|We catch up with A Guy Called Gerald ahead of By The Pier 2.0 Festival|
24th February 2015
An iconic name in dance music, A Guy Called Gerald stands out for consistent innovation, excellence and refusal to compromise. A Guy Called Gerald kick started Europe’s acid house frenzy with his ’88 classic ‘Voodoo Ray’ and ‘Pacific State’ (as part of 808 State) and went on to lay down the blueprint for jungle / drum n bass. Nine albums and 25 years of independence later, he continues to push the boundaries of electronic dance music touring worldwide bringing his “true school” flavour to a world overloaded with pop pap.
Although his remixes are relatively enviable including the likes of David Bowie, Cabaret Voltaire, Black Uhuru, Finley Quaye, Lamb, Tricky and The Stone Roses, it is Gerald’s own productions and refusal to plough anyone’s furrow but his own which has marked him out. A Guy Called Gerald is responsible for the birth of British dance music as you know it today and continues to explore what is possible both in the studio and in the club with his “Live in Session” performances.
As media partners to Regenerate – By The Pier 2.0 Festival in Mumbai, we recently caught up with Gerald out of his busy schedule
Hi Gerald, it is quite an honor to be able to have this interview with you. I hope you are well, which part of the world are you in at the moment?
You’ve had influences from the early Chicago and Detroit movements, what was the catalyst that started your journey into the dance music genre? Was it always this style of music that you wanted to make into your career?
No, it was electronic funk in the early 80s.
Voodoo Ray was the defining moment for British House Music, in that it gave the UK a worldwide name for Acid House. Do you think that recreating that kind of sound in 2015 with the advancement in technology would be easier? Would you want to re-create A Voodoo Ray like track now?
That’s a funny question. My job is to produce music not to reproduce music. I leave that to DJs to think in that way. That track was made in the 80’s and I’d just stopped being a teenager. I grew up in a multi-musical system where music was changing constantly. The kind of music that I’ve always been interested in didn’t make lots of money so you could actually feel the realness of the music. It wasn’t just pretend. All these elements go together to make what is A Guy Called Gerald music which, by now, I feel is a million miles away from the next biggest thing or latest trends that DJs are supposed to do. There’s no need to recreate another track like that in my universe. It might sound confusing but I’m not trying to make music for anyone else but myself.
You formed the original 808 state with Graham Massey and Martin Price – what was the initiative behind this collective and what did you hope to introduce to the UK and global dance music culture with 808 State?
There was no global dance music culture in the late 80’s. A lot of people have a different concept of the time because a lot of what they’ve read comes from DJs who are trying to sell themselves and extend their history. It was just the start and it was very local, very small pockets in different places. 808 State was a musical experiment. For me the interest was in cross-platforming. Graham was from a indie/rock background, I was from a funk/reggae background who had a deep interested in electronic music and I had loads of synthesizers. Graham had access to a recording studio so we went in and experimented.
The style you created using the SH-101’s and the Roland Hardware primarily created the Acid House jam, which now would be considered a more ‘retro’ approach to dance music – do you think that these instruments would possibly still do the business in 2015?
Unfortunately, yes. It seems there is a cyclical resurgence every couple of years. There’s more people now interested in electronic music and people love to see the machines being played. I say unfortunately because to those machines were part of a development. It seems to me just reading some of the late 90’s media where people started to believe in trends where this or that type of music was ‘back’. To me it seemed like the actual freeform inventiveness and creative spirit was lost. At the time, there was nothing else, it was as far as you could expand whereas now there is so much further that you can go. Back then there was a world of sounds and now there is an entire universe. The only problem is most of the DJs who think they are producers have been sold a boat for the price of a spaceship.
What has happened is everything has expanded. What is the goal at the end of the day? Is it to make and expand the sound or the music or to get lost inside a cycle? Roland have made some new versions of the older equipment that we used in those days and they’ve opened them up for expansion. For me the most important element is to expand. Once you’ve gained the experience of the machines then it’s time to take them to a new place.
Your Boiler Room set in 2012 was a massive success. Do you find that incorporating older sounds into your programming helps to give you a unique edge that appeals to across section of music fans?
If you dig deeper with a time shovel you’ll find that my music has been sampled over decades by DJs and find some of these ‘older’ sounds are just sounds that I made and always incorporate into my music. By ‘older’ you might also mean my music has basslines which I class as the lower frequency oscillation and not the gutteral rock stab that some people call b-line today.
So, you’re playing in India for the first time, and for a very cool open air event By The Pier on February 21 in Mumbai – what drew you to come and play for this event, given this would be your debut performance in India?
I love playing open air events and I’m very curious and interested in India. It is the first time I’ve been invited to play in India.
So By The Pier is essentially a Deep House event, and it isn’t an ‘arena’ gig by any means – do you feel that it’s a good way to initiate people to the style of music you essentially play?
What I’ve been told is that there’s been a mono-culture of goa trance in India for the last 2 decades. Considering the rich culture of music in India which stems back longer and further than Western musical history it would be a crime not to introduce the abundance of genres time has produced in dance music over the last 2 or 3 decades. Smaller events are easier to create more of a personal understanding and feeling with the music.
Speaking of arena events – What is your opinion on the stadium versus intimate gigs?
I guess an ‘arena’ gig is where this ‘EDM’ music is played. This is not dance music. This is rock music theatre trying to mimic our music. Going to an ‘arena’ gig is going to a rock concert – a completely different experience. How can you dance in an arena squashed in with thousands of people? The reason you would take dance music into an arena has got to be for greed. If the only thing you can do is put your hands in the air then where is the ‘dance’? Please understand my background is not rock music so I would be misrepresenting my heritage to associate my music with those big arena events.
As an experiment I once played a live show at Glastonbury. Thanks to Funktion One constructing a unique surround sound system for their audience it made no sense for me to play on the stage outside of the sphere of the sound. The way my live system is set up I can be in the centre of the crowd with the dancers and not at the front like traditional rock concerts. I’ll be DJing in India this time so this is something for the future.
There are so many DJs and producers that have surfaced recently, some with the mindset of wanting to become the ‘next big thing’ – with their 15 minutes of fame, and some who struggle constantly – do you think that the music scene, especially dance has reached a saturation point?
I can only liken it to when the mainstream of rock n roll found the blues and turned it into rock n roll. It becomes something totally different. My perception of dance music came from funk music which is an off-shoot of the blues, mainly black music.
The music you are talking about regarding saturation is not the music I make, or play or listen to. The term dance music has been co-opted by a completely different music – they have managed to take the word dance without the action of dance in it’s actual meaning. I trace my lineage of dance music from Africa through blues, jazz, soul, reggae/funk into electro funk and then house/techno/jungle. Most people have never had the opportunity to follow this path. For me it’s nothing to do with 15 minutes of fame, there is a strong lineage of soul from the start. I’ve read a little bit about classical Indian music and know how serious Indian music and it’s roots and tradition are. I wonder how it would sound if it was monetized by the western world?
At the same time, you can’t dictate how or where music is played, you can only say your own truth. And this is A Guy Called Gerald.
So what are your future plans Gerald? What are we going to see from you in 2015?
I’m seeing my music steadily progressing since the late 80’s. I’m proud of its unadulteration and will continue to push my own special tradition of exploring sound through electronics in the spirit of dance. I love being in the studio and I have new music to put out this year. I’ve been making music specifically for live shows and now am in the process of freezing some of it for release.
After India I’m heading over to Australia, NZ, China, Japan and then back to Europe for summer season of live shows.
Is there ever a time you’ve sat and thought to yourself ‘this is it, I’m going to finally pack it all in”?
Not really. These are probably the kind of thoughts that people who think of music as a ‘career’ have. Fortunately for me music has been my way of life since I can remember. Making music and dancing is my religion. I saw how lost my parents were with their slave driven religion called Christianity. I found what I feel is a link to my ancestors and the earth. My religion is to search for where I am truly from. It’s impossible to give up something you are born into.
Lastly Gerald, what are your expectations from the people, the crowd and the general atmosphere when you debut in India this year? We’d love to know what you’ve heard about the dance music culture in India and how it compares to the rest of the world.
I’ve not heard so much about the dance music culture in India. My feelings are more of a personal goal. I want to share a root of something which I feel is from a purer unadulterated stem. I try not to have expectations as I want to feed off the pure raw energy of India. I’m very much looking forward to seeing and hearing what is going on in India.
Thank you for your time, we’re extremely excited to have you over!
[Author: Shilpa Shah]