a guy called gerald
by graham brown-martin on dec 17, 2004, 22:08
it seems to be a truism, particularly on the british scene, that seldom do pioneers get the credit or recognition that they deserve. it’s all about cliques and buddy, buddy like a private members club and perhaps inevitably, history is written by those with the marketing budget and so it is with gerald simpson. recording as “a guy called gerald” he pretty much fathered the drum & bass movement with his album “black secret technology” which appeared in 1995 and still sounds as fresh today.
manchurian gerald has been a pioneer in the british dance music scene since the mid-80’s and probably most recognised by acid house junkies for “voodoo ray” although he also wrote “pacific” with 808 state with whom he was a member until the release of their first album “newbuild”. it appears almost painful to mention either tune in conversation with gerald as if it’s been the subject of far too many interviews already maybe like asking punk nature film presenter john lydon about “god save the queen’. interestingly simpson wasn’t at first credited on (or paid for) the pacific track but the rampant success of voodoo ray meant that admitting his involvement proved to be a good selling point for 808 state product!
this initial burst of fame gained him a deal with sony that proved to be a disaster given the major’s ignorance of the dance music industry and its practices. gerald set up his own label, juicebox, and gave two stabs at releasing “black secret technology” (bst) finding along the way that it wasn’t easy trying to run things and be an artist. it’s probably this uncomfortable alignment with the commercial aspects of promoting himself as an artist which has led to his out of spotlight profile; although it has to be said that gerald is an artists artist who has been an almost constant influence on british dance music for the past 20 years.
He eventually signed up to the !K7 label releasing the widely acclaimed follow-up album “essence” in 2000 featuring tracks with collaborations by lamb vocalist louise rhodes on the track “humanity” and lady miss kier on the track “aquarius rising”. as if following a 5 year rule between releases come january 2005 gerald stands up to the plate with a new release entitled “to all things what they need”. the album features collaborations with !K7 stablemate ursula rucker, who also released one of our favourite albums of 2003, “silver or lead” (interview here) and finlay quaye who makes a reappearance since “finlays rainbow” on the bst record.
the new release has been on the ammo city ipod since it arrived which is always a good sign because it’s gerald on top form weaving his way thru ambient soundscapes some of which are vaguely reminiscent of fsol during their amorphous androgynous phase, kraftwerkian techno breakbeat, spoken word poetry courtesy of the brooding ms rucker, geralds hallmark exploration of afrocentric beat patterns and deep distorting bass lines and plenty of nuevo drum & bass, i’d even swear that the track “first try” is a tribute to “alita’s dream” from the bst album, or maybe i’m just a sample trainspotter! In a nutshell this album means that 2005 has already got off to a great start.
ammo met with gerald in trendy soho on the eve of his international tour, that takes him over europe and all the way down under to australia, and asked him a few questions.
you’ve moved from manchester to detroit to london to new york and now to berlin how have these locations affected or influenced your work?
i think that you have to travel around a bit to recognise where you’re from.
i grew up wanting and enjoying the energy of cities, there’s something about being somewhere that’s industrial. i used to walk around trafford park listening to music from detroit and it really fit but i hadn’t yet been to detroit. when i got there i realised why i’d been walking around listening to this music; it was desolate, no one was there. a lot of the stuff from new york was really influential it gave me a scope to want to do stuff like the proto hip hop stuff that was more like electro, for example. drum and bass was really a uk phenomenon and i don’t think i could have done there anywhere else than the uk.
the new album was recorded in berlin where i’ve been living for about a year. i grew up in manchester in the 70’s and remember the smell of coal dust and it’s like when the wall came down parts of berlin were still in the 60’s & 70’s so there’s a sort of familiarity about the place to me. i live in the tacheles arthouse community where there’s a concentration of artists and the vibe is really calm, it feels like a village and i’m able to really chill out and be creative. i’m in a building where everyday there’s different art on the wall, sometimes i don’t feel artistic enough to live there!
there seem to be some political themes within your recordings or at least your choice of samples. what are your politics and how do they inform your work?
my main politics are freedom of thought, a lot of people have bought themselves into power and a lot of business people also have people around them who use different ways of depriving you of this freedom. when i started the recording it was very full on and i had felt that i had to tone it down really for the record label and also because of how serious things were getting on the political stage.
what is your standard composition kit?
i still use cubase which i grew up with and although logic is getting more popular it’s one of them like “if i see everyone using logic i’m going to use cubase!”. i rewire cubase with reason and i’ve been using live. i don’t really want to replace cubase but now with apple owning logic i may have to face that learning curve.
how do you go about live shows?
it’s mainly a dj set supported with sampler and laptop although people tend to think that you’re just checking your emails when using a laptop as part of your set but i’m really adding another layer to the performances of these tunes.
how do you feel about the relative lack of recognition in the mainstream for the influence you’ve had on dance music?
i admire people like nikolai tessla who figured out how to provide free power and you wonder why he’s not up there with einstein yet einstein’s ideas were really easy to market as promoting them didn’t cut a hole in the pocket but providing free power was regarded as a dangerous proposition.
but it also depends on how you measure success and i think that it’s really a personal thing. there’s a main stream success like my fellow manc, robbie williams, who is a good lad that i like a lot. people will see that success with the big car waiting outside. one of my dreams was to have a studio that i could bring to the club with me and i can do that, i wanted to be free to work on my music anywhere and i can do that. i’m thinking that i’m really happy that i’m still here so many years on and all my dreams have been fulfilled.
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