“Inspiration was everywhere…” How 808 State created acid house symphony ‘Pacific State’
An aborted Peel Session, a leftover soprano saxophone, and a cassette airing at Manchester’s Thunderdome club are among the myriad of factors that led to the development of one of the most iconic tracks of the acid house era, 808 State’s Pacific State.
Originally released on local Manchester label Creed Records (established by the band’s Martin Price), before being signed to ZTT, Pacific State and all the variations that followed (Pacific 202, Pacific 707 et al) was arguably the closest that rave got to a classical symphony, with a soaring saxophone riff atop hypnotic 909 beats.
A few days ago, 808 State‘s Graham Massey revealed the story behind how the track came together on the group’s Facebook page, which we have reproduced here [albeit slightly edited] for your browsing pleasure. Over to you, Graham:
“The story of Pacific by 808 State goes back to November 1988, when we were invited to do a Peel Session by the man himself, John Peel, [who] made regular visits to Manchester in the late 80s, checking out all the record stores including Eastern Bloc, our base at the time. Peel had been airing our earlier releases such as Newbuild, Let Yourself Go and the Lounge Jays EP.
“We should have gone to Maida Vale Studios and jammed like we had done on BBC Radio Manchester earlier that year, but we had the idea of just recording a few tracks and saying it was a session. Peel entertained the collusion, but then his producer put his foot down. So we never did a Peel Session. But we did start Pacific State with this session in mind. It was sketched out in a session in November 88. So, this was the short lived original line up with Gerald [Simpson, aka A Guy Called Gerald] , Martin [Price] and me.
“We were playing a few random gigs in 1988, sometimes as support slots to the likes of Inspiral Carpets and A Certain Ratio, sometimes travelling by National Express up to Scotland or doing one-off warehouse parties. It’s not like we had a set list when we played live; it was largely improvised. Quite often it was a duo, as Martin lived outside Manchester and had a day job at the shop. Sometimes Chapter and the Verse would join in. Sometimes that line up would do A Guy Called Gerald gig, such as the one at the swimming baths or Born In The North on The Other Side Of Midnight.
“So it was organic and blurry, and as Voodoo Ray took off, Gerald was around more intermittently. In January 89, I was finishing an album as Biting Tongues, called Recharge. It used an Atari Computer, analogue synths and our usual horn section.
“I had time booked at the studio over the weekend to finish some recoding but we squeezed an 808 session in on the Saturday morning. A bunch of spectators turned up with Martin and Gerald from the shop – I tried out some soprano saxophone on the Pacific tape. The instrument was left there from the night before. I think it was important that my playing was limited, if we got a real sax player in, it could all turn out to be Kenny G in an instant.
“The drums were changed from TR808 to TR909 and a ‘B section’ was devised, giving it more of a story. We mixed various sections to be edited together later. So that was in the can, so to speak.
“The rest of what became Quadrastate [the EP which originally featured Pacific State] came from some sessions around that time. Sometimes just me, when I could spot a gap at the studio, some of it with the Spin Masters (Andy Barker and Darren Partington) and some of it with Martin, or all four of us.
“808 State had a manufacturing/distribution deal with Revolver /The Cartel, so you got a slot to fill, timing wise. Quadrastate turned out to be a bit of a hodge-podge, but full of new ideas.
“The Spin Masters began to [play it out] off cassette at the Thunderdome club. It became apparent early on that Pacific had that sweaty ‘group hug’ vibe. It got some airing on the 808 State radio show early that year. Test pressings were to come in May 89.
[Read More: Interview: 808 State’s Andy Barker chats to 909originals about the group’s new album, Transmission Suite]
“Meanwhile, we had done Dance Yourself To Death with MC Tunes and performed it on a BBC 2 program called Snub TV. ZTT’s Paul Morley liked it a lot and came up to talk to us. He found out we had this whole eco system of the record shop supplying a top ten of imports to our radio show on community radio, and the ability to self-produce at the centre of a very exciting version of the Manchester music scene to the one he had left behind when he moved to London.
“ZTT didn’t ask for demos – it was all rather based on us being a convincing team. Pacific got aired on daytime Radio One after DJ Gary Davies had heard it out in Ibiza that summer. It also became a big Hacienda anthem during that crazy summer of 89.
“Once we had signed up with ZTT as a four piece that summer, we had to produce an album in time to hit the winter , which meant to hand it in finished by the end of September. The heat was on.
“But inspiration was everywhere – there were so many great records coming out, so many great parties – just take it all in and breathe it all out! Now, for the first time, we had a budget and people could turn up more regularly instead of working three jobs. We could buy tape and our own computer, book studio time when we needed it. It was an expensive occupation back then.
“We spent some time talking through some of these ideas, and so we completely re-recorded Pacific as the version called Pacific 202, for the 90 album. It’s faster and visits more stops on its trip. Even then, it was edited down to 3.58 to become Pacific 707 for the 7-inch radio single.
“Radio did indeed take to it and by November 89 we managed to heave it into the top 10, preceding the release of our first ZTT album, 90, in December that year. Pacific 303 was a variation of 707, as an extra mix for the 12-inch single.
“Such were the time pressures back then on studio time, we could not get in to our preferred studio, Square One in Bury, and we went to Square Dance in Stoke, where my college mate Danny Spencer (of Candy Flip) worked. This one has the Cuban chant and some added flutes and is heavier on the percussion front. We tended to use this version at gigs in 1990. Completing the 12-inch was a one minute advert for Cobra Bora that would be on the upcoming album. Again, I think it was because we were rushing to a deadline that it wasn’t a finished piece.
“In order to sustain your weeks in the chart back then, it was ok to release a second batch of mixes. Again, working against the clock and available studio time, we knocked up Pacific 909 (Mellow Birds Mega Edit), plus Bonus Bird Beats, which really is going off at a tangent. We recorded this one evening in Spirit Studio. Some nice melodies and bass from the Roland D-50, with no sax – a bass clarinet is the wind instrument. Lots of Roland R8 and 909 drum machines.
“The video for Pacific 707 was made by Howard Walmsley, whose soprano sax I borrowed that day. He shot some silhouette footage of the band and the rest is made on a Video Fairlight, which was very high tech at the time.”
And thus, acid house history was born. The original Facebook post can be found below.