Interview with Graham Massey of 808 State
From the September/October issue of Highwire Daze magazine in L.A.


Early one mid-summer morning (5:30 am) I had the pleasure of speaking to one of the mainstays of electronic music, one Mr. Graham Massey. He of 808 State, remixer extraordinaire, and producer of Bjork among others. Whilst in their studio banging out some new tunes Graham answered some questions about his career past, present and future.

Highwire Daze: What is your contribution to 808 State?

Graham Massey: Well, I'm the oldest one, I suppose that contributes something. 808 State isn't a traditional group with a bass player and a drummer and that kind of thing. We're a collective of minds that work over a computer so we all contribute [equally].

HD: What are you better at?

Graham: Quite a lot of the instrumental stuff, playing guitars, that kind of thing. The keyboards...

HD: What were you doing at this time ten years ago?

Graham: Whoo! That's a good one. Probably doing warehouse parties at this point. We used to go out and do gigs, we used to take 303s and 101s and all those little keyboards and wire them up and do parties. There were an awful lot of parties going on at that point, especially in Manchester.

HD: I found out about you in 1990 when your United States 90 album came out.

Graham: We were going since about 1988, doing a lot of acid house stuff before we started diversifying from the blueprint of acid house and introducing our own elements into it. Dance music exploded in 88 in England. It allowed us to try out a lot of ideas in that genre. We were doing it live, the machines were really compact and all fit together. We weren't using computers, just pure analog gear.

HD: What do you do when you're not working in 808 State?

Graham: We do quite a lot of stuff, mainly we do music. For instance, I have a monthly club called Toolshed that mostly involves a lot of improvising musicians with a computer at the base of it. We get a different band together every month to rock it and have a bit of fun. We do a lot of producing outside of the band, Darren's producing a group called Jeep in Manchester at the moment, I've been doing an album of an Icelandic singer who's a friend of Bjork's called Magga Stina (out now on Bjork's Ear label on import) I've been doing that album quite a lot last year.

HD: Who have you played with at Toolshed?

Graham: People who have played with Lionrock, people not particularly involved with dance music, we have a good relationship with Warp and Rephlex, those types of labels, doing some of the more cutting edge techno. Boards of Canada, Add N To X, Cylob, left field side of techno, rather than the pure dance floor music.

HD: What plans do you have for the next 808 State LP and who would you like to collaborate with?

Graham: We have a studio in the middle of Manchester where we just go in to write everyday. It's a real gradual process and having done this for ten years we don't include everything that we do on an album. We just accumulate recordings and then we put it together as an album. So we don't know when it will be, we just have to keep doing it and then when we feel we've got something radically different to say, then that's when we'll put it out.

HD: What are some memorable tour experiences?

Graham: I particularly enjoyed touring in the States because each time is a completely different vibe. You wake up in a different place every day. It never gets boring in the States, the scenery is changing and the people are changing in every town. We've done some fairly big tours over there. We've been in the Midwest and all over, it hasn't just been in the big towns. I really enjoy touring there.

HD: What has 808 State contributed to the world?

Graham: I hope an open attitude towards dance music because dance music was an obscure little enclave of music when we started, it wasn't a mainstream thing. I think certainly in England we took an experimental attitude to dance music but we also made it commercial at the same time. We were on Top Of The Pops several times which has a big influence on English culture and particularly back in 1990, I think we introduced the music onto a wider audience. I can't think of anyone else at that time that lasted, that wasn't just a one hit wonder. We had several hits on the run and each one had a different feel and we also put together albums that weren't just a collection of singles, that were a bit more artistic. I think we introduced a more artistic streak into dance music, at a point when it needed it.

HD: Who is your favorite singer from your past albums?

Graham: Bjork. Brilliant. I must admit I wasn't terribly aware of the Sugarcubes stuff. I only got to know about her stuff after I started working with her. She'd heard our records and rang us up saying she was interested in doing some more technologically oriented music, get away from the rock thing a bit.

HD: What are the best qualities of each member of 808 State?

Graham: Darren's the real energetic one, he just never stops talking, full of energy, the motor that keeps it going. I'm more the brains, a little bit more. Andrew is Mr. Technical, the computer side of things. That's a rough summing up of us.

HD: We've reached the end of the interview, it's time for you to give a message to our fans in Southern California.

Graham: Keep the faith, just try to do things in a different way. Music is becoming a wider thing. Try to do something with some life to it. Just because its technological, it's still about people power.

Look for the various 808 State albums now available including Thermo Kings, a collection of remixes from Don Solaris , the Rephlex re-release of their first album Newbuild and their domestic collection of singles from their prolific career 808:88:98. Here's to enjoying the music of 808 State for another 10 years. 808 State will be playing at the Sports Arena on May 29th. Can't wait!

A huge thank you to Bret for allowing me to use this interview :) You can visit his website and read more cool interviews and reviews here:
Bret's Ramblings