Altern 8 are one of Rave music's most important and fondly remembered bands. The duo of Mark Archer and Chris Peat blasted onto the scene in 1991 with chart hits "Infiltrate 202" & "Activ 8", two slices of sample-filled breakbeat techno. While the music was striking (using famous samples from the likes of Candi Staton as well as more obscure sources) the guys used imagery with equal impressiveness. Wearing chemical warfare protection suits and dust masks onstage they had a presence of the danger that their music also held.
Of course they did not always have such an image. The two guys from Stafford, England actually started making music in 1989 as Nexus 21, which musically was much more minimal than the rave that they would become world famous for. Early techno releases such as (Still) Life Keeps Moving and Self Hypnosis gained the duo a reputation for music that was equally as impressive as that coming out of Detroit, and indeed they attracted the attention of Inner City's producer Kevin Saunderson who would go on to work with the band and actually be influenced by them!
Altern 8 really began life in 1990 as Mark & Chris were becoming more aware of the sound of the new Hardcore Techno sound coming from Europe, as well as a breakbeat driven sound emerging in the UK by acts like 4 Hero. The duo decided to release a new E.P. called "Overload", and created a new name for themselves: Altern 8 (the name was originally decided to be "Alien 8" but a mistake at the printers thankfully changed history!). After releasing a final Nexus 21 single "I Know We Can Make It" (with the b-side "Sychologic PSP" being the perfect bridge from Nexus 21 to Altern 8) in 1991, the transformation was complete.
In late 1991 Altern 8's dream came true. Activ 8 got into the UK top 10 singles chart, and so they were asked to appear on the TV show Top Of The Pops. This was really the public's first taste of the band, and as such it was also an important moment in bringing rave culture to the masses. This also started the band's reputation for pranks and funny moments. As they performed on Top Of The Pops, they placed a jar of Vicks Vapo Rub (commonly used by Ecstasy users to heighten the buzz) on top of their equipment!
Other pranks followed, such as trying to fly a hot air balloon over the city dropping Christmas cakes laced with Ecstasy (allegedly)! Unfortunately the balloon was unable to fly but the prank still got them media coverage. Chris Peat stood as candidate in a British General Election (but failed to win many votes). Or how about hiring a Shaman to cleanse a gig of it's "rock 'n roll past" before going on stage?
By 1992 all this media coverage (half made up by the band, half made up by the media) had paid off, and the band were a household name. Further hits came, from the huge Evapor 8 (which sampled Strings Of Life and had a guest vocal from P.P. Arnold), Brutal-8-E (which sampled house classic Let's Get Brutal by Nitro Deluxe) and Hypnotic ST-8 (in which the band actually sampled themselves, with their Nexus 21 track Self Hypnosis).
Frequency, one of the fan's favourite tracks, was released as a limited edition of 10,001 vinyl-only copies and the band also collaborated with Disco legend Evelyn King for a special 10" green vinyl entitled "Shame".
As a swansong, Everybody was released in 1993 with a remix by drum & bass pioneers 2 Bad Mice.
By this stage, rave had splintered. One one hand you had 4/4 techno (that in the UK would transform into Happy Hardcore) that had sped up to 170+ bpm. On the other hand you had Jungle (soon to progress to Drum & Bass).
Altern 8 represented a sound that embraced both sides of this coin, before it was flipped on it's slim side.