Pop Live: 808 State LA2, London

Ryan Gilbey
Sunday 23 October 2011 07:04

808 State. Ring any bells? Ibiza, four in the morning, dancing until the soles of your feet turned to leather, heat like a boa-constrictor winding around you, your body wet with snakebite and sweat. And then, "Pacific State" by 808 State, the song that made a nation chill out. Mellow but insistent beats, a light garnishing of wildlife noises, and an alto sax threading through it like a viper in the Eden undergrowth. It was the aural equivalent of throwing a party inside a giant floatation tank. That was 808 State.

And that was also 1989. Why should the band still matter to anyone? Yes, they worked with Bjork when she was about as fashionable as leprosy. And yes, there was the small matter of them practically inventing British dance as we know it. But try telling that to a 16-year-old dancing his pants off to Underworld or Orbital or any of the other restless colts who have galloped out of the stable that 808 State unbolted and proceeded to supersede and even shame their Mancunian emancipators.

808 State might have been one of the most influential and innovative forces in this country's dance scene, but that doesn't excuse them from having to meet the standards of young bucks who have succeeded them. Last year's album, Don Solaris, which features the new single "Lopez" (with characteristically self-absorbed vocals by James Dean Bradfield of Manic Street Preachers), was fraught and exotic in places, and tinged with a dark sense of adventure. Could the band who once ignited festival-goers at the push of a button still cut the mustard? It seems not. On the evidence of this messy show, the Colman's remains undisturbed. "This is what we do," declared resident loudmouth Darren Partington as the band took the stage, "and we do it rather well." The word he should have said was "did", not "do".

You should, of course, be suspicious of any dance music that makes you feel like you're at a carnival rather than a rave. 808 State delivered an irritatingly fruity set that conjured up images you see on the news each August, of revellers dancing with jolly policemen in Notting Hill. Apart from "Joyrider", where Graham Massey's alto sax provided the clarity that still makes "Pacific State" so crisp, songs which struck you as intricate and effervescent on record were reduced to a frenzy of flavours, colliding rather than colluding to create a sense of too many cooks and not enough broth. Meandering interpretations of "Balboa" and "Black Dartangnan", both from the last album, were particularly muddled, and should join the band's early collaborations with dubious rapper MC Tunes in the 808 State hall of shame.

There was even a belated lunge for the rock vote, with Partington preceding "Bond" by announcing "This one goes out to the Gallagher brothers Oasis. Shit 'em! This is rock'n'roll." And with that, the band called upon the electric guitars which had been centre-stage as though in preparation for a sacrificial bonfire to the gods of hardcore.

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