808 State plus Björk: Lido, Reykjavik


THE WIDE-EYED, often bemused expressions on the Icelandic faces here do not alter as the 808 State global roadshow kicks into its first half. For the next few hours an audience for the most part unaccustomed to the deep heat and ache of good dance music are entertained by a DJ the band flew over from Manchester’s Soundgarden club. Most are bowled over.

By the time 808 State actually appear, the overall ‘vibe’ is one of appetites whetted and toes twitching for more. Nobody knows quite what to expect of the Techno kids from Manchester who Iceland’s very own First Lady, Björk Sugarcube, has taken such a fancy to, but most seem eager to learn fast.

As the first spray of hardcore electronics and retina blistering laser visuals bounce off the stage, many are bellowing “OOF, OOF!” and spilling crazily on to the dancefloor. Strangely enough the most popular dance in Iceland comprises of simply marching across the dancefloor with your mouth crammed full of cigarettes and, for all their famed drunken revelry, this Icelandic crowd seem curiously shy and subdued at first.

This all changes when the dual smokescreen of dry ice and lazers lifts a few iotas to reveal the four deranged characters onstage. When the crowd realises that 808 State are not austere robot-types, all muso precision as they tinker contemptuously with their magnificent dancing machines, they visibly relax. The instant consensus is that the band are “good blokes”. “Ordinary” is another word bandied about with enthusiasm over chinking £4-a-throw beer bottles.

In this, the crowd are only half right. That 808 State are solid and unglamorous like me and you on most levels is, of course, true, but where their music is concerned they are anything but ordinary. Whereas chart hits like ‘Cubik’ and the latest ‘In Yer Face’ show them to be the masters of physically harrowing brain-clawing instrumentals, softer songs like ‘Pacific State’ and the sly, sensual ‘Spanish Heart’ — which Barney guests on for the forthcoming album — reveal a romantic, sentimental side.

As the set unfolds, with 808 State occasionally screaming at the crowd to let go and “move”, the throng suddenly launch into curious flaying limbed dance routines, the unrhythmic awfulness of which was last seen when Richard Jobson danced for the Yankee Dollar all those moons ago. Everybody is enjoying themselves, not least the band — wide grins achieving lobe-to-lobe proportions when the time arrives to introduce “Iceland’s favourite woman and ours — BERZERK!”.

Berzerk — aka Björk — slinks into view clad in her latest style disaster. Only Björk could get away with what she wears. The song she performs, ‘Oops’, is one of two co-written with 808 State for their forthcoming album X-Cel. It’s a haunting, brutal and naked affair quashing all fears that Björk’s ethereal, psyche-curling vocals would come a nasty cropper when encased inside 808 State’s relentless Techno-squeeze. An unlikely collaboration but a triumph.

That 808 State and Björk have got together at all can be credited to her long, little known love affair with dance music and the Manc-wizards admirable semi U-turn. Björk is the finest and most credible of Indie Princesses but Indie Princess she undoubtedly is. To 808 State the recent spate of Indie-dance hybrids is for the most part anathema, a cancer in the heart of the scene they love. The nut of this particular mutual admiration society obviously lies in the fact that both parties refuse to let themselves be straitjacketed by lazy preconceptions.

If the aural shock of hearing them work together so splendidly is not enough for one night, the blanket of dry ice and blinding lasers lift for the one song Björk performs and one can only be struck by how odd they look together, it is both an unlikely vision and desperately, breathtakingly right. Björk, at times, looks like a fairy person caught somehow in a scrum of Millwall supporters leaving the stadium. At other points it is as if she has always been there, an essential ingredient to what makes 808 State tick.

As the song fades, and the crowd break off for a minute from spinning on their bottoms — seemingly the viking interpretation of breakdancing — to clap and roar, Martin, the band’s sometime spokesperson screeches out from behind a daunting array of machinery to encase Björk in a bonecrunching bear hug. She half-curtseys — or perhaps faints — then runs off, probably nursing several broken ribs.

For the rest of the set 808 State get back to basics with their trademark rash of vicious and curiously sensual quasi-electronics. It was as if a Queen from a different planet had dropped in, had tea and left and Manchester’s own very special Dance Royal Family had handled the visit with not only deep delight but ease. One thing’s for sure. When Björk visits Manchester for 808 State’s date at G-Mex the rafters won’t stand a monkey’s.

© Barbara EllenNew Musical Express, 23 February 1991

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