A Guy Called Gerald’s Geographical Experiment

MUSIC REVIEW by Tabe Bakker

Mp3s and other forms of digital music are not physical products. An mp3 can spread around the world just as quickly as a post on Instagram, whereas a piece of 12” vinyl can only travel as fast as whatever it is traveling in. In the late 80s and early 90s, you could only listen to music on physical carriers or on the radio, there was no Internet, no downloading, no Googling songs to listen to. Consequently, genres developed much more locally than now. Yes, there was the medium of radio to catch up with the newest tunes from other places, but before the internet, different places had distinct sounds. In cool Britannia, Manchester sounded way different than London, and London different from Liverpool. Scenes were much less connected, cities were small islands of different sounds, and the underground flourished. Without internet, development was bound to physical spaces.

Now normally, when I go to see an early influencer playing live, what I hear is a representation of such a time and place. I hear the sounds from a specific scene, influenced by local radio stations and import choices of record stores. When I go see Berlin techno, I can expect a trademark sound. But not with A Guy Called Gerald.

“Mix is not the right word, he played in-between. The stuff from when all the now separated and categorised genres were still one. Things I never imagined existed.”

It is hard to overstate the importance and influence of Gerald Simpson for the dance scene. When a presenter of a 2014 Berlin Boiler Room session introduced him, the presenter said that without Gerald, “most of us wouldn’t do what we do”. I am not anything near an expert on the history of dance music, but I knew that when I saw him live in De Helling (Utrecht hosts legends sometimes!), I wasn’t hearing one specific scene, but a hodgepodge of in-betweens. When Manchester-born A Guy Called Gerald’s dance anthem, Voodoo Ray, gained international acclaim in the dance capitals of the world, he toured around the States while continually making music. This time not armed with analogue drum computers and the likes, but with an Akai sampler, capturing the heart of those independent pre-Internet scenes with his machine.

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It is this very experiment, apart from the fun of seeing a legend, that made my trip to De Helling so interesting. Gerald started with well-categorizable and sometimes known music, but his sound later crossed all known boundaries. Mix is not the right word, he played in-between. The stuff from when all the now separated and categorized genres were still one. Things I never imagined existed, coming from somewhere between ambience, breakbeats, 808 kick drums, crazy Detroit techno and deep acid lines – tunes made with Roland equipment. Basslines and rave melody, somehow brought together in an aesthetic blueprint for what would later transform into Jungle and techno. Gerald’s tracks take the Jungle mesh of polyrhythms, cross-rhythms and counter-rhythms to levels of insane detail. It’s not hard to see how whole genres and generations of music culture spawned from this blueprint.

The interesting thing about seeing a Guy Called Gerald live, apart from the fun of seeing a legend, is that you see the course of a history playing right in front of you. All his sets have a different take on this history, not one performance is the same. An architect of genres, an influenced influencer, a great fucking DJ.

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