Interview: 808 State’s Andy Barker chats to 909originals about the group’s new album, Transmission Suite [August 2019]
In the words of the old folk hit, who knows where the time goes? It’s been 17 years since 808 State last hit the studio, for 2002’s Outpost Transmission, and goodness knows there’s been a lot of musical water under the bridge in that time.
While there has been the occasional remix and re-release in the years since (Prebuild, released on Rephlex in 2004 the most significant), the group’s Graham Massey and Andy Barker have been keeping relatively quiet – until last year, that is, when the duo embarked on a tour celebrating three decades in music.
In June, however, 808 State further teased their return with the release of new track Tokyo Tokyo, following that up with an EP, Initial Granada Report, which included the aforementioned release as well as three additional tracks, including the stomping Bataglia, the moody Ujaja and the electro-tinged Planeten.
This Lazarus-like comeback will be completed in October, as the group release Transmission Suite, a 15-track album recorded in Manchester’s old Granada Studios, which, if the EP that precedes it is anything to go by, should mark a blistering return to form.
909originals caught up with 808 State’s Andy Barker to discuss the new album… and what led the duo to return to the studio.
Q. What were the circumstances that led to you deciding to record a new album?
The reason we went into the studio again is that we’ve not been there for a long time! We were playing live gigs around the world, though, and with only two remaining members, we decided ‘let’s go in and start making some new tracks’.
We decided that ‘if we don’t like them, we won’t release them, and no one will know any different’. But what came out was some pretty amazing stuff, and we were both happy with it.
Q. It’s been 17 years since Outpost Transmission. Until you started working on Transmission Suite, did you think that you had ‘said all you needed to say’ with your music, or was it always a case of ‘unfinished business’?
We didn’t really think of having unfinished business. We were signed to a major label and when that contract expired, we never really looked for a new label and time just started to drift away.
But when we went into the studio and came out with a lot of music that we liked, we decided to set up an ‘808 State’ record label. Now we have more control of the product that is going out and we’re not dictated to by a major record label anymore.
Q. There’s a definite nod to your roots in the fact that you recorded the new album in the old Granada studios. What was that like?
The place where we recorded the album is the old TV mixing studio, so there was a bank of 80 TVs on the wall, and lots of old vision mixing equipment which was still plugged in and flashing!
There was lots of old technology there that we knew nothing about. I think that was the inspiration to strip the music back and changed the way we worked on previous albums.
Q. The Initial Granada Report EP showcases your wide range of styles and influences. In an era when many electronic acts and producers have a defined ‘style’, are you seeking to avoid being defined in a certain way, musically?
The Initial Granada Report EP is a taster of what’s to come. 808 State has always thought outside the box. It’s always been like that with us – we don’t like parameters.
We like to move things around and try and make things timeless, so in years to come you can play the new stuff and it still feels fresh.
Q. The video for Tokyo Tokyo features some impressive pieces of kit – in an almost museum-like presentation. What was the thinking behind that?
The video for Tokyo Tokyo was filmed in Granada Studios as well. You see lots of equipment we have been collecting since we started, as well as lots of new equipment which the manufacturers are relaunching.
They’re copying old stuff and giving it more stability. It’s difficult to take some of the old equipment out on the road, we don’t want to break any of the antiques!
Q. Graham [Massey] has described the making of the new album as constructing“a future for other people to immerse themselves in”. How would you describe it?
I think I would also describe the new stuff as ‘music for the future’. We’ve said that about every album we’ve ever made.
I think music is the best way of switching off from normality – you’re not thinking about real life, you’re just drifting off into a different world.
Q. With each 808 State album, the comparisons are inevitably made with the group’s early output (Newbuild, 90 etc) – something that will also inevitably happen with Transmission Suite. As an artist, how do you rise above that?
People will always compare your new product with your last product. You can’t produce something for everyone on the planet; everybody’s allowed their own taste.
We just make what we like and hope that lots of other people like it too – and it brings a smile to people’s faces.
[Thanks to Andy for the interview. More information can be found at www.808state.com]