From the most inauspicious of beginnings – a discarded remix project – came one of dance music’s most distinctive anthems: Altern 8’s ‘Infiltrate 202’. Not only did it light up 1991’s long hot summer of rave, but it still cuts the mustard today. One-half of Altern 8, Mark Archer, tells Harold Heath about the track’s inspirations, history and legacy…
Mark Archer has made well-respected Detroit-flavoured techno; tough, quality US garage-style house and hugely successful, full-on bonkers hardcore rave. He’s released music as part of Slo Moshun, Ramone ‘Latin Lover’ Ropiak and classic UK techno outfit Nexus 21, as well as recording under numerous pseudonyms including Ed ‘Chunk’ Rodriguez, Xen Mantra, Trackman and DJ Nex. But it’s as one-half of Altern 8 that he’s best known.
Altern 8 began as a side hustle while Archer and production partner Chris Peat were working on their pioneering techno project Nexus 21.
“We were doing Nexus 21 and Altern 8 started in 1990, because we’d recorded a bunch of tracks that the Network label thought Nexus 21 fans – Detroit techno purists – would turn their noses up at. That became the debut ‘Overload’ EP. Even though there were eight tracks on that EP we didn’t come up with the whole ‘8’ thing and even when we did ‘Infiltrate’ there wasn’t an ‘8’ because we really didn’t have a big game plan at the time.”
‘Infiltrate 202' is somewhere between a collage and a collision, a magpie-like collection of shiny audio parts gathered from other records via some judicious sampling and re-playing. Its ‘everything-including-the-kitchen-sink' production approach defined the UK rave template of summer 1991, a summer of 5k turbo sound system water-cooled mega-laser ultimo-raves as dance culture went overground. And Altern 8 were there to provide a Day-Glo musical soundtrack that distilled much of the previous two years of dance music into a single 12-inch release.
“Around that time, the term hardcore hadn’t been coined, but this was the year where it really started to peak above most of the other styles that were being played at raves. In 89 and 90 it was very much a mishmash of Belgian techno, Italian piano, housier stuff coming over from New York and Chicago, Strictly Rhythm house-type stuff, Detroit techno and breakbeats. There were just so many different kinds of styles going on and I wanted to record a tune that incorporated all the things that I wanted to hear in a track.”
“We recorded it in March 1991. Chris was the one who could play keyboards, and I went in with a pile of records and a load of discs that I'd compiled of different drum sounds, keyboard sounds, stab noises etc. The track that actually influenced 'Infiltrate' even though it sounds nothing like it was ‘Pure’ by GTO. It’s got this weird kind of choir bit at the beginning and then some chanting, so I thought it'd be great to have a crowd noise on it to make it sound similar to the GTO track.”
The breakbeat in ‘Infiltrate 202’ is a lift from ‘The Man with The Masterplan’ by Quadrophonia, which is itself made from Lyn Collins’ classic ‘Think (About It)’
“Using breakbeats wasn't a new thing at all. A lot of people had been using breakbeats for quite a while and there are tracks from 88/89 like KC Flightt that use them to beef up their drums. I also wanted some sub-bass in there like the Northern bleep techno thing that was big at the time.
“We got a specific organ noise off a Casio CZ101 synth which is in loads of Belgian techno tunes and a lot of New York stuff by Frankie Bones. The bassline was from a hip house tune ‘Electric Dance’ by Jungle Crew. We just replayed it on a synth.”
“I’d got the chord from 808 State’s ‘Pacific 202’ sampled on a disc and was like let’s use this pad sound in there. And, straightaway, I started playing the ‘Pacific 202’ chord progression and it just worked. We were like: ‘Do you reckon we'll get away with it?!’ It was only on that small label, so we didn’t really think much about using it.
“I had an a capella album on the record deck that I was listening to through my headphones while the track’s playing in the studio, spinning different a capellas over the top and Candi Staton’s one (‘I Know’) was kind of in key so we sampled that up. There was no: ‘We’ve gone in there to make this particular tune’, it was just while we’ve got studio time, let’s make something. It all came together quickly because I'd already got so many ideas in my head.”
“Watch Yer Bass Bins”
The tune had an air of serendipity to it. Aside from the way the audio parts all seemed to just fall into place, it also famously sampled Chris Duckenfield – then of pirate radio DJ duo Asterix and Space with Richard Benson – saying: “Watch yer bass bins I’m tellin’ ‘ya.” Weirdly, Archer, who’d never met the pair before, bumped into them both at Shelley’s nightclub in Stoke just a couple of days after sampling Duckenfield.
Furthermore, ‘Infiltrate 202’ might never have happened at
all if Network’s Neil Rushton hadn’t commissioned a remake of War’s memorable rock-cum-funk
cut ‘Low Rider’.
"I’m not sure why they wanted a Nexus 21 remix or what we could have even done with it. It was one of those ones where you just basically write them a new tune. We tried to do a Soul II Soul tempo remix but it never came out and I’ve not heard it since that session. But we had some studio time left so we made ‘Infiltrate 202’, took it to Network and said you can use this as the follow up to the ‘Overload’ EP.”
Hitting The Pop Charts
‘Infiltrate 202’ was released on promo in the spring of 1991, followed by a full release in July. With BBC radio support the duo found themselves in possession of an actual national hit.
In July they were booked for a PA at the Eclipse club in Coventry – where they’d previously played a few months earlier as Nexus 21 – and the pair first adopted their iconic chemical warfare suits and facemasks, carefully personalised with Tippex and highlighter pen.
“We didn’t want to look the same as Nexus to anyone. Because naively I thought, people in the crowd would be like: ‘Well, hold on a minute. I saw them the other month!’ Whereas most of the people wouldn't even know that there was anyone on stage!”
The PA was also where the now-necessary video for ‘Infiltrate 202’ was shot.
“The label knew that it was doing well because of pre-sales and projected chart positions. They said it looked like it could actually do something, so they asked us to record the Eclipse gig to make the video. It was all done on a budget of about £500.
“Going from starting making music in 1988 and then being in the charts in ‘91, it was a proper jump, totally unexpected and it wasn't an aim of ours at all. Suddenly, you've got to start doing gigs like this weird Wednesday night with BBC Radio 1 DJ Mark Goodier, Right Said Fred and the Cookie Crew. We went down well and the crowd were kind of into it, but they were more of a pop crowd – and it was just a completely different side to what we were used to doing at the Eclipse, Shelley’s and Amnesia House.”
The video was played on ITV’s ‘The Chart Show’ and children’s Saturday morning TV shows and ‘Infiltrate 202’ eventually reached number 28 in the UK national pop charts, taking Altern 8’s hardcore rave aesthetic directly to the masses.
‘Infiltrate 202’s Legacy
Along with other classics from Liquid, SL2, Bizarre Inc, Acen and Manix, Altern 8’s ‘Infiltrate 202’ consolidated the emerging UK hardcore rave sound of ‘91, bringing all the elements together: breaks, sub-bass, euphoric pads, disco vocal samples and a devil-may-care sampling attitude, and created a foundational UK rave track in the process.
“When we made the tune, we didn't know how long it was gonna last
for. We thought that if it lasted for another year we'd be happy. And 31 years later I can still play it out. I used to think that if in 1990, if you went back 30 years and plucked a tune out, you wouldn't be able to play it at a club or a rave, whereas to be able to play ‘Infiltrate' now and it still get the massive reaction that it does – it's way more than I could ever have imagined.”