A Biography of the Artist and UK Dance Music Culture
'Since the 80's, Manchester UK native, A GUY CALLED GERALD, born Gerald Simpson, has proven to be among the most innovative modern music figures. His influence is international, and through his versatility he has spawned genres and generations of music culture. From his early experimentation with techno and acid house to his groundbreaking contributions to drum & bass music, GCG's art and craft has perpetually evolved regardless of his individual successes in each of those genres.'
'Tronic Jazz: The Berlin Sessions' is scheduled for release in early 2010 and will be A Guy Called Gerald's 8th full length studio album. Linear in structure, the album is a collection of audio snaps interwoven with a melodic symphony of textures where rhythm and bass collide to create a tapestry of musical colour. Tronic Jazz builds on the foundations of Gerald's early influences and is inspired by the blues & soul infused techno introduced by the first generation of Detroit DJs and producers, with an edge attributable to his base in Berlin. All roads lead to this place'
Gerald Simpson has a unique insider's view of the evolution of dance music since the early eighties when, as a 14 year old dancer, he started sneaking into Manchester's underground clubs. By the age of 16, Gerald was hooked on the sound of electro funk coming out of America. With his DJ crew, the Scratchbeat Masters, Gerald practised DJing every Sunday in his Mum's attic, where he built his first studio. Cutting up beats on their turntables, they would challenge other crews and their soundsystems. A 12' single Wax on the Melt resulted from a collaboration between a few of the crews, some members of which Gerald later joined forces with to form 808 State. The act's Newbuild album was released in 1988 before Gerald broke away to concentrate on his solo work.
Gerald had realised early on that there were dimensions to dance music beyond the turntables and decided the only way forward was to delve into the production of electronic dance music. A year later, with meagre earnings from his job at a fast food chain, Gerald bought his first drum machine' his mixer and turntables soon began to collect dust. By the time acid house reached UK shores, he had invented a transform scratch button for his Citronic mixer and crafted an electro style which flowed seamlessly with the new sound.
House music first emerged in England through the funk and soul clubs, which were predominantly black. 'Wow, that was a really vibrant scene', Gerald reminisces of Manchester's black dance underground. 'It was a perfect concoction of the technology and the musical structure creating an irresistible compulsion to dance.' In some of the clubs and all-dayers, there would be a break from the funk and soul music with a house set. This was the time when dance crews would take control of the floor and it wasn't long until house music became the focal point of the event.
'In those days everyone in the club danced and some had their own signature dance moves that they did to certain types of tracks', Gerald explains. 'Dance was actually a way of life for those people. There were jazzheads, funkheads and even some dubheads, but no matter what music you were in to, you had to know how to dance or you would look really out of place. Nobody on the floor was talking about the DJ - you didn't even know who the DJ was, never mind which track he was playing. But you knew who the dancers were. You'd even know the names of some of the moves they were doing - intricate moves involving back-flips and running up the walls. Clubbers formed human arenas where they would hold dance-offs, with dancers showing off their moves in competition with each other. This was way before the Hacienda era and these people were its pioneers. In those days there wasn't really a big scene for dance music but somehow we felt that it was our connection to something that was bigger. Voodoo Ray was born of my inspiration by this scene.' (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLEICOekY_w for vintage footage.)
By 1988, Chicago and Detroit house was reverberating in European clubs and beginning to infiltrate the UK underground with sounds from Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, Farley Jackmaster Funk, Jesse Saunders, Chip E, Virgo, Master C&J, Adonis, Jungle Wons, Fast Eddie, Fingers Inc., Liz Torres, Ralph Rosario' to name but a few. Gerald's favourite record shop in Manchester, Spinning, was one of the main importers of American house music in the northwest of England. Gerald knew that Stu Allan, a local DJ who played demo tapes on his radio show, bought his records there. The Spinning staff happily passed Gerald's demo to Stu, who played it the following week. Stu couldn't get enough of Gerald's music and would DJ everything Gerald gave him.
Gerald was soon approached to release some material on Rham! Records, a small indie out of Merseyside, which had heard his tracks on the radio. Gerald had never been in a professional recording studio before and he jumped at the opportunity. Armed with a handful of demos he'd been working on, it took Gerald just one day to record four tracks: Rhapsody in Acid, Blow Your House Down, Escape and Voodoo Ray. The concept was for the release to have a raw, underground dance vibe and only 500 white labels were pressed up. Rham! were astounded when, for the first time in its history, stocks were depleted within a week and they quickly manufactured another 2000 copies. Voodoo Ray was first played at the infamous Hacienda and bubbled underground for a year before exploding into the charts, rising to no. 12 and becoming the best selling independently released single of 1989. (Around the same time, 808 State's Pacific State, a track Gerald had worked on before leaving the act, hit the charts. It eventually came to light that Gerald had written most of the track, including one of the earliest and finest pad synthesiser melodies in ambient house, with the other members contributing just the saxophone line and some mixing.)
Oblivious to the commotion in the wake of Voodoo Ray, Gerald continued working on new tracks for his first solo album, Hot Lemonade, dripping with chilled acid and Chicago style house. By the time the album came out on Rham! in '88, Gerald had been rehearsing with one of Rham!'s bands, Chapter and the Verse, in preparation for promotion of his new album via a tour of UK universities and colleges which was already in place. Although sampling was still in its early stages at the time, to Gerald it seemed like an exciting way to perform. He left his drum machines at home and replaced them with three Akai samplers which were much easier to take on the road.
Halfway through the UK tour, requests started coming in from the US. Gerald was excited because he could finally visit the birthplace of his main influences. By now Voodoo Ray had been licensed to New York label Warlock and its remix by Frankie Knuckles propelled the track into the heart of New York's dance underground. Gerald accompanied Manchester's Hacienda Club resident DJs on a tour of the US to phenomenal reception. Despite a hectic schedule, Gerald devised a way to continue recording new material while on the road and for the next two years that's exactly what he would do' travel and record.
Back home in England, the scene had erupted from the underground and new dance bands oozed through the cracks. Everyone wanted to make an acid dance track or have an acid house remix. UK labels were signing big name Chicago artists, often just to remix tracks for new English talent. Gerald was disheartened by this but believes that, at the time, there was no other way for UK acts to achieve the desired sound. Misguidedly thinking it would be a useful tool in his mission to widen the audience for innovative new music, Gerald signed to a major record label in 1990. His first album under the deal was Automanikk, themed on late eighties acid with a Detroit vibe. However, Gerald refused to bow to the major's demands to dilute his music for mainstream consumption and his second album for them, Hi Life Lo Profile, never saw the light of day.
'Since I started in music I've seen the system change,' says Gerald, 'the old structure crumbling away as myself and many of the others I inspired emerged from the bedroom studio with our own self-generating independence. I was one of the first to break the mould of the stranglehold that labels and studios and PR machines had on artists. The record company dam was broken and there was a tidal wave fuelled by cheaper and cheaper studio equipment, with the final nail in the coffin being the internet. You have no idea how happy this makes me.'
Heading into the 'rave years' of the early nineties, Gerald was growing bored with house music and decided to experiment with breakbeats in some of his tracks. The first such track, Specific Hate, was popular with some prominent UK DJs at the time ' Sasha and Grooverider amongst others. By now the UK was finding its own unique sound with a mixture of influences derived from its diverse multi-cultural environment: hip-hop breaks over old house bites meshed together with oldskool reggae tracks. Sampling technology had advanced to a multi-layering state and some UK dance music producers (eg. Shut Up & Dance, Rebel MC, A Homeboy A Hippy & A Funkydred, 4Hero, LTJ Bukem, Rob Playford, Omni Trio, Roni Size, DJ Hype, Fabio & Grooverider, among others) were melding these sounds into what would become known as 'jungle techno'.
Gerald embraced jungle as it swept dance music back underground. But he feared it was only a matter of time before it would emerge in the mainstream, as had happened with acid house. Gerald knew that people who were into jungle responded to the dirtier sounds, which didn't work in the commercial world, so he constantly reviewed his methods to preserve the purity of raw dance in his tracks. In fact, his 12' release of 28 Gun Bad Boy ('91) is cited as one of the earliest and best examples of early jungle, illustrating a perfect combination of breakbeats, basslines, rave melody and aesthetics.
Meanwhile, the underground blues parties Gerald was throwing with MC Tunes in Manchester under the 'Juice Box' moniker involved spinning exclusive raw acetates hot from the press, a practice alien to mainstream methods. In fact, Gerald once courted danger with his (ex)major label for giving acetates from his unreleased album to some influential underground DJs. Having the freedom to play cutting-edge music to a live audience was one of the main goals of the Juice Box parties.
By 1992, Juice Box had evolved into a small dance label, finding underground popularity with tracks by A Guy Called Gerald and featured local artists such as Finley Quaye and Gerald's own brother, David Simpson. In addition to releasing tracks under Gerald's aliases Inertia, The KGB and Ricky Rouge, Juice Box released further material by acts including XTRO, Digital Pressure, Coca and K-Groove. Juice Box is hailed as being responsible for significant releases which provided a prototype for jungle and then drum & bass, with early tracks from the label described as 'genre defining'. The label was soon to present the first album-length product of the jungle era, A Guy Called Gerald's 28 Gun Bad Boy.
After his earlier disillusionment with a major, Gerald was thrilled to be in total control of 28 Gun Bad Boy. Compiled from some early Juice Box singles, this seminal album updated Gerald's hallmark hypnotic techno with stomping breaks that echoed the unbridled energy emanating from the Juice Box parties. In a Melody Maker review of the album in October 1994, Simon Reynolds stated, 'If ever there was a blueprint for what would transform rave into jungle/techno, then this is it. Gerald's tracks take the jungle mesh of polyrhythms, cross-rhythms and counter-rhythms to new levels of insane detail'.
By the mid nineties, Manchester was becoming a dangerous place to run a label and throw parties, so Gerald relocated to London. Juice Box was relaunched at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith and continued to provide an outlet for material by A Guy Called Gerald and collaborations with various artists including Finley Quaye, Bushmaster, DJ Tamsin, Goldie (as The 2 G's), Sawtooth and Lisa May.
A Guy called Gerald's Black Secret Technology was released on Juice Box in 1995 and is credited as being one of the first solo-artist drum & bass albums. Immersed in rolling breaks and ethereal synths, heartbreakingly beautiful vocals wreathe euphoria and melancholy through layers of reverb into a spiritual celebration of rhythm and life. The album's liner notes suggest that Black Secret Technology is Gerald's expression of his soul's connection to a distant past:
'the first man on earth ['] developed a way of communicating which was to become an important part of his survival. these strange patterns of sound were called rhythm, rhythm then was not a leisurely thing, it was a way of life, methods of rhythm helped early man to get in touch with the universe and his small part in it' i believe that some of these trance like rhythms reflect my frustration to know the truth about my ancestors who talked with drums.'
A remastered version of Black Secret Technology with improved sound quality was subsequently released in the summer of 2008.
In 1997, Gerald relocated to New York where he had been hanging out on tour with Tricky. Enticed by the offer of a US work visa, he had just signed a deal with Island Records in Los Angeles but was released from his contract just months before the album was due to hit the streets following the departure of the label's founder. Undaunted, Gerald seized the opportunity provided by his Brooklyn base to dip into a fresh palette, resulting in collaborations with Tricky, Herbie Hancock, Roy Ayers, David Bowie and Bebel Gilberto, along with various other remixes. He also started working on new solo material for his next album, Essence.
'the new millennium dawns'
Essence was released on !K7 Records in August 2000 and was Gerald's first song-based project. With its sleek and soulful production, the album merges sultry drum & bass over transcendent melodies and features song writing and vocal contributions from guest artists Wendy Page, Lady Miss Kier, Lamb's Louise Rhodes, David Simpson, Jennifer Neal and Public Domain.
After bouncing between New York and London for a year, the events surrounding 11 September 2001 cemented Gerald's decision to leave New York. He returned to London in early 2002 and commenced work on his follow-up for !K7, To All Things What They Need. By the time the album was released in 2004, Gerald had already grown weary of London's hectic pace and was living in Berlin. 'I think you have to travel around a bit to recognise where you're from', muses Gerald. 'Drum & bass was really a UK phenomenon and I don't think I could have done it anywhere else than the UK. New York was really influential and gave me scope to do things like the proto hip hop stuff that's more like electro, for example'. Speaking of life in Berlin Gerald says, 'I grew up in Manchester in the '70s and remember the smell of coal dust. When the wall came down, it's like parts of Berlin were still in the '60s & '70s so there's a kind of familiarity about the place for me'.
Gerald's mood of withdrawal following New York's aftershock is reflected in the ambience of To All Things What They Need. As the album swirls effortlessly through a continuum of styles, we journey into a soundscape daubed with string-laden acid, atmospheric electro and deep Detroit house, diffused by the evocative vocals of Finley Quaye and spoken word of Philadelphia-born poet Ursula Rucker.
Berlin's dynamic club vibe provided an impetus for Gerald's return to the dancefloor with Proto Acid: The Berlin Sessions, released on German label Laboratory Instinct in 2006. A cohesive mix of 24 blistering tracks recorded in one smooth session, Detroit-style techno crashes over peaks and troughs like an acid-drenched tsunami. The collection marks a sharp departure from the style of his last album, with an obvious absence of vocals. "I want to make music for clubs and sometimes you just have to get down and dirty into the machines. Some things just don't need a vocal", Gerald explains. "To me, Proto Acid is how I feel house/techno music would have sounded if the whole rave thing hadn't happened in England. So when I say 'proto acid' I'm saying this stuff has direct lineage to Chicago and Detroit in the mid-to-late 80s. It's all about the tweaking of synths and riding a groove. To me, Proto Acid is acid and acid's a part of everything I do. It's the culmination of a dream I've had since I started making music, and that's to take the studio into the club; this album is a snapshot of those possibilities."
Tronic Jazz, the second instalment in the Berlin Sessions on Laboratory Instinct, will be available in early 2010.
In the meantime, Gerald continues to release new and exclusive tracks via his web-based labels SUGOI and PROTECHSHON. Available for download only via ithinkmusic, beatport and iTunes, SUGOI specialises in experimental dance while PROTECHSHON provides a channel for Gerald's jungle and breakbeat tracks.
Throughout his career, A Guy Called Gerald has remained true to his personal creativity and his music retains an individuality that clearly distinguishes it as his own.
A Guy Called Gerald Live
In addition to regular performances in Berlin, Gerald continues to tour his live show throughout Europe, Japan, China, Australia and the US. Although Gerald will occasionally DJ a retro set for special events, his live performances constitute an improvised creation of music using his own laptops and mixer. For a more dynamic sound, Gerald prefers his set to feed directly through the club's PA rather than the DJ mixer.
Of his live show, Gerald says:
'I want to give you an idea of what you'll experience hearing A Guy Called Gerald Live' and when I say live, I mean LIVE! It's not a DJ set - there are no mp3s - no wavs - no aiffs - no preset sounds. You're hearing a fluid freestyle mixdown of my own music and my own individual takes on classics referencing the past - direct at 96kz - the exact quality and setup I use to write and record in my studio. Nothing is synched between the two laptops but the difference with traditional DJing is that I can add another layer. I'm able to go inside the track and manipulate it from the inside out on the fly - meaning if I feel at any moment that I need to tweak the bassline, filter samples or add another bit of rhythm, that's exactly what happens right there and then.
My aim is to give you a deeper understanding with as much enjoyment as is physically and mentally possible, using the three elements more frequently missing from this music - the basis of all dance music: RHYTHM, MELODY and BASS. No matter through what genre or in what decade you discovered this music, I can guarantee you will leave with a clearer picture of the entire spectrum.'