Gerald Donald is making something of a comeback this year, with a renewed vigour to his output, a number of remixes in the pipeline and a brand new Dopplereffekt release, all of which is pretty exciting news for Detroit electro fans.
With that in mind here’s a brief primer for the uninitiated on this man of many aliases, whose prolific output alongside his shadowy collaborators definitely ranks as some of the most profoundly fascinating electronic music ever committed to record, music built by design to weather the digital tsunami of the internet age.
Gerald came to prominence as a co-member of the legendary group Drexciya alongside collaborator and partner in crime, James Stinson. Drexciya were a prophetic and mysterious duo, whose collective work under numerous pseudonyms baffled and dazzled music fans for decades – their music continues to transcend any sense of time and space, and despite Stinson’s untimely death in the early noughties their music burns brighter than ever. Not the sort of band you can easily contextualise in a pithy paragraph, they were utterly averse to publicity, vastly prolific, fascinated by mythology, and crafted an alternative universe on record, with a narrative that reconceptualises Atlantis as an afro-futuristic space populated by an underwater race that are descended from slaves.
Associated with labels like Underground Resistance, Warp and Tresor, Drexciya were as playful as they were provocative, and their music flows freely like the water they referenced endlessly in their track titles. For more aquatic insights we recommend our Essential… guide to the group’s work; there’s also an excellent series of resissues on Clone records to delve into, and one of the rarest glimpses into Drexciyan mythology, the story of the “Seven Storms” in the form of this rare radio interview with James Stinson. And finally, for the ubergeek inclined, head to Drexciya Research Lab for the largest archive on the net.
In terms of isolating Gerald’s non-Drexciyan solo output, it’s hard to pinpoint precisely who did what and when, since like his partner James he favoured secrecy, abstraction, a plethora of aliases and the barest of details when it came to sleeve notes. Dopplereffekt is usually considered to be his solo project, though it has definitely included some other collaborators along the way.
The best-known Dopplereffekt work comes on the excellent Gesamtkunstwerk compilation on International Deejay Gigolos, which includes the enduring anthem ‘Infophysix’, below. Adorned with a communist sickle on the cover, and packed with diverse themes that include a mannequin sex fantasy, a reflective think-piece about porno and two tongue-in-cheek songs about the cheery topic of sterilization, this is playful, elegant music that references Gerald’s key fascinations – the transformative powers of technology, his love of the zeitgeist and pop culture, and the odd high brow reference point tossed in with a pinch of salt.
Technology and the zeitgeist form the key themes to Donald’s other aliases, Arpanet and Japanese Telecom, projects which perhaps are even more relevant in the internet and social media-addicted era of today than they were at the time of release in the early noughties. Rather like Stinson’s popular spin-off project The Other People Place, and echoing the ideas of his spiritual forefathers Kraftwerk, Gerald reflects on a society thriving on super fast connection speeds and disposable consumer electronics, but the contrasting, barren nature of his music reinforces the reverse effect, a sensation of isolation and solitude. Check out Arpanet’s ‘Wireless Internet’ below.
There’s more in the Gerald Donald discography that’s worthy of your ear time: the Der Zyklus project for one, and his work as Heinrich Mueller (yes, a reference to the infamous Gestapo commander, and have no fear, there’s no horrifying right-wing extremism to be found here), but we’ll leave you with his entertaining release for the spin off label Pornophonic Sound Disc under the name Glass Domain, a sung new-wave ditty that sounds remarkably fresh, considering it was recorded way back in 1991.
It’s not true to say Gerald has been inactive – recent outings have included an excellent collaborative 12” with DJ Stingray for We:Me records for example – but the prospect of a slew of new releases and remixes from this groundbreaking artist in 2013 is definitely worth getting excited about. (Of those, we’ve heard his remixes of Jeremiah R on the boutique London label Organic Analogue, which is superb, and watch out for his remix for John Talabot’s Hivern Discs, screaming on these pages soon).
Special thanks to Optigram & Videeo for the FACT checking.