Hmm, alto sax, bird song, waves on the cover art … hmm, we’re in hurtling through the suburbs of Clichéville in a fast car here, but you know what? I don’t really care because 808 State Pacific State was the template that lesser talents built those clichés on.
Released in 1989 this 12″ was one of the very first records I remember putting a more user-friendly sheen on yer actual techno-type-dance stuff, in that it gave you some interesting things to listen along to whilst dancing fast. Mrs 1537 insists it is the minor chords that undercut the rhythm that give it a real sense of progression and proper songnessiness, who am I to disagree? I just know that Pacific was certainly involved in all manner of sweaty club nights I’ve danced at. I miss that amazing feeling of euphoria* that I used to get when I walked out of somewhere where you’d been dancing hard and the cold air would hit you like an icy kiss; loved that.
I was really pleased when I stumbled across this record in a charity shop in Belsize Park, London a couple of years ago because it was a record I liked a lot, but was so ubiquitous at the time that I just never bought – why would you when you heard it so often anyway? besides as I found out rapidly when I was a student, money wasn’t just for records – apparently it was for books and toothpaste and all that boring stuff that didn’t magically appear in my house now I wasn’t at home anymore. Damn.
But I digress, the first mix ‘Pacific 202’ is the best, it sounds the most polished and smooth and, I’m convinced, slightly faster. There’s also a bit about 2 minutes in where the bass line just speeds up and goes mad for a while, the perfect place to show off your skills – or in my case flap your arms around even more than I was probably already doing. It’s just a perfect exemplar of this type of music.
Second mix, ‘Pacific State – Origin’, has all the same ideas but they’re just less perfectly realised, it sounds more like a first draft of the same track. The keyboards are more prominent at the beginning of the track and the brass sounds a little more mournful. The third mix ‘Pacific -303’, is the weakest as I find the sound FX, extra percussive bits and incidental vocals distracting. I’ll stick with the smoother version thanks.
Last track on Pacific is ‘Cobra Bora – Shortcut’. Now I have no idea what a Cobra Bora is, it may be a snake, a constellation, or one of those tricky-to-remember little bones in your inner ear for all I know. Basically in this context though it is a one minute snatch of real grooviness, that was later expanded into an acid house meets blaxploitation-style barn burner.
Apart from nostalgia for a time when I could easily manage 4 hours of dancing in a night and had hair, playing Pacific again reminded me of what a damn clever bunch of guys 808 State were. Without compromising their sound they were more responsible than anyone else for taking those dance sounds into the popular consciousness, they were picked up for adverts and TV, ‘normalizing’ that dance sound. Manchester has never been a city short of self-aggrandising musicians, many of who made great music around this time, but here’s a statement for you, forget the Stone Roses, Charlatans, Happy Mondays and, later on, Oasis -in terms of a last legacy and a change in our musical palettes, 808 State may well turn out to have been the most influential of all of them.
PS: Is it me, or does my lady lifeguard figure have a hairy chest? way to go Lego for subverting our cultural assumptions about gender-specific normative appearance of ‘beauty’:
*naturally produced via endorphins.