Martin Price was the owner of a record store, Eastern Bloc, and was also the founder of the independent record label, Creed. Customers Graham Massey and Gerald Simpson joined with Price to form a hip hop group called Hit Squad Manchester. Soon after, the band shifted to an acid house sound, recording the debut Newbuild in 1988, while using the name 808 State for the first time.
Newbuild was released on Price's own record label. In an interview with Mojo magazine in 2005, Graham Massey explained that the album was recorded over the course of a winter weekend in January 1988 at Spirit Studios, Manchester. The album was named after a Bolton housing co-operative. The record was re-released in 2005 on Aphex Twin's Rephlex Records. Aphex Twin was a huge fan of the record: "It was the next step after Chicago acid, and as much as I loved that, I could relate much better to 808 State. It seemed colder and more human at the same time."
Around the same time, the band also recorded an acid house version of New Order's "Blue Monday". A favourite at The Haçienda's Hot Night, the recording was believed lost until Autechre's Sean Booth asked Massey to dig through his archive of old material. The record was released in 2004 by Rephlex Records. "We didn’t put a lot of thought into it but maybe that’s its charm," said Massey at the time.
Massey had been a member of the band Aqua in the 1970s, along with the violinist Graham Clark, a former pupil of Manchester Grammar School.
The band's song "Pacific State" was released as a single, peaking at number 10 in the UK Singles Chart. Simpson left the group in 1989 to form his own solo project, A Guy Called Gerald. At this point, the remaining personnel enlisted DJs Andrew Barker and Darren Partington, known as the Spinmasters, and recorded the EP, Quadrastate in July 1989. Ninety was released in December 1989.
MC Tunes worked with the band on the 1990 album, The North At Its Heights. The album was a moderate success, reaching number 26 in the UK Albums Chart, and also saw a European and Japanese release. It spawned three UK singles, "The Only Rhyme That Bites" – featuring a sample of "The Big Country" performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic – (UK number 10), "Tunes Splits the Atom" (UK number 18) and "Primary Rhyming" (UK number 67). The first two issues credited MC Tunes versus 808 State, whilst the latter was simply MC Tunes. Tunes later returned in 1996 to work with on a new track, "Pump", taken from 808 State's album Thermo Kings.
808 State's next album was released in 1991, Ex:el, which featured the vocals of Bernard Sumner and Björk. The songs included "In Yer Face" (UK #9), "Cubik" (UK #10) and "Lift" (UK #38).
In October 1991, Price left the group to perform solo production work, eventually forming his own label, Sun Text. The remaining members released a fourth album called Gorgeous, and after that, did some remix work for David Bowie, Soundgarden, and other performers, before returning with the album entitled Don Solaris in 1996. It featured contributions from James Dean Bradfield, who sung vocals on "Lopez", which reached number 20 in the UK Singles Chart. This song was remixed by Brian Eno. The song "Bond" featured vocals by Mike Doughty from the band Soul Coughing and "Azura" featured Lou Rhodes from Lamb. They released a greatest hits compilation album, 808:88:98 in 1998. In 2000, Newbuild was re-released.
Some of the band's work, particularly in the albums Ex:el and Gorgeous show their new wave influences by sampling or featuring new wave icons such as Bernard Sumner on the song "Spanish Heart" and Ian McCulloch on "Moses". The song "Contrique" samples the bassline to Joy Division's "She's Lost Control" and "10 X 10" is a gospel-house track built on the foundation of The Jam's "Start!".
In 2003, they released Outpost Transmission which featured guest collaborations from the Alabama 3 and Guy Garvey from Elbow.
In May 2008, the re-issue of the album Quadrastate completed a trilogy of pre-ZTT releases on CD for the first time. The band is still active, touring and performing DJ sets.
In January 2015, Partington was jailed for 18 months for dealing in heroin and crack cocaine.
808 State's style has been labeled as techno and house, and the band are regarded as "a pioneer of the acid house sound". The band's album, Newbuild, was influential in the development of Madchester and baggy scenes.
In 1990, 808 State composed the theme tune to the Channel 4 television programme, The Word.
808 State and its various members have recorded under a variety of pseudonyms. An early EP, containing the tracks "Mssage-a-Rama" and "Sex Mechanic", was released under the name Lounge Jays. These tracks have since been re-released by Rephlex Records on the Prebuild LP. Another early EP, Wax on the Melt, was released under the name Hit Squad Mcr. This is the only EP to which all five members of the group (Massey, Price, Simpson, Barker and Partington) contributed simultaneously.
Massey released the solo album Subtracks under the name Massonix on Skam Records. He is also a member of Biting Tongues, an experimental jazz rock group once signed to Factory Records. He has a side project with Toolshed.
Price released a couple of EPs under the name Switzerland.
Barker has produced a small number of tracks as Atlas, Benaco, and remixed various tracks.
Partington has previously recorded under the name Jeep and has a new project in the form of the band Big Unit, a rock band with acid house underpinnings.
Partington and Barker presented the 808 State radio show, firstly on Sunset 102 from 1989 to 1993, and later on Kiss 102 from 1994 to 1997. More recently they have reinvented this as the 808 webio show on BeatWolf Radio.
In 1997, 808 State appeared on the Spawn soundtrack alongside Mansun in the track "Skin Up, Pin Up".Graham Massey (born 4 August 1960, Manchester) — keyboards, programming, guitars, saxophone (1988–present)
Andrew Barker (born 9 March 1968) — keyboards, bass (1989–present)
Darren Partington (born 1 November 1969, Manchester) — keyboards, electronic drums (1989–present)
Martin Price (born 26 March 1955, Farnworth) — keyboards (1988–91)
Gerald Simpson — keyboards (1988–89)
Don Solaris (2008)
The reissue of Quadrastate contained three tracks from the "Let Yourself Go" / "Deepville" 12-inch single, plus four previously unreleased tracks from the Quadrastate sessions. The reissue of Ninety was retitled 808:90. All four reissues of 808 State's albums for ZTT Records included a second disc of B-sides, remixes and unreleased tracks from their respective eras. Detailed liner notes and new interviews with all band members were included, written by the journalist Ian Peel.