Manchester’s techno pioneers were formed in 1988 when Martin Price, owner of the city’s Eastern Bloc underground record store, teamed up with Graham Massey, formerly of Factory Records’ Biting Tongues and more recently known as a producer. The debut album, Newbuild, was cut in collaboration with fellow Mancunian Gerald Simpson. The trio were also responsible for mixing tracks for local artists, including Inspiral Carpets. In 1989 Simpson departed to launch his own vehicle, A Guy Called Gerald, and DJ duo the Spinmasters (Andrew Barker and Darren Partington) were drafted into 808 State.
The new quartet cut the Quadrastate EP, a club hit, and the single Pacific which crossed over into the national top ten at the tail end of 1989. The timing of their rise worked in their favour, as the Madchester explosion began dominating the UK music and style press. 808 State were cast alongside the likes of the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays which aroused interest from the rock world and broke down barriers between the indie and dance factions. 808 State signed to ZTT in 1990 and delivered the album 808:90, which was adopted by the rave generation as a soundtrack to post-gig chill out sessions, as well as becoming popular with DJs and rock concert audiences.
Additionally, a single, The Only Rhyme That Bites, cut with rapper MC Tunes made the UK top ten in June. Ex:El followed in 1991, and included collaborations with Björk, (then of Sugarcubes) and New Order vocalist Bernard Sumner. In October of that year a US tour was arranged, but Price decided against making the trip, preferring to stay in Manchester to encourage and manage local talent, (including Rochdale rappers The Kaliphz) and developing his own musical ideas. 808 State pressed on, recording Gorgeous, which featured Echo and the Bunnymen singer Ian McCulloch and samples from sources such as The Jam, UB40 and sound bites from Star Wars. The band also delivered a string of remixes for other artists including David Bowie, Soundgarden and Primal Scream.
In 1996, 808 State re-emerged with a new album, the experimental Don Solaris. The record’s currency was informed by acid-house and trip-hop, occasionally veering into the in-vogue sounds of jungle and garage, the music du jour of UK clubland. Once more guest vocalists were employed to add colour to the familiar layered sonic textures - James Dean Bradfield (Manic Street Preachers) and Lamb’s Louise Rhodes amongst them – and paved the way for a homecoming concert to close the commonwealth games, in front of 40,000 people.
They also hosted radio shows on Sunset FM & Kiss FM (Manchester).
In January 2015 Darren Partington received an 18-month jail sentence for dealing heroin and crack cocaine; this ended his tenure with 808 State. From this point Massey and Barker continued as a duo. After a short illness, Andy Barker died on 6 November 2021.