13 of the best 808 State tracks with Andrew Barker
Essential sounds from the Madchester and acid house pioneers
808 State are a legendary rave outfit who have been releasing a steady stream of floor-thrilling fuel since the late ‘80s. The dance music world was in mourning this weekend when news of key member Andrew Barker’s passing was announced.
Barker joined Darren Partington in linking up with founding members Graham Massey and Martin Price upon [A Guy Called] Gerald Simpson’s departure in 1989, and played a pivotal role in establishing 808 State as greats of the UK dance music scene over the following 32 years.
A skilled producer, songwriter and instrument player, Barker’s influence is audible throughout the bulk of 808 State’s discography. He remained an integral part of the group up until his death, which had been operating as a duo (pictured) since the mid 2010s, following Price quitting in 1991 and Partington departing halfway through last decade.
Below we’ve compiled 13 of the best tracks 808 State released during Barker’s tenure to commemorate his impact, with a Spotify playlist linked at the end. Joining after the making of early favourites such as ‘Pacific State’ and ‘Flow Coma’, he contributed to the creation of many more classics in 808 State’s mighty catalogue. RIP Andy — his legacy as a pioneering figure of acid house and the heralded Madchester scene is etched in UK music history.
From the album 'Ninety', one of 808's first records following the departure of Gerald Simpson and Barker joining the group, the band's new keyboard player and bassist can be heard all over 'Cobra Bora'. Andy expertly lays down the underlying rhythm for the track with staunch, rowdy synths and heavy percussion.
‘The Only Rhyme That Bites’
1990 cut ‘The Only Rhyme That Bites’, a collaboration with Manchester rapper MC Tunes, was one of the early hits that helped make 808 State’s name, marking their second UK top 10 single after ‘Pacific State’. It’s a punchy rap and breakbeat hybrid that thrilled audiences upon its release and still hits hard three decades later.
'In Yer Face'
Squarewave galore - this track really is ‘In Yer Face’. Running with a feisty mechanical sound, the ’91 released tune is indebted to Andrew Barker’s instrumental and electronic artistry, beckoning in the acid house era one banger at a time.
Right on the brink of the '90s, 808 State dropped the dark ‘808080808’, a 150 BPM track cutting their ‘Ninety’ album from sunnier synths towards a hardy, heavy finale. As with their alias, the track is named after the machine that helped to coin the genre of acid house, one which is used throughout their entire discography.
An aptly named tune that takes listeners on a ride through mystical textures. A spacey melody floats above a catchy bassline, with almost chanting vocals from Vanessa Sherrington adding to the hypnotic atmosphere.
‘Nephatiti’ is historic in being the first track to sample Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka saying “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams”, which went on to be used by the likes of Aphex Twin, Black Eyed Peas, Jay Electronica & more. A masterclass in atmosphere, the track veers from sci-fi inspired bleeps and bloops, hard percussion and tough acid that will leave your eardrums pulsating long after your five minutes is up.
'Qmart' (ft. Björk)
The group's third studio album 'ex:el' features two collaborations with Icelandic musician Björk. Recorded in 1991 as the seminal singer was in the foundation years of her global stardom, 'Qmart' demonstrates both masterful production from 808, and Björk's uncanny ability to improvise vocals, as she croons unintelligibly over eerie high-pitched bass and rolling kick drums. The result is a rhythm so complex and vocal range so wide that it's difficult to work out where the synths end and the vocals start.
At the underbelly of ‘Cubik’, Barker lays a bodacious bassline worthy of its ever-sampled iterations. One of 808 State’s most treasured tracks, ‘Cubik’ fills any dancefloor, no matter the decade, and is sure to continue that way into the future.
This is 808 State at their most unabashedly euphoric. Starring an uplifting piano and harmonised vocals from Barrington Stewart and Rachel McFarlane, it merges surging house with a gritty techno foundation.
808 State’s ’96 released ‘Joyrider’ builds upon Barker’s keyboard prowess and delves into the moody world of psychedelia. Dropping alongside 'Don Solaris', the lengthy 12-track fifth studio album from the group, this phenomenal orchestral piece reaches a near seven-minute playtime, with every element you’d expect from the multifaceted project.
From the 2002 album 'Outpost Transmission', 'Boogieman' is creepy, it's unhinged — but it's really fucking fun. As the grinding basslines get deeper and darker - there's a little light, and pretty comic, relief via poppy modular riffs. Feels a bit like 808's take on the Ghostbusters theme tune but in a really good way.
One of the newer records on the list, 'Ujala' comes from 'Transmission Suite', an album recorded by 808 in the Andrew Barker and founder Graham Massey duo years. The track encapsulates the mood of 808 State's later work - having moved into creating high-energy club tracks that didn't hold out on the tough, heady atmosphere they had become renowned for in their heyday. It's vibey, it will get you moving - but it's full of intricacies that will have you squinting your eyes trying to decipher between elements.
‘Long Orange (ESP Mix)’
The satellite-shot images of Earth on the cover of this 2021 compilation EP are a fitting decoration for the out-of-this-world sounds contained within. Released in early September, it marks the penultimate 808 State release put out while Andy Barker was alive (followed up later that month by a reissue of the 1994 ‘statetostate’ album). The ESP Mix of 2002’s ‘Long Orange’ starts out spacey then flips into rowdy, with punchy breaks and moody synths.