Pacific 202 – 808 State
The last few days of 1989 : a Ford Granada with me driving, Jenny in the jump seat and my brother Paul and his boyfriend Colin in the back is driving the long endless East German autobahn towards West Berlin. It’s cold outside and the road goes on forever. We’ve been driving from England since morning. For the last six months news reports coming out of the Eastern Bloc of change : East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania in particular seethe with popular unrest, and since November 17 the famous Wall dividing East and West Berlin has been tested and breached by demonstrators. Refugees from East Germany have been granted asylum in Hungary. Berlin is in flux. Gorbachev is in power in the USSR talking about Perestroika (re-structuring : also the name of his book, which I read in 1989) and glasnost (open-ness), a new way forward, relaxing the tight rules on state power and movement of peoples and now in front of us, the Iron Curtain is creaking.
Mikhail Gorbachev stated in 1989 that German re-unification was a German matter
Historic times indeed. Then on Christmas Day, hated dictator President Ceaușescu of Romania and his wife are executed by firing squad after a trial lasting one hour. We decide to see in the new year in Berlin, in the centre of it all. Armed with an address provided by Jonathan & Roberta, Paul and Colin’s friends from college, we finally arrive at around 10pm, climb the three flights of stairs to find a lovely two-room apartment, empty save for two Italians who had also been told that they could use the space for the New Year. Mutual surprise all round, but these were pre-internet days. The four English end up on two single mattresses in the main room.
Checkpoint Charlie : he didn’t crack a smile
The following morning we wake too late for hot water, our Italian friends having got to the bathroom first. After breakfast Jenny and I drive through Checkpoint Charlie to East Berlin, receiving a small passport made of cardboard which is stamped, and we are told that we have to return before midnight. East Berlin is eerie and strangely gentle. At the first large square – almost deserted, very few shops open, there are rabbits hopping around. We visit a large department store and buy AyeAye, a 1970s Donny Hathaway hat which we still have – a beautiful, madly out-of-date-in-a-good-way fashion piece, so out-of-date that it was back in fashion in the west. We ate some unimpressive food in a quiet restaurant and made our way back to the western side.
West Berlin was heaving with people, simply full up. Jenny and I had decided to get a hotel room, but there weren’t any. She was something of a distraction for everyone, being black and sporting her eighteen-hole DMs. That night, New Year’s Eve, we queued for an Italian restaurant (against my religion to Q for food : unless I’m in prison), only to be told it was a private party. At another Italian the waiters took exception to Paul & Colin being gay, so Jenny gave them a piece of her mind and was escorted physically from the building. We did finally eat somewhere, but seven million other people had had the same idea as us and West Berlin was rammed. Still, if you can’t be original, join in, that’s my motto. Sounds better in Latin. si non potest esse prima iungas.. Imagine it on a little crest. A badge. Oh, never mind.
Approaching midnight and Paul and Col had gone clubbing somewhere, Jenny and I made our way to the Wall at Potsdammer Platz near Brandenburg Gate where crowds of revellers were partying on top of the Wall in full view of soldiers from both sides, dancing, smoking weed and chipping pieces of the Wall away with chisels and hammers. An extraordinary atmosphere. We stood in one of the holes in the Wall and could see No Man’s Land and the towers and barbed wire of the East. I had a mini boombox and played a previously-recorded Martin Luther King “I Had A Dream” speech when a soldier told me to turn it off, despite clearly not speaking English and not understanding what it was. I didn’t turn it off and there were too many people around to make a fuss. In amidst the party atmosphere was a strange tension as many of the West Berliners felt decidedly ambiguous about everything opening up. A kind of tense excitable hysteria, who are all these people? The future was uncertain, and there were already some East Germans crossing the border, changing the nature of the enclave forever.
New Year’s Eve at The Wall 1989
We listened to cassettes on the drive over, handmade by each of us, or purchased at Our Price or Woolworths. Certainly one of these was a best of 1989 compilation – and it was a great year for dance music in particular.
Hip hop had already come, seen and conquered. Now we were into the Daisy Age thanks to De La Soul, while Heavy D & The Boyz had serenaded Jenny and I in D.C. with their own New Jack Swing thang (see My Pop Life #33). Janet Jackson was in the Rhythm Nation, Shabba Ranks was being Wicked Inna Bed, and in the summer I’d choreographed a dance to Redhead Kingpin & The FBI‘s monster song Do The Right Thing (see My Pop Life #7) in a theatre workshop with a young David Walliams and 25 other teenagers for the National Youth Theatre. Not to be confused with the Spike Lee film of the same name which had a terrific soundtrack featuring Public Enemy, Perri, Teddy Riley, Guy and Take 6.
The British had a great year – a new confidence in the air manifest by Soul II Soul and that Keep On Movin’ LP which dominated the summer. Other acts which popped through were Rebel M.C. with Street Tuff, Neneh Cherry with Buffalo Stance and Stone Roses with Fool’s Gold. But none caught my ear quite like this record. Radio One played it every day – Gary Davies I think – until it was eventually released in November 1989 and became an immediate hit. An immediately intoxicating sound whether you had dropped ecstasy or not, we hadn’t heard much like it before on the radio.
I depended on Paul and Colin for bringing me club tunes since I didn’t really go clubbing. I did go to legendary gay club Heaven with them a couple of times under the Charing Cross Arches but they were out listening to Frankie Knuckles, Mr Fingers, Phuture and the other stars of House Music regularly, and this year’s big song was French Kiss by Lil Louis. Earlier in the year Paul had introduced me to seminal techno house track Voodoo Ray by A Guy Called Gerald, out of the Manchester underground, later a big hit, and this track Pacific by 808 State has his fingerprints all over it.
Graham Massey, Gerald Simpson, Martin Price – 808 State
808 State were formed in Manchester by Gerald Simpson (A Guy Called Gerald), Graham Massey and Martin Price in 1987 and named after Gerald’s Roland TR-808 drum machine. Pacific aka Pacific State, Pacific 717 Pacific 202 etc etc was and remains a delicious electronic chilled dance tune featuring a wonky alto sax line and a collection of strange bird noises and it heralded Acid House and the Manchester rave scene, about which I know next to nothing. My Manc friends Andy Baybutt, Jo Thornhill, Keith Davey and Josh Raikes all came of age through those Madchester years and I’ll leave it to them to explain it all to you (they all moved to Brighton though – make of that what you will…). As for me, I never did like Happy Mondays, The Charlatans or Stone Roses THAT much and I certainly never bought the 2nd Summer Of Love designation, but I would never pour cold water over it either, I’m sure it was an intoxicatingly hypnotically fantastic and exciting time to be up in the north west of England. Especially when Pacific State came out ! I bought the 12″ single on ZTT (Paul Morley, Trevor Horn and Jill Sinclair’s label) which had Pacific 707 (the 7 inch version) and Pacific 212 and one other mix ? There are about 20 versions out there. The one below is Pacific 202. I think. It was released in America on TommyBoy Records in 1990.
We found a hotel and a bathroom on Jan 1st 1990 in West Berlin while Paul & Col made friends with their new Italian flatmates and stayed for three more weeks. Jenny and I explored the groovy anarchist squat scene in Kreuzberg and went back to The Wall and picked up some orange spray-painted sections for keepsakes and drove back home shortly afterward one morning. I went back to Berlin last year and invented the David Bowie : Where Are We Now ? tour (see My Pop Life #97) and some 25 years later the city is almost unrecognisable. Only a few parts of the wall remain, tourist attractions, protected. I stayed in the old East Berlin, now simply Berlin. It is thrumming with activity and endeavour, much of it artistic, simply full of energy.
As we drove home through Germany, then Belgium, we were stopped on the French border for our passport. Most cars were getting waved through and we were blocking the road. The passport was in my suitcase in the boot, so I offered to pull over while I got out and unpacked. No said the French border police. Stay in the road. I got annoyed with him and so they decided to search the car. Jenny and I were processed through the system, stripped, and searched. And then made to wait in the little central booth as the border police tooth-combed the car. While we waited, and waited, I noticed cars queuing to get into Belgium from France looking at me with quizzical eyes. They were asking for permission to cross the border. There was no one else there, so I started to nod at the drivers, and they would drive through. It was ridiculous but fun. Eventually we were interviewed by the boss. He explained that busloads of tourists came this way from Amsterdam every day. I told him that we’d come from Berlin. Earlier in 1989 I had been filming in France (see My Pop Life #9) playing Eugene Delacroix the painter who appeared on the 200 Franc note (sadly now replaced by the Euro). As I explained this to the police chief, he asked me if I smoked weed – “and is it used for inspiration, like Baudelaire?” I agreed that I imagined it was. “Ah you artistic types” he sighed.
We crossed the Channel at Ostende and landed in England in the brave new world of 1990. Capitalism won, after extra time.