fter forming 808 State in Manchester in the late ‘80s, Martin Price, Graham Massey and ‘A Guy Called Gerald’ Simpson produced the influential Newbuild (released on Price’s Creed Records) and in so doing kick-started the UK Acid House movement. Following Simpson’s departure, Darren Partington and Andy Barker joined the group for QuadraState and albums like 90, Ex:El (featuring a collaboration with New Order’s Bernard Sumner), Gorgeous (minus Price) and Don Solaris appeared in turn. After the group released a compilation celebrating its decade-long existence, Rephlex reissued Newbuild which, by that time, had assumed enhanced retrospective significance. Now, five years later, Rephlex follows it with Prebuild whose subtitle Lost Acid Tracks: 1987-1988 helps tell the story.
As might be expected, these ten early recordings (bedroom demos by Simpson, radio performances, studio sessions, and even an epic recorded at the Broadwalk Club) are of sometimes questionable sound quality but their value as historical documents of the band’s beginnings and the scene’s origins overrides those deficiencies. Naturally the music, influenced by electro, hip-hop, and techno sounds emanating out of Detroit, Chicago, and New York and heavily dosed with sounds of the Roland 808 drum machine and the 303 Bass Line machine, sounds largely of its time. But that doesn’t discount the fact that 808 State jumpstarted the UK dance scene towards its future incarnations.
808 State worshippers will likely rave over the album in toto but a more circumspect listen identifies peaks like “Automatic” which thunders forth anthemically for over ten minutes, all wiry, rubbery synth squeals and broiling machine beats; buoyed by a staccato bass pulse, neutron voices chant the title over and over, at one point truncated so severely they resemble the aliens’ garbled ‘gaks’ in Mars Attacks. The muddy production sound of Simpson’s three ‘bedroom’ tracks is distracting but not so much that it overshadows the songs themselves: “Johnny Cab” (with its deep rumbling bass lines and swinging tech-house feel), “Clonezone” (straight-up acid techno) and “Cosacosa” (chugging hi-hats and beats with synth burble reminiscent of Tangerine Dream). Prebuild also includes two tracks issued on 12-inch under the Lounge Jays alias: “Massagerama” and “Sex Mechanic”, a funk excursion that spotlights a female’s ribald sexual overtures amidst a cajoling male’s encouragements.
Recorded live to air on Stu Allen’s radio show in May 1998, “C.I.S.” and “K.Narcosa” are especially interesting for how they anticipate later work by other artists; it’s almost impossible, for example, to hear their beat flurries and acid synth motifs and not think of Plastikman’s “Psyk”. The last piece, the fourteen-minute “Thermo Kings” has obvious historical value but is no match for, say, “Automatic”. Aside from the thin, muddy sound (the original performance was preserved on cassette), “Thermo Kings” has a raggedy and sometimes tentative and meandering feel, no doubt an outgrowth of its on-stage creation; full of morphing, stretched voices and acid synths, it is long and feels like it at times.
Ultimately, it’s only reasonable that these tracks sonically evidence their era, given the basic technologies available during the late ‘80s. In spite of that, the material still sounds fresh and vital, its energy and exuberance largely compensating for the dated synth sounds and period styles. It’s valuable too as a companion to Newbuild but even more as a document of a critical moment in electronic music’s still-young history.
Reviewed by: Ron Schepper
Reviewed on: 2004-11-19