808 State 'Pacific State'

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Published in SOS April 2014
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Technique : Classic Tracks


Born of the fertile late‑'80s Manchester music scene, 808 State's 'Pacific State' was a landmark in British house music.

Richard Buskin

"When people mention 'Pacific State', they often refer to the clarinet part without realising it's actually a sax,” says musician, composer, producer and engineer Graham Massey. "I was the one who played it, and that was because there were a lot of jazz influences in what 808 State was creating at that time. That record didn't just come from the house scene; it also came from jazz fusion and exotica.”

Originally recorded in 1988, 'Pacific State' was a landmark track in the development of UK acid house during the late '80s and early '90s. It helped to define the whole rave‑based 'Madchester' scene that centred around the Haçienda nightclub, run by Factory Records founder Tony Wilson, and also served as a major influence on future generations of techno and electronica artists.

Formative Experiences

Interested in astronomy and new technology while growing up in Manchester during the 1960s, Graham Massey developed a love of synthesizer music during the early part of the next decade. He was particularly taken with Stevie Wonder, as well as the progressive rock sounds of Hawkwind, Gong and Magma.

"I was familiarising myself with the names of all the different keyboards listed on the back of LP sleeves,” he recalls. "The EMS VCS3, RMI Electra Piano, Moog bass, Mellotron, ARP 2600... People were getting guitars, basses and drums, but you never even saw synthesizers in Manchester unless they were in a music store, and that meant they were still a thing of great mystery to me.”

While inspired by the Moog‑based sounds of John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra and ARP‑based sounds of Weather Report, Massey began designing synth rigs in the back of his school exercise books after seeing Tangerine Dream play at a local venue named the Hardrock in 1975.

"I turned a cheap Woolworth's chord organ into my own fake Mellotron,” he says, "and a Rolf Harris Stylophone was my synth.”

Nevertheless, the first instrument that Graham Massey really learned to play was an electric violin. Hardly the easiest contraption with which to produce a listenable sound, so the fact that he taught himself was all the more remarkable.

"It's not like I was Jean‑Luc Ponty,” Massey remarks. "That electric violin was used as a sort of sonic weapon. I'd seen it being advertised for £12 on the notice board at Virgin Records and, when I bought it, it had been filled with roofing insulation, equipped with a contact mic and painted white, so it looked pretty cool. As it was an unusual instrument for a teenager to play, it was my passport for meeting other musicians at Manchester Grammar School and being invited to join a band called Aqua.

"The other guys were really into the music of Gong — a fairly odd Anglo‑French prog‑rock outfit that was known for its quirky music and funny time signatures — and we performed our first gigs in 1977, when punk was providing a great burst of energy in Manchester for people forming their own bands. The term New Wave meant all kinds of different things; one of which was that you could actually get by with limited musical skills and approach music in an anarchic, noisy way. I really got into the whole sonic aspect, and in 1979, I joined a New Wave band called Biting Tongues. It wasn't all that different to what I'd already been doing; I just had a different haircut in a group that had progressive roots but was going in a different direction.

"The great thing about those bands was that you could pick up any instrument and just have a go. So, while I mostly played guitar, I also played a bit of violin, a bit of trumpet, a bit of clarinet. Having seen bands such as Hawkwind, we were starting to think of music in a very textural way using tapes of found sounds playing randomly through our metronomic rhythm section. At the same time, cues were being taken from Krautrock and free jazz and spoken word. We'd all listen to The Faust Tapes [the 1973 album by Krautrock group Faust], which was very collage‑y, and that shaped our approach towards making musing by putting unusual combinations of sounds together. I therefore tried my hardest to play all of those different instruments, and those of us in the band had different skill levels — some were very skilled — but the whole notion of being a non‑musician was also an important idea at that time. So, even if I was only able to produce a screech out of a violin, that could be lovely! Especially with effects boxes on the end of it.

"What really lit me up was when we first went into the studio and were able to record the racket that we'd been used to making in some room. Now there was a second level of processing. Every studio in Manchester was full of AMS

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