80s. Mass success achieved virtually unnoticed – I mean, just who were those guys up there pumping out the hard-edged electro groove?
First up are N-Joi, pumping a trad house 4/4 bass drum groove with a nod to soaring melody and blessed with neat vocal overload. They go down a storm – the atmosphere’s already hot and there’s no support band routine going down here.
It would take a hard-hearted cynic not to get lost in this euphoria, and 808 State perfectly soundtrack the vibe. While in small clubs their music can be almost industrial hard with its thundering beats and straight down the line between the eyes melody, tonight it fills the massive hunger of the G-Mex, enveloping the place with its warmth and texture, thundering out of the largest rig ever provided – 100K of sheer throbbing dance power. (It would have been 130 ear crushing K but The Farm are playing down the road and needed a fill up).
The visuals are stripped to a minimum. Ex-dance führer Martin Price contents himself with piling on keyboard texture. Likewise band boffin Graeme Massey but with occasional blasts of cruelly treated six-string axe power or a wobbly entranced waltz across the stage. The light show was stunning, a prog rock overload of lazer death rays crashing everywhere.
Like the current ex:el album, G-Mex showed 808 State pushing their sound on, not resting. The biggest jump this time has been the addition of vocals, and though there’s no Barney Sumner (currently in India pre-New Order sessions) they do get Björk down from Iceland.
Björk, thankfully taking a breather from the wackily irritating Sugarcubes, lets her beautiful strange voice free for her two song spot, ‘Oops’ and ‘Qmart’. It’s an odd moment, live State with vocals, and the audience seems bemused, resting, waiting for the ice cool machine surges like ‘Pacific’ and ‘In Yer Face’ – the grooves that have pounded clubs in every back end town of this country over the long and cold winter.
The collective that spawned the ‘band’ is tipped a wink, as the not so sweet and tender hooligan MC Tunes storms the stage, gobbing off at a mental wordrate in his lozenge defeating gruff Mancs snarl. The momentarily muffled sound renders his delivery almost impotent but the neat Roses riff nick of ‘Split The Atom’ still has the ten thou’ bouncing.
808 State are current, this is the now. And half those fired heads in the audience are cranking up their four tracks in bedrooms nationwide – getting the next wave of tunes and attitudes together for the next five years.
© John Robb, Sounds, 23 March 1991