|This Month In Drum & Bass: A Guy Called Gerald|
18th January 2006
A Guy Called Gerald's Black Secret Technology is the Holy Grail of jungle long-players. Whereas you can still find Nice Price editions of Goldie's Timeless or Reprazent's New Forms, Gerald's masterpiece has been lost nearly since its 1995 release. Chalk this up to major label muscle or Gerald's own distrust of the music industry. Either way, its reappearance-- with little fanfare earlier in the month on Warp Records' mp3 store, Bleep.com-- is the best news of the new year so far.
Like 4Hero's Parallel Universe (another classic now consigned to eBay), this is drum & bass taken to extremes. Rhythms dissolve in mid-air, scatter like fireflies. Drums liquefy, spill in fountain arcs, dart like kingfishers. The whole mix sags under its own humidity, heavy with hazy phasing and synth precipitation. More than any other jungle record, Black Secret Technology actually sounds like the jungle.
By 1995, Gerald Simpson had already been bruised repeatedly by the music industry. Though he had co-written (at the very least) 808 State's 1989 smash "Pacific State", he received scant credit and fewer royalties. Licensing woes meant that he got royally screwed when his eternal classic "Voodoo Ray" became the first British-made acid house hit. He recorded an entire album, High Life Low Profile, which was scrapped by Sony when they deemed it too "uncommercial."
So Gerald said fuck it. Inspired by clubs like Grooverider's Rage, he abandoned his drum machines for breakbeats. He formed his own label, Juice Box, the first fruits being a series of underground 12-inches like "Cops", with its menacing Robocop sample ("Cops don't like me/ So I...don't...like...cops"). Long before ragga jungle, Gerald released the (even harder to find) 28 Gun Bad Boy LP in 1992. Like jungle writhing uncomfortably out of a techno exoskeleton, its jack-knifing rhythms and acid riffs felt like Gerald could shake down the record industry with just two turntables.
The records that followed were even deeper and blacker. "The first rhythms came from Africa," the sample announces at the start of 1993's "Nazinji-zaka". Gerald replies by spinning a cat's cradle of atomized percussion, like a man who could build an entire world of music out of a single drum. "Toward the end of the 90s I felt like I was a little bit too black to be doing drum & bass," Gerald said in a recent press release. Not for nothing did he title a 1994 track "Darker Than I Should Be".
All this was a lead up to BST. At a time when you could count the number of jungle full lengths on one hand, here was a true album, with a unified mood and a sense of expansiveness, rather than a collection of singles-so-far. Hearing it in early '98, thanks to a pair of far-thinking professors, was one of the few true musical headfuck/transformative experiences in my life, up there with hearing Run-DMC, the Dead Kennedys, and Arthur Russell for the first time.
The drums on the opening tracks "So Many Dreams" and "Alita's Dream" follow zero-gravity nyanbinghi drummers across similar tribal patterns, all leading up to Gerald's masterpiece. "Finley's Rainbow", here in its "Slow Motion Mix", is one of the few true "jungle ballads" and Gerald's loveliest moment. Forgotten reggae crossover crooner Finley Quaye hums a snatch of "Sun is Shining" to himself and Gerald steams it like an envelope over a teakettle. All around, insect bellies pop like firecrackers in showers of phosphorescent sparks.
"Energy", co-produced with Goldie, takes the "4D" programming of the Metalhead's own work of the time ("Timeless", et al) and removes the obnoxious parts (crying whales, "fluid" jazz guitar, Anita Baker vocals). The final two tracks "Voodoo Rage" and "Life Unfolds His Mystery" are a one-two punch not often equalled in this genre. The former recycles a few samples from "Voodoo Ray"-- apparently Gerald's primitive sampler circa 1988 couldn't fit the "-ge" onto "voodoo rage." The once celebratory wordless female vocal now sounds wracked with desperation and confusion. The latter is simply one of the more gorgeous ambient jungle tracks, while a terse ragga commands "smoke on it, man."
"I felt that this music was a key to explaining who I was - even more so than house music," Gerald has said of jungle. "This was everything I grew up in. This was reggae that formed me when I was in my mother's belly, this was the early electronic music that made me realize what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. This was the inventiveness of jazz that was to formulate soul then funk and which are deeply embedded within this music. Everything that is the material of my early childhood and teenage years is embedded within this music."
Unfortunately, BST has one of the worst mastering jobs I've ever heard, like a transistor radio playing at the bottom of a dirty aquarium. On a home stereo it can sound painfully muddy and distant; heard on a decent system, bass cranked hard right, things improve slightly. But this is not helped by the transfer to mp3, which can never compete with a well-mastered slab of vinyl (no matter what partisans argue). Then add the fact that most of us listen to mp3s on less-than-adequate computer speakers or iPod earbuds.
Last year there was talk of a re-release of BST, 28 Gun Bad Boy, and a collection of Juice Box singles on CD, re-mastered and with new liner notes by Woebot blog's Matt Ingram. Needless to say they've yet to materialize, and I pray daily they eventually will. Until then, the mp3 re-release of BST will have to suffice. Like Smile before Brian Wilson got around to "finishing" it, you'll just have to listen with open ears.
[Author: Jess Harvell]