The dance eras of England through the eighties, nineties and noughties are periods characterised by genre morphing: electro; house; acid house; reggae; funk; later injected with derivatives like the forgotten dub and jungle styles. Scratch the surface on these times and you will likely discover at the centre one man, an omnipresent force perched in readiness for transmuting the next wave of sounds at each critical juncture – A Guy Called Gerald. The moniker belongs to Gerald Simpson, a fifty-two year old Jamaican born, Manchester-rooted music producer. He settled on the title from his bedroom in the early eighties when he was starting out with electronic pioneers 808 State and, its stuck. Celebrating 30 years in an industry he seems conflicted to feel love for there is no doubt that Simpson is more than just a ‘DJ’. He’s a testimony to how sustainable art can be when innovation is continuously at the heart of its creation. As early as the mid- 80s he stood out as a taste-maker touted as introducing tribal reggae, fusion and funk to the nu-wave and rave dance-hall moment that was Manchester’s Hacienda Nightclub synonymous with this era, thanks largely to the success of single: Voodoo Ray. Decades later Simpson continues to thrive. Originality is at the forefront of his mind and appears the key to success where many copy-cats abound.
“Everyone is searching for the next big thing, once that happens groups of people are interested in that thing whether it’s style or whatever – people will jump on it.”
Speaking to Cyclic from Detroit where he’s been based for about a month, it’s mid-to-late evening for Simpson and his gravelly British accented tone hints at being a tinge on the weary side. The night prior was spent in Washington performing a live show and he’s currently recording with a varied team of bass and horn players, drummers, and a producer, culminating in what he considers to be: ‘an interesting little vibe’. Saxophonic jazz and bossanova notes heard faintly in the background of a room adjacent to where he’s set up in his temporary apartment cum studio digs punctuate the pauses between us.
“That’s a pattern (I think anyway) since the early 90s. You had DJ culture growing, music being accessible, equipment becoming easier to use and cheaper so it was faster to produce and then a stalemate occurred.”
He’s recollecting as if it was yesterday on a time where Simpson’s most indelible music was at its height – Black Secret Technology (1995). This album is heralded by some critics as being the creme of what was a short run and bygone era: jungle. According to Simpson the conditions for jungle to manifest – the ‘most unique music made in a long time’ were due to the socio-political climate stifling creativity in England at the time.
“You had these plates of culture, Jungle for example, that grew through pirate radio stations, and underground clubs/producers who had no interest in any big financial things, or at least they didn’t have access to that world, so they were challenging each other. Like studios would do battles and a culture plate grew, within a system.”
Nine album releases, a slew of singles and some impressive remixes for artists including The Stone Roses, Finley Quaye, New Order, David Bowie and The Orb as well as countless live shows Simpson continues to maintain his penchant for bringing the ‘true school’ (his take on original, pure dance music) to the masses. His dedication to producing and, belief in: freedom music providing his motivation. The freedom principle underpinning his career from the outset, that and his discovery instinct.
“When I was a teenager not wanting to be stuck in the world of pop, I thought I’d discovered a new type of jazz, but actually it was jazz-fusion from the early 70s and at the same time we were all listening to reggae, dub, retro funk, and within those walls I sort of discovered freedom.”
Of course times and technology have progressed, the advent of the Internet has by Simpson’s own observation altered the landscape and he speaks with disappointment for the artist at the detriment that monetisation of music has resulted in and reinforces his firmly held view that retention and ownership of intellectual property is paramount to securing any musician’s livelihood.
“It’s for me so much talent that gets abused by the system. In Detroit I see so many musicians – you need to protect yourself when it comes to your creation. Somewhere somebody sees what you do and wants to make something of it, and at the same time they have no intention of bringing you in on the thing, no intention to pay you labour, it’s an illegal situation, but in the music industry it’s almost as if it’s acceptable.”
While he’s mindful of the impact digitisation has had to his industry Simpson appears to sit at all times slightly ahead of the bell curve, a spot where he remains most confident and comfortable. Applying the lens of innovation allows him the freedom to continue to make music the way he wants to as well as to be the trendmaker rather than the follower.
“It feels like there is an underground scene where freedom is at the core but everyone’s been dragged into this Boiler Room culture where you’re encouraged to dance like this and do this like that, and what started up as “Freedom Music”, now it’s becoming even worse than what it was before because of the Internet …everything seeps into one pot and there isn’t so much individual culture these days, so it becomes homogeneous. Music is actually a celebration of freedom and something that is homogenic is the opposite of freedom.”
This walking to the beat of his own drum isn’t a new thing obviously but it creates space for creativity to develop. And A Guy Call Gerald is always ideating on where to next.
“I’ve not been releasing music, because everything you release, gets bootlegged.
I would prefer to go somewhere and perform that music that I’ve been working on,” he says pensively.
And as he prepares for a berth in Sydney’s 2019 Vivid Program: Studio Party he contemplates what that performance might be. One idea he’s got on the boil is to translate the concept of the live cooking show – ‘an open kitchen’.
“You’ve got the chef cooking the food, chopping up the beats, throwing into the pots, dancing away. That sounds like something that’s not been done so much or ever before. Taking the actual studio into the club but not putting it on the pedestal and away from the crowd but to have it in a circle and me be running around like a mad man, making the music.
See A Guy Called Gerald fire up the cook top in his five hour Studio Party extravaganza on Saturday May 25th part of Vivid.