How did you come
to music, and what brought you to dance music in particular?
I started listening to music more seriously when I was
twelve or thirteen. My brother Pete had turned into
a long hair at this point (1972/3) and was bringing
home albums. This was a great time for all kinds of
music and there were loads of debates amongst my friends
about what was cool and what wasn’t. We all grew
our hair and had debatable fashion sense. Photos will
reveal yellow chords and twin sets (a tank top with
matching cardigan). We liked most things with electric
guitars, so that was broad… Led Zep albums were
swapped for Sabbath albums, Santana records opened up
paths into Jazz… Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder
were accepted in our rock universe too, Hendrix was
essential buy. Everyone bought the cheap MFP (Music
For Pleasure) ones, budget was a big factor. That’s
why later when people with guitars and things gravitated
together, we all knew the tunes on Camembert Electrique
by Gong, as it was only 59p. Everyone also had The Faust
Tapes, although that wasn’t really playable by
a band… I had a Kay guitar (Woolworth special),
an electric violin and a very weird amplifier that was
once the PA system from McVities’ biscuit factory.
It had a map of the world on a lit-up glass plate (a
long wave radio) and the speaker was a huge horn like
you would get at a village fete. Attached to that was
a huge fuzz box with integrated tone generator that
my dad had made me from practical electronics magazine.
As I said, we formed a band whilst still at school
with some local long hairs doing the tunes of Anglo/French
prog band Gong. Some of the guys were pretty proficient;
I relied heavily on bluff and bluster and sonics, taking
over a number of roles from time to time, like percussions,
vocals, second guitar, second violin... Our first gigs
were at a number of street parties on the Queen’s
silver jubilee in 1977. We did our usual Gong set plus
God Save The Queen (the Sex Pistols were in
the charts that week) and a couple of crowd pleasers
like Rock Around The Clock and Alright
Now. In a matter of weeks, a few of us had formed
Danny & The Dressmakers, our part-time punk band.
Hair was cut and trousers got narrower. Later alongside
this band and many other short-lived music projects
came one I felt really good about, The Biting Tongues.
We felt unique and special, like a good band should.
When you’re playing alongside other groups, you
need to have that team spirit and common purpose. There
was a great band scene in Manchester in the late seventies
into the mid eighties. Going to gigs was a popular pastime
and the scene was self-supporting. We even had a thing
called the Manchester Musicians Collective, which was
a circuit of local venues enabling us to play regularly.
Other important venues were The Factory (from which
Factory Records were born) and the Beach Club (New Order’s
first gig was there), run by the other important label
of the time, New Hormones. Biting Tongues made records
for both these labels... Recording albums had a big
impact on me. Getting to go in the magical space of
the recording studio opened a world of possibilities.
We always recorded fast. An album in 2 days wasn’t
unusual. As we went on, we got to work with some good
people at good studios (Strawberry, Pennine). I decided
to take a course at a local studio to learn to be a
sound engineer. Whilst doing that I got a job as a sound
engineer at The Boardwalk Club, which was one of the
main live venues in Manchester at that time. The Boardwalk
was a good barometer of music. Anything from hip-hop
to Laibach might be waiting for you when you turned
The Boardwalk club was around the corner from the Hacienda,
and I had a free pass because I was on the label with
Biting Tongues. So after work, it was always a quick
walk around the corner to the Hac as it stayed open
later. Before 1988, the Hacienda was indeed a large
empty aircraft hanger of a space with few people in,
except for Saturdays, which were busy. Colin, from Biting
Tongues, was a pot collector there and he also had a
day job at Virgin Records, so we were pretty in touch
with the music world at the time. Mid Eighties, listening
habits would involve a lot of electronic stuff around
people’s flats and parties. You would hear lots
of Kraftwerk alongside Grandmaster Flash, Dennis Edwards,
some electro stuff, Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle
next to the SOS Band, later Art Of Noise, Grace Jones,
all that early ZTT stuff, On U Sound, tons of Miles
Davis. Later albums, like Decoy and Tutu
were very electronic. So, the vocabulary of electronic
music was not new, night clubbing wasn’t new,
it just started sounding bigger. Socially, gay clubs
were becoming more mixed-based on the fact that they
were known for playing New York style club music. Manchester’s
Black club music nights were becoming more mixed for
the same reason. Barriers were coming down. You’ve
got to remember how tribal everything was before then.
Everyone stuck to their own cliques. So when the Hacienda
did kick off in 1988 (due to an influx of ecstasy no
doubt), it was its mix of people from different social
backgrounds that seemed like a breakthrough, it was
a shared experience that needed its own new kind of
music as a new flag.
Looking back at the Manchester scene of the
late eighties/early nineties, what are your feelings
towards it now?
It was an amazing time to live through; all the new
music, the sense of mingling with people all doing new
exiting stuff, people having a lot of optimism and having
a go. It was just in the air. There was this odd sense
of civic pride that you could feed your efforts back
into where you live and make things better. Modern Manchester
was born at this time and music/clubbing played a central
role. When I look at Manchester now, it seems like developers
ran with the ball and left it hollow. It has this front
of being a happening city, but it’s fake unless
you attend to its cultural health. It’s not like
there’s no one doing stuff. It is a fact that
it’s so hard to be spontaneous. If for instance
you want to do a gig, it takes about two months for
a slot to come up in one of the few venues that are
left. A few mid-size venues would be a step forward
for Manchester. Back then we had the Boardwalk. We need
that kind of venues. They’re either too small
and under equipped or too big. I’ve also noticed
a trend toward more suburban venues, which I think could
be a good thing. Most people can’t afford a £60
night out in the city centre but will do £20 locally.
There could be a circuit set up for bands to play regularly.
That would be well healthy. Music is always good for
a modern city’s image. Just think about Glasgow
at the moment or Chicago, it’s a visible pulse
and sign of life.
How did 808 State get together?
Its been told many times but essentially, we grew out
of Martin owning a dance import shop, getting people
who wanted to record to come to me as a engineer/musician
to make records. We would also put on gigs, at the Boardwalk
mostly as a sort of hip-hop circus. Out of this we started
doing acid house because we had the right equipment
and some of us loved it, because of a radio programme
by Manchester DJ Stu Allen on Sunday nights. A lot of
hip-hop people hated it, called it ‘fag music’.
Our fist jam is captured on Prebuild as Thermo
Kings (that was our original name). We started recording
acid stuff in the studio to release as Newbuild.
We recorded in every spare bit of studio time, usually
in the middle of the night. But we did Newbuild
on a hired weekend. We gave a copy to John Peel and
he started playing it on his show. Incidentally he was
the only DJ to play our last release on the radio. He
will be missed.
What was the feeling in the band when Gerald
left to pursue his solo project, and are you still in
At the same time as Gerald being in 808 State, he was
always doing his own stuff and recording with Haniff
and Colin (Chapter & The Verse). Voodoo Ray
was a club hit around that time. 808 State was not an
exclusive venture. I was still recording with Biting
Tongues. It was more like a project; ‘let’s
do this really intense acid stuff, really over the top’.
It was just a record. Once the record was out, we started
to do gigs as a support act to bands like A Certain
Ratio and Inspiral Carpets. Then we started doing our
own gigs. Often Gerald would do a set with us as 808
and a set with Colin and Haniff. Once, we did a set
as both, at New Century Hall. Sometimes I’d be
in his group if Martin couldn’t make it from Bolton.
We didn’t really care; we just got on with it.
Nothing was at stakes, it was just a laugh. By the time
we started the next album, Voodoo Ray was in
the charts and Gerald was away a lot more, working on
Hot Lemonade. He was also annoyed with Creed
Records for not paying up royalties on Newbuild. They
can take a while to turn around, or maybe he had a case.
I know I didn’t get mine until about a year later.
Besides, we all had an interest in the homemade record
company, or so we thought, so we would have been ripping
ourselves off. Anyway there were a number of heated
debates when we should have been recording, and communication
broke down. We stayed in touch for years. He was still
based in Manchester and indeed we both had studios in
the same building. Then we bumped into each other at
parties when he lived in London, or at some festival
somewhere around the world. And of course, to put together
these old album projects. There will always be a bond
from back in the heady ‘88 days of just being
at mad parties and staying up all night jamming out
Did you realise at the time that you were creating
something special, and that your work would become important
for a lot of young musicians?
Not at the time of Newbuild or the acid stuff
as it was acid like American acid. Listening to it now,
I can see the difference. I became aware maybe ten years
later that that album was held very dear by the likes
of Aphex Twin (Richard James) and Rob and Sean from
Autechre and was something of a lost classic amongst
the IDM crowd. We’d get reports of it selling
for £80 second hand. I met Richard through a mutual
friend (Leila Arab) and he asked weather Rephlex could
reissue it. They did a great job of remastering it as
some of the original tapes were missing or unusable,
and the triple vinyl version was a luxury thing. Richard
had heard it on John Peel’s show originally. I
guess they didn’t have a local dance music show
like we did in Manchester.
How did you come to work with ZTT?
ZTT saw 808 on a programme called Snub TV on BBC2. We
were filmed doing a track called Dance Yourself
To Death with MC Tunes in the basement of Eastern
Block. We were being courted by various record companies
at that time, including Factory (boy did we make the
right decision here), RCA (Deconstruction)... By this
point, we had a manager called Ron Atkinson (no relation
to the Man UTD player). He’d been in various music
biz activities (he had been a roady for Genesis once),
and Martin knew him as the man on the vans. He had a
dance import business that delivered to independent
stores). Ron’s old mucker from the dirty seventies
was head of publishing at ZTT and he came to visit often
with Paul Morley. They eventually sorted a deal out.
I wonder if a more dance based label like Decontruction
would have placed as much importance on albums, I think
we made a good choice.
90 was your first record to receive
a lot of attention. How did you all react to its success
at the time?
Well, we already had a sense of success off Quadrastate
in that they were playing our records on the radio and
at the Hacienda. There could not be anything more important
than hearing your tune played as the last tune at the
Hacienda in the heyday... Where do you go from there?
Signing to ZTT, we had some money in the bank and we
paid ourselves a wage. That was the biggest shock. I
had a bank account for the first time at the age of
twenty-nine. We bought clothes with advances, we bought
equipment, lots of equipment, and we bought studio time,
lots of it. We worked our butts off; studio, promo,
gigs, gigs, promo, studio. We more or less had 90
in the can when we signed. We just tarted it up, then
we did stuff a track at a time, Cubik came
at the same time as Only Rhyme That Bites with
MC Tunes. Tunes was signed separately to us, but we
were immediately working on his album as well (The
North At Its Heights). In Yer Face followed
Cubik, which by this time had come back as
an American import on Tommy Boy, so it was rush-released
with Olympic. Olympic was a commission
by the Manchester Olympic bid. If we got the games,
that would have been the theme tune... 90 came
out, we made some suspect videos (well you can’t
be good at everything). Being Northerners, we never
wanted to spend too much money on videos. In retrospect,
if we had paid more attention there, it would have taken
us more international. 808 State were pretty cutting
edge for a company like Warners, who were handling us
in the rest of the world. ZTT knew what they were doing
and 90 went gold pretty quickly here. Tommy
Boy in the States knew how to market us as well but
elsewhere in Europe, we were a bit too new and different
at that point.
On Ex:El, you started collaborating
with vocalists. Was it a new experience for you, and
how did that affect the sound of the band?
It didn’t seem like such a big deal to use vocals.
Lots of club music had vocals, we knew we didn’t
want the usual diva stuff, there was just too much of
that about (around this time I’d worked with Blue
Pearl on Naked In The Rain, which was a big
euro club hit). If we had known more singers and more
importantly sympathetic lyric writers, we would have
done it sooner.
How did the collaboration with Björk on
Ex:El come up, and what made you decide to
work on Post with her?
Björk rang up whilst we were in the studio making
Ex:El. She had been listening to our early
stuff and wanted to do some of her own stuff with a
programmer. We met up in London and she played us some
brass quartets she’d done. She was very shy. I
was flying off to Rome the next morning and something
made me ring the office to stop her flying back to Iceland.
A couple of days later, she was up in the Manchester
studio singing on two of our tracks. It was very spontaneous,
she picked a track, went for a long walk with a walkman,
came back eating a cold can of sprouts and did the track.
Then almost as an after thought, she did a quick improvisation
on Qmart. Qmart already existed as
an instrumental; it had some weird lovely chords. What
she did was spine-tingling, and we kept the first take.
She seems to be someone who really knows what
she wants and who she wants to work with. How was it
to work with her?
I’d say she’s someone who works with her
intuition. It felt like I’d known her all my life.
It was just like bang. We know what we mean and the
language is music, lots of similar paths and experiences
to do with music. All that she’s become was there
in her then. Hard as nails yet vulnerable, ethereal
and yet very down to earth. I liked her instantly and
we kept in touch. She would either come to Manchester
to hang out and write tunes, or she’d put an 808
gig on herself in Reykjavik, borrowed all the equipment
from all over the island, promoted it, got us on the
radio, did TV. We made a video for Oops while
we were there. She also joined us for some gigs in Manchester
and for a few dates on our first American tour.
For a band like 808 State, working with Bernard
Summer must have been quite something at the time. How
did you come to work with him?
We asked him. He was always out and about in Manchester
in those days, and we found out he was into us so we
asked him if he would. Technique was always
on in our van at that point. We sent him the track in
advance. I remember he didn’t like some of the
jazz chords and he replayed some keyboards on the track
first to fit his vocal lines. He just seemed like one
of us, we’re all no nonsense Northerners. It’s
rude to get star struck. Years ago he came to my bedsit
with my friend Alan Hempsall (of Crispy Ambulance).
Alan filled in for Ian Curtis when he was ill on one
occasion. I was a bit star struck as Bernard’s
new open top Mercedes was outside my horrible bedsit,
but he was cool. Alan had just bought a Maplins Sequencer
Talking of New Order, how come the two remixes
that were released recently on Rephlex were never published
Well they were just rough mixes for Jon Da Silva to
play at Hot night. Rephlex really liked them when I
put them all on the same CD. I’m not that keen
on them. If I were going to put them out then I would
have worked on the arrangement more. But some people
like that home vibe. I certainly don’t consider
them remixes. They are cover versions.
You have done a lot of remixes, either as part
of 808 State, or as yourself. What makes you decide
to remix a track, and how do you proceed to remix 'as
I wouldn’t say we’ve been very fussy about
choosing what remixes we’d do. If we had the time
we generally did them. Studio experience was always
valuable to us and the chance to do a new track in a
day or two was always appealing. If someone gave us
a brief, that would put us off. It always had to be
‘do what you want’. There were some difficult
ones. You’d get the parts and think ‘what
the fuck can I do with that’. A good example being
Owner Of A Lonely Heart by Yes. Now this was
one of Trevor Horn’s big productions, and he’d
always been nice to us (he gave us his MiniMoog as a
gift!), so we soldiered on and it’s one of my
favourites. We kept the snare drum and a fill in and
glued in the intro to Close To The Edge. I
don’t think the band were that impressed but it
was the Chemical Brothers’ top tune at Naked Under
Leather for a while, back in the days when they were
the Dust Brothers. Songs are generally hard. We did
Sound & Vision by Bowie, and a track like
that is hard because I know it so well and am a bit
reverent about it...
Mixing as a band is just the same as working together.
It is all about opinions, a bit more debate, chucking
ideas about... Mixing by myself was a good escape at
the time, as being in a band all the time can be frustrating
on some levels. Everyone has different tastes ultimately.
A lot of mixes came in through mates rather than A&R
I think remixing teaches a lot about what makes a good
track in the first place. It is very interesting to
put your hands in the DNA of other people’s stuff.
It’s a bit like looking through the keyhole. We’re
naturally nosey. Music’s all coming from a similar
place, it’s just the choices that are different,
so it doesn’t matter if its REM or Rolf Harris
to us, it’s all raw material to be made into something
else. I wished we’d had people in the studio with
us more often like we did with Rolf. It was surreal
to have him sitting having breakfast in my kitchen.
I know everyone think of him as this eccentric light
entertainment guy but he’s a lot more heavy than
that in reality and a very interesting bloke. I’m
glad we worked with him. We often found ourselves working
alongside pop people. We worked at FON studios in Sheffield
a lot, and that was also home to the five boys production
people who were producing and writing for Take That
and Kylie, proper pop stuff. We all got on like a house
on fire, going to the pub, etc… we were all doing
the same job, just different tastes. It was the same
when we worked at PWL in Manchester. We’d be in
with people making Steps records and talking about gear
and stuff. There was a sort of code of craftsmen thing,
people would always pop in and check out what we were
doing, scratch their heads and leave. FON was a good
place. Moloko were in there getting their first stuff
together, the Human League were next door, they had
some great gear. We talked about doing some stuff together
but it never happened. The Designers Republic were down
the road if you needed album covers (that need reading
with microscopes), Warp were upstairs, and they had
the best chippy in the world not far away. I miss studios;
there is a really good focus when you have to pay by
the hour. Now with home studios everything takes way
longer to finish.
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