|An Interview With A Guy Called Gerald|
|This Greedy Pig
12th October 2015
Few artists speak as frankly as Gerald Simpson. Often when they do they are misunderstood, or for whatever reason misinterpreted. For some this can lead to catastrophic, career ending consequences but with almost thirty years of experience in music, A Guy Called Gerald’s sincere approach is founded on real life instances that have shaped his standpoint, refreshingly affording him a statesman like comfort to say pretty much anything he wants.
Growing up in 1970’s Manchester, Gerald was surrounded by music. As a hip-hop and electro fan he gravitated toward electronic music and as a producer in the 80’s he observed the steady public rejoinder to house and techno. An early forbearer of ‘Acid House’ he rejected its contemptible commercialisation in the early 90’s and played more than a contributory role in a new strain of electronic music that was announcing itself to the world.
Experiencing a degree of commercial chart success with the now legendary ‘Voodoo Ray’, Gerald avoided fame’s most obvious trappings, opting to concentrate on his studio work and articulate himself further with the launch of ‘Juice Box’, his own record label. Throughout the 1990’s, the label festooned its listeners with the mutable sounds of Breaks, Jungle and Drum and Bass at a time when fervour was most needed. The underground was refreshing it’s palette and saccharin tastes were giving over to more savoury studio processes. However, Gerald has never been one to rely on the herd for direction. His self styled stubbornness continues to guide him and releases still forth come today.
A man who has seen all that there is to see in dance music. A ‘dancer’ and a futurist, there are few that have imprinted so profoundly that continue to share their story, adding further episodes as they go.
TGP: Can you tell us a little bit about Manchester in the 1970’s, growing up there and the music you were exposed to as a child?
AGCG: It was like a fish in water. Music was everyday and all day. All different types of music. We had the radio on, a guitar, a piano, my mum and dad’s records and Sundays was church day where there’d be a live jam. That’s just what people did. The church was where I first seen a band with a drummer, bass player, guitar and singer.
If you wanted to stay out of trouble, music was an escape and I don’t just mean trouble on the streets. It calmed me down. I suppose part of the curriculum of the youth in my area was that we would go through some sort of juvenile sentencing at some point and luckily I clung to the music really hard. There was a lot of times where I could get into some serious trouble, but I was in the music. At the time I was 8 or 9, I beat a kid over the head with a toy gun. After that I felt a little bit of compassion and it was due to music. When I was younger I felt absolutely no compassion at all. I started chopping another kid in the head with a roof slate because he was picking on my brother and I had to leave the school. I’d forgotten about this until recently. Before music I was into carnage like ighting fires, looking for things to destroy, blowing cars up, burning down houses, churches, schools. If I think back, something would have happened if I hadn’t been distracted by music. It must have been the feeling of it. It made me feel free.
You know It must have been a relief for my mum. She must have been aware of the danger more than I was. She bought us a piano, a guitar and we could make as much noise as possible and if there was music on the TV she would turn it up and encourage us to watch it. Back then we didn’t have all these genres and we used to jam along with any kind of music with the piano and guitar. We were surrounded by black music in all forms. It was all the time black people that live in a ghetto do not just “discover” music. When you wake up in the morning you don’t have a coffee, you have music. Whatever it was, we were listening to it. But black music pricked my ears up because it was 95% of the music I heard.
How did those sounds influence the music you began making in the 80’s?
So the music I began making in the 80s was a reflection of everything I went through in the 70’s as a nipper. By the 80’s I was mature enough to know that I needed my own dance moves so I didn’t want to follow anybody else or anybody else’s style or fashion. Luckily I grew up with a parent who was very encouraging. She was nurturing me to be a person, an individual. She never encouraged us to hang out with other people so I was pretty much a loner and enjoyed it too.
By '82/83 I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do with music. I was also heavily into electronics, machinery and the future. By '85 I discovered how to actually produce my own music because I built my first studio. In '86 I bought my first drum machine/sequencer and in '88 I produced records and in '92 I built my first professional studio.
The music I made in the 80s was shaped by not only the sounds but the entire environment. A young brain in a post-industrial city with everything broken around you, you pride yourself on fixing things and making something out of nothing. The whole time, even until today, I’m not looking at influences in a way of replicating. That is what it seems like today. Influence seems to mean replicate.
How did the social setting in the 70’s go on to influence the cultural revolution of the late 80’s and early 90’s?
Look I can only speak for myself. The 70s for me was about hacking. Life was a hack. In the ghetto you had to hack life just to get by. Some people took drugs, some people had to work so hard they did not know what day it was just to feed their families. Some people invented their own realities to get through. You would call those people artists, I suppose. Hack something together to focus your head to get away from something you can’t help being in.
By the time it got to '82 I already had an idea of what I wanted to do. But there was no finance, and no way of doing it. It seemed impossible. But because I just didn’t want to end up working in some shitty factory, the drive just got stronger and stronger. I could see how I was going to be abused. Because I had the time to think, I could see what the future held for me or didn’t hold. Even the school was pushing us to work in factories or menial jobs. At one point I went to try to sign on to the dole and they asked me what career I wanted. When I said to them music I remember the guy behind the counter laughing at me. By then I already had my own studio at home which I managed to piece together. I said to myself he hasn’t got a clue. I could see clearly that that system was meant to drag us down. Those people and their attitudes were part of the problem of this country. There was no encouragement whatsoever, they just wanted to fill a few slots. After seeing this I had no time at all for anything that distracted me from my goal, which I achieved in 1995 when I made Black Secret Technology.
The mid 80s was full of cheesy, cheap pop music that had come about because the synths were cheaper to manufacture I guess. There was a lot of post-punk people trying to find the next new thing at the time.
I don’t want to mention names but Stock, Aitken and Waterman had this one formula, which was finding someone who was already popular, making a track and pushing it into the charts. I don’t know how it worked but they did it. I was a million miles away from this. I was immerged in jazz and electro funk and the new black music coming out of the USA. That's what kept me interested in what was out there and inspired me in the studio. That feeling of jazz is the spirit that I took on. With that I got myself down in electronic music. I was more of a dancer but the spirit of jazz helped me with electronic music. By 1990 I had heard more than enough crossovers between house and pop music to make me want to move towards breakbeats.
Your name is synonymous with ‘Acid House’ but in previous interviews I’ve read you have distanced yourself from the ‘Acid House’ scene. Can you tell about your vision for the music you were making then and where the disconnect lies from a scene that brought you acclaim and success?
At the start of the 90s the only thing I was hearing was the squelchy 303 sound and they even had their own logo now, the smiley face. This was five or six years after acid house first came out of Chicago and in the UK they tried to own it. Very few people were talking about the legacy the US artists had made and I wasn't happy. Many of these artists were put in a back room to produce remixes of popular UK artists.
I had made the first UK acid house in 1987, released in 1988 but I was never part of the UK Acid House scene as such. I had no interest nor do I have any interest now in popular music. I was working with a record label who had interest in popular music due to its financial rewards I suppose. Due to my lack of interest in it at this time and the corrupt actions of the people I was working with, I had no incentive to be connected to this scene. There was no financial success. It just felt like the UK music industry was rinsing and taking advantage of us.
At the time the success I was having was touring the USA which I did from 1989–1991. “Blow Your House Down” the B-side to Voodoo Ray was more popular in Detroit. I missed all the “acid house revolution”. When I came back to the UK to get back into the studio it was 1991 and I already had moved into the jungle chopping up beats moving with the technology. I’d heard one too many, what I would call, pseudo acid house tunes.
Less is written about your jungle and breaks career. Your label ‘Juice Box’ went a long way to promulgate that sound at a time when it was creeping its way onto many dancefloors in the UK particularly. What encouraged you to take things in that direction?
It was a way to get rid of a load of stress, to put it loosely.
Can you describe those fledgling years in jungle music and how the culture surrounding it differed to other electronic music scenes at the time?
I can only describe my experience. I decided that I wanted to make a harder style of music than I was making. I purposely wanted to do that so I could get some stuff off my chest without damaging anybody.
You see, Manchester had taken a turn for the worse too. A lot of my friends were dabbling or dealing in firearms and a lot of them were being killed. It was a point where I really had to fight with my morals and jungle helped me through that period of time. The jungle culture is more organic. It grew not out of what people were wearing or saying, more out of the gelling of different urban inner city cultures. You had reggae mixed with post-punk and some other little bits and pieces. We all grew up hearing a very unique environment and this music is 100% a reflection of this environment. It was the multi-minorities coming together.
Your song, ‘Darker Than I Should Be’ is pretty close to perfect in my opinion. For those who are not well versed in your breaks output, where would you recommend that people start when starting delving into your back catalogue?
Digital Bad Boy was the first Juice Box track. Start with that.
You have tasted commercial success with 808 State and also as a solo artist. How did that erstwhile approval go on to affect your music making in later years?
Well, if I was to sit back and rest on these tracks then I would feel like giving up. They were the first tracks I made in an outside recording studio. The approval didn’t affect my music making because music making is the approval. I'm not a DJ. If you see something that was built that you know has shaky legs, would you jump on? I can see the fakeness in a lot of dance music. When I say “fakeness” most of it is not built to make me feel like dancing. I can’t see the reason that I would want to put a lot of energy into that. A lot of that music never gave me inspiration to want to go on. To move forward as an individual, I have to look at a lot of other music.
Without that success, where do you think you would be now?
In the studio, where I am anyway. I am a stubborn bastard.
Why do you think that house music of the late eighties capture the public’s collective imagination and in the pre-Essential Mix era, did you ever think that the music you were making for pirate radio would ever be broadcast on mainstream outlets such as the BBC?
House music became big because the mainstream were all caning it. The drugs and the music came hand in hand. A lot of people didn’t know house music without drugs. There was no way the public was listening to black music before they were caning it. I wasn’t involved so much in that scene. I was too busy working my bollocks off.
In the scene that I grew up in, the music alone made us high. I can hear one bar of one those tracks and I get goose pimples. Dance music was massive in the underground before the explosion in mainstream in the late eighties. Electro-funk, funk, reggae, house and acid house. So when I look back now and I think do these people get goose pimples? I think maybe a lot of their influence is coming from ecstacy.
But John Peel was playing my first tracks and I was invited for two Peel Sessions, so the BBC played my music from the start. It wasn’t just mindless squelching with the DJ with their hands in the air, it was serious urban music creation. It was modelled for urban, inner city listening and dancing.
Your first album, ‘Hot Lemonade’ which was released in 1988 displays the molecular make up for L.S.D. on the cover. At a time when that drug and its associations with sub culture in the UK was receiving a lot of negative attention in the press, what was your thinking behind that statement and how influential have narcotics been in your music making career?
The guy who owned Rham Records designed the cover. I had nothing to do with it. This is not the molecular structure for LSD. At the time, I had no idea about acid. When I say I was outside of this system, I mean I did not get involved in the mainstream of anything. I didn’t watch TV or read newspapers. I was only interested in music and dancing.
You have spoken about early hip hop and its influence on you. Is hip hop still something you keep close to your heart?
I love early hip hop, but it’s interesting to see the way that it’s shaped western society since the ending of the last century. It’s not something that I would call central in my inspiration or thinking anymore. Hip hop has become a cartoon of itself and mainstream dance music is following a trend down that road.
You have described yourself as a ‘futurist’. Can you tell us what that terms means to you personally and how important it is to you as an artist?
Music can be very influential in shaping future generations. Most nations are shaped by some sort of music, and most religions have music at their base. I think our future may not seem like it at the moment because it is so throw away but I feel the future lies heavily on music.
Personally futurism it means an escape from the everyday mundane existence and a promise of new horizons that we can all shape. The future is fresh, it’s always unspoilt. Anything can happen. You can’t buy it. You can’t put a price on it and you can’t steal it. It’s always going to be the future. Because I’m not 100% a part of society, I have the luxury of going there whenever I want.
Finally, on notes of the future; what is on the horizon for you in the near / middle distance?
I can’t tell you because it’s the future and it’s private.
[Author: Anthony Mooney]