If you talk to any dance music fan they’ll tell you that Gerald Simpson is much more than just some guy. As the entity behind the music rather the frontman, the influential DJ-producer explains that the no-frills name is perfectly apt. “The music originally was the total opposite of rock music which was about facing a person on a stage, my name was pretty suited to the scene when I first started,” he says in his ultra-laidback tone. Musing on how “rock’n’roll-ised” the dance scene has become he compares it to communists becoming capitalists. “Dance music was always about the dancefloor in the ’80s and this where I’m from. I never go to a club to watch a DJ and nor do I care how many decks he’s playing on or if he’s playing vinyl or mp3s. It’s a sorry state we’ve ended up in where people are actually complaining about the package and not the content.”
In a bleak and dreary pre-internet year known as 1988, A Guy Called Gerald kicked off his career with the impact of an atomic bomb. All listeners had to go by was the exotic yet inviting Voodoo Ray. There were no blogs or press photos to shed light on this mysterious figure. The innovator wouldn’t have it any other way. Making himself a household name in short order, he unknowingly became the godfather for acid house in his native Manchester, England. “I had no idea it would be a pivotal record,” Gerald says nonplussed. “It was made strictly for the underground black dance scene in Manchester.” As acid house crossed the pond from Chicago to the UK, Voodoo Ray earned the auspicious honour of being the UK’s first recognised acid house recording. “House music wasn’t ‘found’ in Ibiza by an E’d up bunch in ‘88,” he pointed out in a blog from earlier this year. For Gerald the genesis for everything traces back to the mid-’80s in Moss Side, the predominantly black community in Manchester where he earned his stripes. “This is the music we were listening to all our lives,” he says emphatically. “I didn’t ‘come up’ in it. This is all we had as entertainment. It was never a trend - it was a way of life. I didn’t need to look for dance music because it was all around my parents and their parent’s parents.” Even before the unadulterated energy of the parties in Moss Side, there was the music passed down by his parents, particularly of the Jamaican variety. “Reggae reminds me of still feeling my baby teeth coming through. It’s been with me all my life. My parents are Jamaican, I grew up in a Jamaican community.”
England’s typically trigger-happy media and politicians found a new horse to flog as acid house, or ‘rave music’, gained traction and moved further into the suburbs. Stories of overdoses and crazy warehouse parties flooded tabloids. Rather than dwelling on being a flagbearer for a frenzied movement with self-destructive tendencies he opted to be constructive. “I wasn’t DJing in those days, I was producing music and running the Juice Box label.” Ever the astute operator Gerald spent much of those halcyon days working on new sounds. His upbringing after all had morphed him into a man of many genres. Seemingly always ahead of the pack, the sound rebel found himself again playing the role of pioneer, helping sow the seeds of what would become jungle music. “I started to produce breakbeat jungle in 1991 and released my first jungle album [28 Gun Bad Boy] in 1992.” While maintaining the tribal, ritualistic energy of the cuts that made up 1989’s Hot Lemonade, Gerald’s new explorations such as Like A Drug andMoney Honey took things in a more frenetic and surreal direction. After serving his time with Sony Music he launched Juice Box Records, with 28 Gun Bad Boy serving as the first album release. DJs and aficionados the world over probably will fondly remember grabbing those big slabs of wax, known as records, being adorned with the Juice Box logo and slogan “taste the future”. The label’s name was a reference to his sounsystem crew with MC Tunes. Juice Box has been recognised by many as bridging the gap between rave and jungle music and setting the scene for what would become drum n bass. Gerald affirms however that jungle had been rocking the inner-city for some time and that rave was an approximation. “Rave was just a residue of jungle. Rave was something the foreigners got. Jungle was what we had in the inner-cities, jungle was on the pirate stations, jungle was how we communicated.” Essentially an extension of his reggae roots, jungle was a culture all unto itself.
As drum n bass became the buzz word in ’90s popular culture, Gerald for his audacious efforts was again identified as a pioneer of this ‘new’ genre. Another case of media and pop culture meddling in the underground, he muses that “jungle had to be watered down into drum n bass by the media because it was beginning to create a subculture, which you only have the residue of now in the UK.” Having a fear of a movement and trying to tame it is what the powers-that-be do best. As Gerald continued to prove though you can’t hold the energy back, it will just be manifested in new forms. After the more ambient, yet no less chaotic, sounds of 1995’s Black Secret Technology he continued to etch out an identity with Juice Box, releasing side-projects under the banners of Ricky Rouge and The KGB. Then there was the epic union with fellow dance music titan Goldie, under the group moniker the 2G’$. While sadly the epic tag team never recorded a full project together, at least we got two near-flawless anthems. In an interesting reversal, as the 2000s reared their head, the relatively reclusive Gerald began to spend more time innovating the dance scene in a live setting than in the studio. An open fan of software such as Reason, he says of his production style “I feel like it’s remained the same. I’ve always been interested in new technology and go with it. It opens up totally new dimensions in the music. There’s never been a better time than now in electronic music. The sky is literally the limit. The only thing we are lacking now is a few more producers with a bit of balls.” There are many in this era of airbrushed superstar DJs and calculated crossover attempts who would echo that sentiment.
Gerald’s reputation now precedes him and he has become what he never expected, a recognised brand name. Unlike some others however his brand stands for quality rather than bastardization. The raised awareness of A Guy Called Gerald with a new generation means that has had to hit the club circuit more than any other period in his career. “The tracks I’ve been producing for the past few years have been produced to play live in a club.” Rather than manipulating vinyl and utilising his record collection Gerald is now mutating live sound and drawing from a library of audio files. Divided into several categories he estimates having 80-100 specially produced files. “Each file consists of drums, strings, chord patterns, keyboards, sound effects and each file can be incorporated into any other file at any given time,” Gerald tells us excitedly. “Picture two studio recording desks, sitting side by side connected by a third mixer between and imagine each studio has endless possibilities and now imagine 20 years of studio experience and a dance heritage that goes back to the ’70s.” We get the picture: one veteran plus technology equals musical chaos. Obliterating the concept of the DJ, Gerald looks to craft experiences rather than just facilitate drunken limb-throwing. His live sets are a collision of world-travelled old school purity and expansive futuristic wizardry. Together the sides of his personality make for something both comforting and jarring, much like the aura he created with Voodoo Ray all those years ago.
Over 20-plus years and seemingly a million records later A Guy Called Gerald is still eschewing his low-key moniker, remaining a pivotal player on the electronic music landscape. “My music is the story of my life,” he offers succinctly. Forging into the New Year, the forward thinker has some big plans. “I am working on an experimental soundfield project which will be launched in London in 2012. And I’ve got a huge back catalogue of tracks unreleased that will be an ongoing exclusive series released via my website.” Over three years since his last trek down under Gerald is itching to return to Oz for the festival season. “I’m most interested in what Shine On’s sound system is going to sound like. Usually the biggest challenge for me is to get the technical people to grasp the concept that I am not DJing. Once we get over that hurdle everyone is going to have a good time, including me.”
A Guy Called Gerald [UK] plays Shine On alongside AlexKid [FRA], Dunkelbunt [AUT] and more at Pyrenees Ranges on Friday November 18 - 20.