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808 Statement | 808 State

February saw the start of 808 State's UK tour. Among the first dates was a show at London's soon-to-be-reborn Town & Country Club in trendiest Kentish Town. It is, incidentally, not really very Kentish at all, nor even located in the general direction of that garden county. This needs to be noted, in case "Kentish" Town should be mistaken for a Cinque Port, Margate beach or even, heaven forbid, Dartford, hallowed birthplace of both M. Jagger and M. Lethby.

Anyway, 808 State's FOH engineer, Pablo, was happily unconcerned by the locale's rural pretensions. I found him in the cordoned-off upstairs bar along with the rest of the band's crew and some of the T&C's own people. Liquid hospitality was cordially offered and accepted, and we adjourned to talk 808, touring topics and sonic matters. He proved to be a lucid and interesting talker, to the point where, ages later, someone was sent to drag him away: "You're needed on the desk — please!"

Pablo has been travelling around with 808 State for four years, in Europe, Japan and America. When I caught up with them, the band were preparing to go the the States in March.


With 808 State, there are a lot of electronic sources — was there, I wondered, any temptation to go for a semi-automated show, to have MIDI triggering cues and effects?

He sighs, umms and ahhs... "I like to keep it live," he says,"because it keeps the band from feeling rigid, you know, like a computer band. Keeping it as live as it can get. With all the samples, effects and things going on, we just use them as they come, y'know? A lot of people want MIDI triggering this and that, and when you're finished with it what does it mean? It's just like a machine, there's no mistakes, there's nothing to give it that bit of 'edge'. With 808 they're trying to be just that bit different in what they do live."

The band's stage set up is based around a DAT tape — running a mix of bassline and 'live' drums: "the basic roots of the rhythm section," explains Pablo — and of course the three principal musos.

"The band has just three 'live', members: Graham [Massey], is playing five keyboards and one Akai S1100 sampler, putting in samples over the whole mix. He's using a Fender Rhodes, a JD800, a Jupiter 8, a Mini Moog, and four guitars and a saxophone. The other two play Octopads, congos, and decks — mixing in different scratches and so on — and a Juno 60 and a D50.

"We use a real live drummer on DAT, not a computer, and everybody works from the DAT. We went for computers before, but then we thought 'naahhh'. It's safer on DAT because 100% of times the DAT will be alright, whereas a computer will crash whenever it feels like it!

"The basslines are run off DAT, again because it's much safer. A computer is fine for the band to write and record on, but live if the slightest thing goes wrong on stage and it crashes, the band would fall apart completely."

However, he adds quickly, "Whereas some people might think '808 are just a DAT band' it doesn't work that way because it's much more than that, there's a lot of live stuff going on."

Now he intends to give the pre-recorded tracks more creative potential by mixing multitrack tape live. "For the American tour we'll probably change to the new 8-track digital machines, mixing 16 tracks in the show, to give it a lot more 'feel' and spread it out more — so I have to create. The idea is to make each and every part work for itself and for the whole, making the 'live' and 'tape' mix balanced and working right.

"But it's good — I work with so many other acts in the same kind of band, and 808 have this different way of coming across. A lot of people just come over as a dance band, but 808 is a band which is musical from top to bottom.

"Tonight, for example, there's five live vocals on; I can go out and see any number of dance bands but with 808 State it's different. I have to make my own decisions, y'know? And the guy with the decks controls his own sounds within the mix, so he has to work really hard too."


I asked Pablo about his own track record. He sighs deeply, taken aback by the task of searching years of gig RAM on demand.

"Aaahhh... on the reggae side, Sly and Robbie, Bunny Wailer, Dennis Brown, Frankie Paul — all of those. On the soul side, I've worked with John Lee Hooker, Quincy Jones... so many more. I just can't remember 'em all."

And dance bands?

"K Class, N-Joy, ahhh... I think I've worked with 80% of everbody in the rave scene in some form or another. I've enjoyed 'em, but I can honestly say I've enjoyed working with 808 State the most, and I've worked with them the longest.

"Within the British music scene since, say, '88, when 808 was the first of its kind on the dance scene, I think they've taken it two or three steps further. And in 1993, the new album is different from all the other albums around."

He elaborates: "It's a rave and it's also a nice, mellow groove. They are one of the few rave bands in England that really do albums. You can sit back and listen to the new album and get different kinds of vibes and pick up new things every time you listen to it: a lot of clever work has gone into it."

There aren't too many dance bands who can cut it live.

"No; often it's a keyboard and a tape and that's it. That's the show, finished. I think 808 is a pioneer on the rave scene in the way they try new things."

He laughs, intriguingly, "Actually, I've enjoyed them more in shows away from this country." Which prompted me to ask Pablo for a footnote about his view of rave in north America.


"We went over in September '91 and I was totally shocked. My feel for the American music scene was like, it's the ultimate, but it was like, something's wrong! The rave scene is more advanced in LA; in New York it felt like people come out because it's hip to go to this club and this band from England is playing.

"But in Montreal they were really into it; I was shocked again. You set up in a club and people are so responsive; they know what's going on in Europe."

He says that at club level, America was touch-and-go: "We did 23 sold-out shows there in '91 and even when we did Detroit the two guys who virtually created the house scene came down and were totally amazed, like: 'These guys are from England?!'"


Pablo does a lot of work on the UK rave scene, including the 'Rezerection' shows — currently one of the biggest dance fixtures, and another Concert Systems client — at the Highland Exhibition Centre in Scotland.

He claims the south and north rave scenes have become fundamentally different. "When it moved down south it lost that edge of originality. It's gone a bit trendy; there's more money now."

Does he feel rave-goers generally get a good deal for their money? Pablo laughs.

"8,000 people at £25 a ticket — it seems sad, unless everything is right, the PA, the DJs and a reasonable sound level permitted by the local Environmental Health people: 95dB is useless, but it's a familiar sort of limit."


Pablo, who is also mixing FOH for the support band at the T&C, says: "I've brought my own monitor guy in with me — a Frenchman named Charles Poulet, one of my trainee protegees from Manchester. He was very inquisitive and one day the monitor man didn't turn up, so I threw him in at the deep end and said, 'here you are, have a go!'

"I'm a bit prejudiced towards certain PAs and mixing desks, what I do and don't like. At the moment I'm dedicated to the Midas XL3 desk; when I'm on that I'm at my best, I'm comfortable." What does he like about it? "It's the sound, the feel, the complications of the desk; it's love — it's got everything on it that I like."

His favoured PA is the EAW (Eastern Acoustic Works) KF850 system, complete with SB850 sub bass cabinets. But, he says, "Tonight the only part of our touring system I'm using is the monitors and the desk. The EAW is on the truck, because Encore have their Martin F2 cabinets in here; so we said, OK, we'll use your cabinets. What do you think of the EAW?"

It's very clean and has a lot of punch, I say.

He nods. "Yeah, it's what I call a vocal PA, it's very good for vocals. The EAW has a midrange that is always 'in your face', so it's easier to get vocals sounding decent; and when you get a good vocalist it's like the cream on the top — wow."

The PA in question actually belongs to Concert Systems of Altrincham, who have grown over 14 years from a one-man outfit in a garage to a hire company with over £150,000-worth of hardware (including a large JBL loaded black box system). In the past two years the company has moved successfully into the dance/indie scenes working with names like Galliano, Belly, St. Etienne and Snap.

The EAW is powered by Amcron MA1201, MA2401 and Reference amps, and Pablo's control rack includes Lexicon PCM70, Yamaha SPX1000/900 and Roland SDE3000 effects, with BSS DPR402 compressors, Drawmer DS201 gates and a Klark Teknik DN360 graphic.

Pablo says his favourite toys are the PCM70 and the Yamahas ("they're fast to program") but adds: "I don't see the point in spending a lot of money on effects live. At the G-Mex or NEC or Wembley, you can't really tell the difference. I might, but can anyone else?"

He ends with a sentiment that fans of great clubs like the T&C will echo heartily: "I like playing small gigs — because when you get it right it's great — in big places you just haven't got so much control and it isn't half as much fun!"

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Shape Of Things To Come

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Tascam DA88

Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.


Sound On Sound - Apr 1993

Donated by: Russ Deval




808 State



Related Artists:


Feature by Mike Lethby

Previous article in this issue:

> Shape Of Things To Come

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