There’s a certain age group in attendance tonight at Sheffield’s Student Union venue The Foundry, and it isn’t freshers. Knowing nods are passed amongst the reasonable throng gathered, some of which have made an effort to relive ‘those’ days for the visit of legendary Manchester acid techno crew 808 State, with 80s/90s fashion resplendent on some of tonight’s audience. Essentially the work these days (still) of Graham Massey, along with long time collaborator Andrew Barker, 808 State have been active since 1987, taking their name from the infamous Roland drum machine.
Essentially, as a live outfit, Massey takes charge. There’s a live drummer and DJ in the hazy gloom, but Massey is the ‘frontman’ of the band, not wasting much time on pleasantries either before, during or after – a simple ‘Thanks for coming out’ ends tonight’s set before he turns heels, starts unplugging cables and leaves, but that’s not what we’re here for either.
What’s transpires is that 808 State hold relevance some 30 plus years after their formation. The ‘hits’ get and airing and still sound fresh – Pacific State is particularly brilliant tonight, but also there’s material taken from their most recent album – 2019’s Transmission Suite which sounds both brilliant, but pulls acid and techno together with them into the 2020’s.
At the front, Massey conducts the orchestra, playing keys and DJing, playing Soprano Saxophone in Pacific State and others, adding his own improvisations here and there that would bring nods and smiles to the most beard stroking jazz officianado, before moving onto guitars, bringing a harder edge to proceedings which blow the crowd away.
If there’s one (small) downside to the whole evening it’s the intense volume. Brilliant as the show is, with Massey magnetism and a great laser / light show that blazes around the venue, the sound even to our (as a collective – it was the only subject of conversation as most of the crowd leave the venue at the end) experienced and discerning ears, is it’s almost uncomfortably loud. Everyone likes the rumble through your chest and the kick drum through your feet, but near the speakers it genuinely hurts to stay there too long.
Still, this was a good reminder as to why 808 State have lasted so long, and continue to flourish. Students, forget your lectures – this is the learning you should be doing.
Photo Credit: Mark Widdop