Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Intersection: A Guy Called Gerald

Gerald Simpson (aka A Guy Called Gerald) (turntables, electronics; b. 1967)

Over the last couple of months I've been listening to a lot of different things. I think I needed a small break from jazz and decided to go re-discover one of my previous loves of the last two decades--Gerald Simpson (aka A Guy Called Gerald).

I met Gerald a couple of times in the earlier nineties in Detroit. No - we are not good friends or even friends. It was just a casual meeting and me asking a couple silly "oh my god I'm you're biggest fan" type questions. But he was incredilbly humble and generous with the time he spent with this bloke your reading right now. And for that I am eternally grateful.

In the '80s and early '90s the dance scene in both the US and Europe was dominated by a group of DJ/Musicians from Detroit named, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, Juan Atkins and Richard Davis (the latter two were part of the influential technofunk group Cybotron). Their unique blend of futuristic beats and bombastic bass lines had a profound effect on Gerald Simpson as an up and coming DJ/Musician. Simpson would later join forces with a few members from his hometown of Manchester, England to form the early incarnation of the techno band 808 State. Simpson was responsible for the band's first big hit "Pacific State." After creative differences forced Simpson from the band, he went on to perform under the name A Guy Called Gerald.

At this point Gerald had already developed the signature sound that has made him one of the most well known and revered DJ's in the world. His sound is rough, rugged and raw. It is techno at its primitive and embryonic, but yet most inventive. He is almost single-handily responsible for creating the Acid House scene in the UK during the 80s. In 1989 Gerald produced his highly influential single "Voodoo Ray", a house track that would reverberate around the globe. It was filled with the electro-funk vibe of Chicago and Detroit but had a distinct UK/European flavour.

Gerald would go on to record his first studio album Hot Lemonade (Rham Records; 1989) which embodied a street-wise, emotion filled love of Chicago/Detroit soul and electro. The clicks and blips and blinding speed all with a calculated rhythm made it one of the most unique and original albums of 1989 (along with fellow Manchester indie band The Stone Roses debut). Hot Lemonade would become and still is one of the benchmarks of UK/European dance music--a big shadow that even one of my other favourites The Orb can't overtake.

Filled with deep mechanical movements, rich in texture such as "Rhythm Of Life," "Radio Active" and "K9" Hot Lemonade moves up and dance scales like a massive club night out. And Hot Lemonade never really lets you go even at its closing interval of "Tranquility On Phobos." This is a landmark and must have record for definitely any fan of dance music but also a good lesson for fans of music history. It has since become extremely hard to find but it is worth every penny of what you might pay for it. Gerald does sell it on his own site for a reasonable price so check there first.

AGCG would go on to record his second album, Automanik (Sony; 1990) which had advanced his lyrical and technology scope. There were more tracks with guest vocals but it was still rich in the electronic vibe with deep bass syncopation. The title track was an updated version of an earlier demo done during his days with 808 State. Don't think because this album came out on a major label that Gerald succumbed to the pressure of becoming famous. By far the contrary. Automanik featured some soulful trance like tracks including "Electric Emotions," "FX," another haunting reminder of his influence on 808 State with "Subscape" and a funkier version of "Voodoo Ray" entitled "Voodoo Ray America".

After disagreements with the label on creative direction, Gerald left Sony and began to work on his own again. He established his own label, Juicebox, for remix material of other, as well as his own, stuff. In 1992, he released 28 Gun Bad Boy, which many now site as one of the original "jungle" (sub-genre of house music) albums. It contain a dazzling mixture of dark, dense hip hop beats and drum n' bass as evident of the title track. The album unfortunately was in limited quantity and now practically impossible to find but yet again showed how far advanced Gerald's thinking was in terms of dance music (update: Now available on iTunes). Jungle and Drum n' Bass were styles years from emerging from the underground.

Gerald returned in 1995 with an even more ambitious offering, Black Street Technology (Juicebox). Black Street Technology is built around sparse patterns and some great ethereal soundscapes and little swathes of drum n' bass. It's not as in your face as the previous albums but it stands out because of its slightly midtempo range. Don't get me wrong, there is still allot to dance to here but its much more subtle than previously mentioned albums. Tracks like "Finlay's Rainbow," "Dreaming Of You," and "So Many Dreams" make this a wonderful journey into sound.

In 2000 and 2004, Gerald released two terrific albums for Brooklyn based K7! Records, Essence and To All Things What They Need. Both albums contained Gerald's unique and quite recognizable vision. The difference here was a real emphasis on song structure and vocal accompaniment. Fans of Massive Attack might enjoy these two releases the best. They are probably the most accessible and closely related to some of the more chill out releases that most listeners would be familiar with. Tracks like "Humanity," and "Universal Spirit," with some beautiful and haunting lyrics from Louise Rhodes and Wendy Page respectively, highlight the incredibly lush and deconstructive Essence release. While To All Things... included the crystallised poetry of Philadelphia native Ursula Rucker and an almost unrecognizable Finley Quaye on "Strangest Changes". Both Essence and To All Things What They Need are also the most readily available AGCG albums but definitely the most accessible for the un-initiated.

At this point Gerald began to simultaneously work both online and offline. He began uploading unreleased material from his two decades plus recording career on his own site A Guy Called Gerald, meanwhile releasing two amazingly deep techno records for German label Laboratory Instinct, Proto Acid (2006) and Tronic Jazz (2010). These are much more underground than any of his albums to date and reflect a far reaching vision that many artists are nowhere near yet achieving. These albums and some of the material he is releasing on his site are hypnotic and turn ambient and electronica on its head. One of my favourite pieces from his site is "Relax Into Your Flight". It is exactly what it says, a 58 minute piece designed to make your flight a little more tolerable.

I've been a massive fan of Gerald Simpson for over 20 years and he is one of the few artists today that I don't hesitate to pick up an album. Now you may not be a big fan of dance music but in the history of the modern dance/electronic music almost every DJ/Musician owes everything to A Guy Called Gerald. Here's to re-discovery.

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