Monday, June 14, 2010

Seminal LP - 808 State "Ninety". Review by Jack Barron.

One of the key tracks I remember from the first Biology party is 'Cobra Bora' - DJs were cutting in its abrasive stab sounds throughout the night. Pretty certain it only ever got released as a b-side, but it's a phenomenal piece of Manchester techno, taken from an album that let the Americans know they weren't the only players in the Techno game.
Ninety tells a story in techno - one of the few albums I knew of the period with a proper narrative, and I still only ever listen to it right through. Only 8 tracks, but all gold. For me, probably my favorite album ever.

If you haven't heard it in a while, do yourself a favour and listen again; if you don't know it, track it down. And if you need any further encouragement, have a read of this review by Jack Barron in NME that I've kept for posterity. Apart from his praise for the album (10 out of 10), Barron gets props for the quality of his writing and his understanding of a sound still in its infancy. "...State of the art and one of the blueprints for the ‘90s." Too fucking right, matey.

808 STATE Ninety (ZT1WJEA LPICassetteJCD) 
INTERESTINGLY ENOUGH, the working title for ‘Ninety’ was ‘F—eries’, the latter being a term of endearment that the younger members of the band give to the contingent of ladies who like to provide them with tea and toast in the mornings. Interesting because It belies a crude, scruffy street attitude that the old guard f the music press simply don’tunderstand.
‘Ninety’ is but the aural tip of a massive, predominantly white, (black kids were always into dancing) working class cultural upthrust that has taken place during the last year. The House- based Equity Culture is, as an underground phenomenon, far bigger and more open-minded than that motley old punk thing ever was.
Most people now go to clubs not to listen to old favourites, but to be blown away by new music they have never heard before. And this is why, as entertainment value, club culture gives people a continuous stream of novel music experiences in a way that no band playing their set list (even the notion of set list shows inflexibility) can ever match at a gig.
Moreover, what fires club culture, turns on ravers, varies from region to region. In Southern England people are more eclectic and willing under the guise of Balearic Beats to groove to anybody from Digital Underground and Happy Mondays to Chris Rea. In Manchester, by contrast, Techno rules everything to such an extent that the city ought to consider twinning with that other capital of the style, Detroit. It’s in this context that the sounds arrayed and layered on ‘Ninety’ are best understood.
Although recorded in six days— the only link between punk and House Of Funners is the belief that anyone can make music and do it fast and cheaply— ‘Ninety’ sounds as though it could have taken a year to put together such is the eye and ear for detail at work in the grooves.
From the opening ‘Magical Dreams’ to the closing ‘The Fat Shadow’ (named after the girth of the band’s manager, Ron) everything is designed via musical repetition and ever more layers of sequencing to hypnotize the listener into a trance dance. In this, the current House Of Fun is somewhat akin in function to ritualistic music as used by tribes the world over to briefly achieve a state of altered consciousness.
Of course, the structures and soundscapes that 808 State operate within have precedents. Among these are the automotive electro streamlines of Kraftwerk, Afrika Bambaata’s updating of these, and Chicago’s subsequent Phuturistic Acid subversion of them.
Although the accent of 808 State may be on rhythmic repetition this doesn’t mean that the eight tracks on this album are uniform; far from it, although nearly all are informed by the sharp and incessant edge of Techno House. ‘Magical Dreams’ begins with a glockenspiel motif which is quickly swamped by a grinding bassline until Fresh Vaness enters to rap-sing about “A fantasy taking over your mind.. have no fears just close your eyes and disappear.
But where to? ‘Magical Dreams’ may be the only cut here with a whole vocal but by exception to the rule it does serve to remind that House music in its instrumental form — unlike rock which via whole lyrics paints a finished picture— is very much interactive with the listener. It conjures mental images in the imagination of the dancer, images which change according to the mood of the music.
As befits champions of relentless Techno, however, there is very little relaxation to be had on ‘NInety’. 808 State are built for heavy duty dancing. Nowhere Is this more true than on ‘Ancodia’, the band’s fave which has been resurrected from an earlier incarnation. The cut is very much a funky multi-percussion outing with synths spitting, the DJs scratching, and fragmented vocal samples fading in and out, a dizzying musical vertigo.
‘Cobra Bora’ subsequently plunges the band into overdrive with brutal discordant sheet keyboard chords being suddenly rocketed skywards on layers of (acidic) synths and breakbeats.
Such is its intensity, ‘Cobra Bora’ is destined to become a “Mental Mental” fave on a par with ‘Strings Of Life’. If it’s released as a single it will be right up there with ‘Pacific State’ (included here in its revamped ‘202’ guise). Even the latter has been transformed from a jazzy, almost cocktail affair into a harder state by inclusion of a new rumbling undercurrent.
Welcome To Techno City,” goes the intro to ‘Donkey Doctor’ which kickstarts Side Two of ‘Ninety’. From here through ‘808080808’ the BPMs mount and the music becomes more pugilistic and rudely intrusive with machines farting huge chunks of layered squall. The album finally sets us down gently into the next decade with the more s-p-a-c-e-d regions of ‘Sunrise’ and ‘The Fat Shadow’ with its invocations of exotic tribal cultures.
In terms of its scope, the crew’s abilities to take unearthly and unlikely sounds and inventively turn them into memorable music, this album is one of the year’s best. It puts the Mancs right up there with their forebears such as Kraftwerk. State of the art and one of the blueprints for the ‘90s. (10) Jack Barron

No comments:

Post a Comment