I have to thank my high school buddy DJ Joe Cruz for introducing me in 1995 to the sonic bliss of the Manchester electronic act 808 State. At the time, our local record shops in the Philippines didn’t carry them so I knew nothing else except their CD had a cool galactic theme on its cover. We didn’t have Youtube or Wikipedia to discover music accidentally, so I was bereft of knowledge. But I was beginning to learn about beats and synths and electronic music, and began to tinker with MIDI and recording, so hearing 808 State fueled my passion to learn this technology.
Up till then, I was convinced that dance music was going down a path of inanity, because house music had the repetitive 4-on-the-floor beat and seemed boring to me at the time, plus there was a wide array of brain-numbing chart-topping hits by 2 Unlimited, or Snap! filling the airwaves. But suddenly, there was this ray of light in the form of 808 State’s fourth studio album Gorgeous which was released in 1993 but which I only heard in ’95. I made a cassette copy from Joseph’s CD and played it for months. It gave me a new influence to draw from and a brand new love for dance music, and here are three reasons why:
808 State Plays with Their Beats/Musical Sections
I said to myself: “Wow, so there’s actually dance music that isn’t four-on-the-floor? Alright!” Everywhere in 808 State’s tracks, you find interwoven beats, drum loops layered upon a dozen other rhythmic loops. And yet these elements are never fighting for focus. Because I started playing in bands as a drummer, I am instinctively attracted to beats first and foremost. And discovering that dance music could be polyrhythmic was astounding. Obviously I’d never studied tribal African music before.
And then there was the fact that they might suddenly veer off into a whole new direction. Take the song “Nimbus.” The sweet melody of the A section gives way to a dark B section by the 1:41 mark and suddenly, the sweetness is framed by sinister choppiness.
808 State Always Highlights Strong Melodies
Having started composing during high school with only a guitar or piano to accompany me, I believe a strong melody must be present if a tune is ever to make it out of any songwriter’s notebook and onto a recording. And 808 State had melodies that would creep into my brain and stay there for months.
For example, their collaboration with singer Ian McCulloch (of Echo and the Bunnymen) on the track “Moses” is a perfect example of a superb melodic hook set to an infectious beat. Once the chorus drops, you’re trapped. There’s no escape.
One of my favorites is “Plan 9” which features a lovely guitar intro that soon gives way to the B section at 1:04 before totally ending with a creepy organ section starting at 3:30. Never mind if some parts of the song sound discordant upon closer inspection, they’re still strong melodies.
808 State Never Takes Itself Too Seriously
I knew NOTHING about 808 State when I started listening to them. I had no Internet access at the time, and I was basing this idea solely on their music and their song titles. It seemed like they weren’t afraid to be funny. Can’t imagine a serious composer thinking up something like “Sexy Synthesizer.” Or coming up with “One in Ten” and thinking it would be the next Mozart concerto. Nope. These guys were in it for the sheer fun of getting people to dance!
So thank you, DJ Joe Cruz for getting me into this music all those years ago. And thank you 808 State for injecting me with this need to make electronic music.
IMAGE CREDITS: 808 State Wallpaper from Fanart.tv