"The Future Issue"
This month sees two Second Comings. Five years ago, The Stone Roses and A Guy Called Gerald turned Manchester into the centre of the dance world. Now they're both back - but only one with music for the new millennium. Say hello again to jungle's northern star.
If the breakbeat is the genetic code of digital music, its basic yet complex DNA, then jungle is the secret technology of gene-splicing sound, the unofficial science of rhythm hacking sonic molecules into polypercussive grafts. An impossible but utterly standard hybrid such as ragga and ambient, for instance, in which the voice of Buju Banton rasps over the pastoral drift of Mike Oldfield, feels like the musical equivalent of hearing a centaur with chromium hoofs running down an up escalator. By retreating to the studio bunker and exploring the possibilities of the breakbeat when every other genre thought it was a Newtonian dodo, jungle has released astonishing music that will inevitably recombinate and mutate the rhythmic DNA of all other music.
It's appropriate that Gerald Simpson, aka A Guy Called Gerald, has called his new album Black Secret Technology because this defines the last four years of jungle perfectly. 'Black' in the sense of jungle as a cult of 12" mixology in the age of the silver CD. 'Black' again, in the sense that, like James Brown's transformation of R&B into the cold machine of funk or Miles Davis' electrification of jazz or Can's reduction of rock, it's the latest example of the percussive aesthetics of black electronics. 'Secret' in the sense that it's a mental rewiring of taste and habit (hence the '91-'92 exit from Brit rap of so many junglists) which has led to the emergence of a brilliant generation of aural hackers who realise there's no bass in cyberspace and so invented their own instead.
And 'Technology'? Maybe Gerald should get a word in here. "First I'll put a load of drum loops down, chop bits and pieces out of them, reverse bits of them. I'll take a snare, stretch it and take the middle bit out of that. On top of that I'll layer it with little bits of 808 drum machine, 727 percussion, little bits of 909. Then I'll do a riff on tape and build something to go with that riff. While that's working, I'll take the original riff away, work on the riff I've just made, then take that away until I'm left with the first and the last riff. It's seeing what fits and what doesn't." What fits and what doesn't: it could be the subtitle for his Juicebox singles of this year and last.
For tracks such as Nazinji Zaka, in which slippery thickets of fugitive rhythms and queasy post-Cabaret Voltaire synths heave and lurch; for the seething, dragonfly swarm of The Glok Track. Or Finley's Rainbow, in which a whippet-fast pizzicato string section lashes the breakbeats as they skid and bank, nip and turn, until the most forlorn roots voice starts to sing, away from the mic and out of the window: "I want you to know right now that I'm a rainbow ".
Where the great Hyper On Experience or Dillinja are fiercely militant with their beats, and D'Cruze or Blame & Justice suffuse you in a feather drift of patterns as caressing as fingertips, A Guy Called Gerald, like 4-Hero, bends and curves his drum trips into intricate porous sponges, into squishy tempos. All the melody and harmony which these experimental singles repel go into the songs he also records and sings as Ricky Rouge; Nu Groovey garage and sparse house tracks such as Song For Everyman and When You Took My Life, made in the spirit of forgotten Chicago figures such as Joe Smooth.
A reference that reminds you how far back 27-year-old Gerald Simpson goes. When Voodoo Ray and 808 State's Pacific State, both written by a Derrick May-obsessed jazz-rock-loving kid from Oldham who called himself A Guy Called Gerald, were Zeitgeist hits in 1989, The Stone Roses and Madchester were Time Magazine cover stories. The BBC made documentaries on the Hacienda and a nation of loafers appointed Bez from the Happy Mondays their patron saint. Gerald even remixed Fools Gold and had it rejected as 'too dancey', only to see it bootlegged and selling for 50 dollars in New York. Then The Stone Roses grew beards for a half-decade, and Gerald got fucked over by Sony who refused to release the Chicago-inspired High Life Low Profile, an album he'd spent a year working on. "Jungle was beginning to happen then and I wanted to be a part of it," he recalls, his face brightening quickly.
"I set up the Juice Box label in '91 and started making tracks, but people were after me, people who saw I had something going on and wanted a piece of it." You can hear Madchester collapsing in on itself on early singles such as Digital Bad boy and Like A Drug. As gangstas and badmen stalked the ruins of the Dance Capital Of The World, Gerald's brilliant early jungle (collected on '93s "28 Gun Badboy" album), gruff and dense, chock full of Blaxploitation samples, is still the only music that captures the aftermath of the Altered State that was Madchester.
"The kind of music I'm doing now is shunned in Manchester," he says angrily. "It's looked upon as dirt. The looks I get when I say I do jungle are like 'oh, you sweaty raves. That's how far behind they are. There's no clubs that'll play it because they're all paranoid. They think there'll be gun business. You might as well call Manchester a jungle-free zone. But if you go to a dance, you'll see badboys jumping up and shocking out. They don't want to know about trouble. They just wanna know about basslines and rhythms."
If Manchester wants to miss out on Voodoo Rage, the remixes of Gerald's anthem that he's just made with Goldie, then that's their funeral. And if it's only a tiny club called Isobar that lets Gerald spin old school jungle like Goldie's '93 classic Angel, well, revolutions in sound have started from less. "No disrespect to Derrick May," the Guy says, touchingly, "but Angel is my favourite track of all time." And if you don't want to check out Energy, the new 12" by Goldie and Gerald, hey, that's entirely your business. It's your choice: Energy and then Black Secret Technology, a single and a double album that could only be made in Britain at the end of the millennium, a music that is utterly new and special for us, here, now. It's that or Madchester 2: The Sequel. Indie Elitists and Junglists, Technoheads and Afronauts, Faggamuffins and New Poeticists, Ambient Evangelists and Garage Disciples: do the now thing. Rrrroll the beats!
Energy by The 2 Gs is out now on Juice Box, followed next month by A Guy Called Gerald's Black Secret Technology.
[Author: Kodwa Eshun, Photography: Mark Alesky]