|Interview: A Guy Called Gerald|
|Party For The People
27th August 2015
It’s 1:30am on Saturday 25th July, and A Guy Called Gerald is making his debut at Tramlines Festival in Sheffield. A true pioneer, his near 30 year career – on his own, as part of acid trailblazers 808 State, and with others – has seen him assume a crucial role in the shaping of many of the musical genres we’re familiar with today. A couple of hours before his highly anticipated set, Party for the People paid him a visit in which we covered everything from the influence of Boiler Room to Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs…
We’re looking forward to seeing you play in Sheffield tonight – when was the last time you played here? Is there anything we should listen out for when we listen to your set? have you got it sort of planned out? Or don’t you really do that?
A Guy Called Gerald: I don’t really plan it out, I’ve got a load of music with me, if it was just vinyl alone then, well, I don’t think my collection would fit in this room actually. I think the more time you spend in the music industry or in dance music, the more you collect… you have the advantage of just collecting music that you like and not just because its trendy. Nowadays I just go with my own ear, I don’t go for artists or the dates of the tunes or if it’s the A or B side, I usually blind listen when I’m choosing tracks.
Just in terms of what sounds good then?
Yeah, I kind of have a memory for the melody and stuff so I just kind of go in, I mean if somebody is train-spotting they might know some of the names of the tracks or whatever, and it might be a bit random for them because I’m not following any kind of procedure, apart from working with the tune itself. That’s what I do!
Back in the late 1980s/early 1990s, when you were starting to forge your own musical identity, were you that familiar with and influenced by Sheffield labels like Warp and acts like LFO? Did you know them? And did you have much of a relationship with Sheffield?
A little bit of a relationship, I remember coming here in the really early days and hearing about Forge Masters and I had a track out at the same time they had a track out, and I think someone from there came to see me at McDonalds once…
I was still working at McDonalds on Market Street (in Manchester) at the time. But I didn’t really spend much time here… I mean, I spent 1988, early ‘89 in the UK – and then I went on a tour which kind of lasted for a few years actually, of America, Europe and stuff. I was always touring, so I never really got that much time to spend in the UK. My thing is the studio, I love the studio, and at that time I’d only just started to get a taste for the studio but I could never get into one – I was always moving around too much…
To spend that much time in Sheffield? I mean obviously, your hometown of Manchester was also starting to get really big in the late ’80s and early ’90s…
Yeah, but then to be honest I spent most of the nineties doing jungle, from 1991 onwards I was kind of focused more on production.
Ok, so you were more involved with that than hanging out in different cities and in different ‘scenes’ as it were?
I never got a chance to do scenes! You know, people tell me about the rave scene, Ibiza and that… I never got to experience it really, it was alien to me. The first time I ever went to Ibiza was in 2004 or something like that?
Oh wow, yeah that is quite late on then! In the last couple of years you’ve done a few Boiler Room shows… in London and in Berlin, how did you find that? Was that a completely new and surreal experience for you? Being filmed DJing live and it being broadcast worldwide?
Yeah it was a little bit different, but I see it as the way forward in the way of performance and stuff like that. I could see it being taken a lot further – I mean, I’ve had a few ideas of what I would like to do in this realm, because when I’m actually doing my live show, it’s a little bit unique in the kind of music I’m playing and the way I’m playing it. It’s hard for people to see what’s actually going on in the show unless you’re there watching it. It could be recorded but you still don’t get the vibe unless you’re there with it… I like that vibe!
I know from reading past interviews that you find the current music scene a bit less innovative than perhaps it was in the eighties – a bit less individualistic. But are there any producers and labels from more recent times that you really rate?
Erm, well… I mean I know loads of the music, I play loads of music, but artists and that, I don’t focus on, apart from if they’ve definitely got their own sound, because there’s a few people who kind of bounce around different things and they’re cutting the pace and stuff. German Brigante is someone I rate, he has a very nice style, and is one of a very few artists, contemporary artists, here in dance music today that I like. In general, I’m a bit like I hear a track and go, ‘oh okay that’s that person’, you know what I mean? There’s not so many… but then there’s Robag Wruhme…
Ah yes, Robag Wruhme I do like his stuff, Pampa Records and all that.
Yeah, yeah. I like the stuff that he’s doing, I like people that have their own unique kind of curve, especially if they’re a bit weird and all that (laughs) I kind of go for that more than anything.
I saw that you recently completed a tour around Asia, and in Australia and New Zealand. Was that something new for you? And what were the scenes like over there? How did you find all the clubs in that part of the world compared to, say, Europe?
They’re a lot more switched on than you’d think. I mean the thing is they get a lot of stuff from here, and they make their own version of it, but it’s almost as if they make more of it than they make of it here, because I think the culture there now sort of harks back to when the internet was kind of just kicking off, do you know what I mean? There’s a lot of people who didn’t get as much in the early days, they didn’t get all the music that we got, so the culture over there is kind of, erm…
That’s the word I’m looking for. They’re more appreciative, and over the last couple of decades it’s kind of been indoctrinated into their systems. The music that I’ve heard from there is really, really thought out.
Noel Gallagher cited Voodoo Ray as one of the tracks he’d have to take with him if he was stranded on a desert island when he appeared on Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4. Were you aware of this? And would you ever consider making an Oasis track one of your desert island tracks to take if you were in the same situation?
Erm… I don’t know, I mean hopefully you’d be able to have a guitar with you – maybe be playing a bit, and making some new tunes?! I suppose, as a fellow Burnage (suburb in Manchester) person I do like some of their music, but it’s a bit alien to what I do – I don’t know, I’d have to think about it.
Haha, yeah I don’t think you’d be taking Oasis. Who do you think you would take then?
I don’t know, I mean… nah, I probably would actually! (laughs, as his manager brings in some Jaffa Cakes) Want a biscuit?
Ha, oh okay then… mmm Jaffa Cakes, once you have one you want more. So, out of all the places that you’ve relocated to so far in your career – London, New York, Berlin – which city do you feel you’ve clicked with the most? And do you feel that any city has had more of a significant influence on your outlook on music compared to the others?
Berlin, definitely Berlin.
Of course. You’re not still living there now are you?
I kind of live in-between. Berlin’s got a nice vibe. I mean it’s changed a lot over the last ten years. It’s just got more of an open vibe when it comes to electronic music.
In an interview last year, you said that you weren’t planning on releasing anything any time soon. Are you still adamant about keeping to that?
Yeah. Music, well the way I feel about it, has to be performed live to get the right ‘fuel’ going and everything. With a lot of the music I’m producing I can get the bass so clear and the highs so crisp that to actually find a medium to record it with… I guess with a digital medium, you could probably do it, but to reproduce the music now… well, it’s a lot trickier than it used to be.
Is it easier for anyone to be a producer now?
I mean, they should have a different name for it – if someone’s just cutting and pasting stuff together, it’s in-between DJing and production, but if you’re actually writing the music and engineering the sound, and building the sound, and always trying to push it further, then what you can actually achieve in a studio is pretty amazing nowadays.
It’s possible to produce the same thing live at a gig, but you really have to communicate with the sound to the people in the club, and then to be honest there’s a lot of things that they take for granted, they’re used to people just turning up with a computer and pressing play, playing music that’s already been pre-mastered and stuff like that, and has a very low range of dynamics to it. I love to have a really wide range of dynamics, but for that to be controlled in a live environment, someone has to be in front of a desk, monitoring what’s going on all the time, so if they want to go off and have a drink it wouldn’t really be possible!
Essentially, I’m working the whole time I’m doing a gig, but everybody else is having a good time, so it’s a bit weird. I prefer just being in the studio to playing out live actually, and I like making music live in the studio, so I’m trying find a situation in which I can do that. It’s hard to record that kind of performance onto a medium, and it’s hard to actually bring that performance into a club. I’ve spoken with, say, Tony Andrews from Funktion-One for example, and he totally agrees with what I’m saying, and most of the time that I’m playing, I’m playing through his speakers. But in a lot of the clubs these days people mistake playing live for DJing.
Seeing as you’ve had a very long-lasting career as a DJ and producer, have you ever been tempted to run classes or scholarship programmes similar to the one Zed Bias has recently started doing? Last year he announced he was retiring from DJing, and he’s now running a scholarship at Manchester Midi School – he’s got a scholarship there that runs all year and he’s basically in charge of it – marking and evaluating end of year coursework which come in the form of tracks…it’s quite an interesting idea, and I’m not aware of any other DJs and producers that are doing something along those lines. Do you feel that you’re always wanting to offer pearls of wisdom or advice to younger producers?
I’ve done some work with this Berlin music school called DVS, and in Plymouth too, and every now and again I do something with Red Bull, but like my kind of ‘curriculum’, for want of a better word, is more left-of-centre than business-minded like.. you know, I’ve got my own sort of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry type way of working (laughs) which I don’t know if it would really work for popular music or institutions. I’ve got my theories and stuff, but I don’t shout loud enough for them to actually work in the mainstream, so I’d like to keep them to myself.
Basically at DVS it’s based around creativity and freedom, but also at the same time I’m trying to encourage artists to recognise their value and not sell their property to every individual here and there, to sign contracts and to basically be as independent as possible for as long as possible. Today they’ve got all the tools, whereas in the ’80s and ’90s, there were all these infrastructures, all these things like record companies basically keeping the artist down, holding us as slaves , but now you’ve actually got the freedom to start your own label – basically, it was unheard of in the ’80s and some of the earlier ’90s for me to make a track in my bedroom, and have it played on the other side of the planet. Something as simple as that now was unthinkable. It’s a big deal really. And that was why I signed to a record label, there was no other reason – I didn’t want anything financial from them, or fame, or whatever, I just wanted my music to be played on the other side of the planet, and that was the deal that I did.
I’m sure you have a pretty expansive record collection – to say the least – and god forbid if your house ever caught fire, but if it did and you could only rescue three records what would they be?
Well, the thing is, I’m a technology lover more, so I’m a little bit cold about that. I grew up with records all my life, and something that happened to me in the mid-eighties was when I had turntables and used to invite my friends over…we’d spend days cutting and scratching, so we’ve seen records as tools more than as pieces of treasure. We used to just throw them around and break them and stuff.
I see, that’s a really interesting relationship you had with your records, because nowadays I know that most people are quite the opposite…
Haha, yeah I mean we all have images of granddad in his cardigan dusting his old records off and putting them on the gramophone and stuff. Back in the ’80s though I was more interested in plugging in my synthesiser and making my own music.
So, in that case, what equipment would you rescue?
TR-808 drum machines, just because there’s only been how many made? (pauses)… 12,000 made. So if you don’t have one, then… yeah – I’d rescue the TR-808 drum machine.
[Author: Sofia Leadbetter/ Photos: Matt Williamson]