If you have listened to Afrojack‘s “Pacha on Acid” or Boys Noize‘s “1010″ then you might know that what you’re hearing is deeply ingrained with acid house. However for all you EDM millenials, you might not know that almost all of today’s acid influenced house owes its roots to a group named 808 State… Birthed during the UK’s legendary second summer of love.
Made in Manchester, 808 State began with Martin Price, then owner of the Eastern Bloc, an infamous underground record store. Price initially teamed up with friends Graham Massey, an original member of Aqua, and Gerald Simpson (A Guy Called Gerald) to form Hit Squad Manchester, a subsequent abandoned stab at hip-hop. In 88′, they shifted their attention over to electronic music and reformed as 808 State. The name came about from the importance of the Roland TR-808 drum machine to music of the era combined with their shared state of mind towards electronic music.
1988 saw the release of 808 State’s debut album Newbuild, it is regarded as a monumental milestone in UK electronica/electronic music. However it was in ’89, that their seminal album Quadrastate came to fruition with their infamous track “Pacific State”. Not immediately acid house, this track begins with ethereal vocals underlaid with the signature mechanical kick drum and rattling hi-hat, creating a chill nu-wave soundscape. Spawning in response to techno’s emphasis on punctuated repeating basslines at the foundation with secondary melodies layered on top, “Pacific State” restructures the norm. Here the bass’s complexity acts as the melody by fluctuating in a call and response between the characteristic acid “squelch” and the answering horn counterpoint. All came together into a seductive yet funky combination of old school instruments and vocals with new age acid synths and electronic percussives. 808 State’s style stemmed originally from a reaction against mainstream dance culture and in turn, moved intuitively towards a more underground, minimalist tone adopted by the UK acid house scene. This quickly set off tidal wave of remixes that pinpointed a faster paced percussion coupled with the low wobbling acid bass.
The same year, 808 State signed on to the ZTT label and came out with their 808:90 (pronounced Ninety) album, which was rapidly embraced by the burgeoning rave culture of the era. Their style maintained the expert balance between chill out electronica and at times sinister and glitchy electronic lines. This made their sound incredibly attractive to the booming rave generation as it combined upbeat and downtempo mentalities. Compared to the airy, warm positivity of rave music today (think trance and Swedish House Mafia), many forget that the origins of raving were much darker.
808 State went on to sway and alter the popular UK musical genres of the time such as jungle and garage. Looking to today, you can see their musical influence in major producers like the Chemical Brothers. Ultimately, their history clearly demarcated an illustrious era of music that set visible and aural frameworks for the future of EDM to follow.