A Guy Called Gerald may be best known for his groundbreaking records from the late ’80s and early ’90s, including 1995’s Black Secret Technology (one of FACT’s very favourite albums of the ’90s), but middle age hasn’t prevented him from remaining active.
Last year Gerald reunited with his former partner in 808 State, Graham Massey, for a series of live shows, while he continues to release semi-regular records from his base in Berlin. Last year, he made the headlines with an open letter to Deadmau5 which referred to the big room superstar as a “greedy rat-head fuck”. Ahead of his appearance at Another Party’s November 1 event at Pulse, London, FACT caught up with Gerald to talk about the potential of an 808 studio reunion, the new artists he takes inspiration from (spoiler: none of them) and why he’s still an old school b-boy at heart.
In recent years your music’s been quite tight – quite Berlin, I guess – but last year you got back together with Graham Massey for live analogue shows. Were you missing that kind of hands on, unpredictable feel that you get from live improvisation?
No, it’s just I had to basically show people how we started 25 years ago. There’s a lot of people who actually have no concept of the beginning of dance music in the ’80s so I thought it would be good to show them how it started and then maybe they could kind of jigsaw everything together to see how it’s developed. People usually just get a point of view from the DJ.
I don’t think my music is very Berlin. Technically Berlin music is shy of melody, more industrial and DJ / programmer oriented. You’d really need to come and see me do a live gig to understand what it’s about. There was a Boiler Room session, which was basically just a bite of what I do.
Is it something that the two of you want to take into the studio?
I think it’s possible there could be a project but it would have to be coordinated and I’m planning something anyway for the new year – recording in this way – to show people [the] differences and similarities between 25 years ago and programming now.
Last year, you set out a manifesto for “the original art form of electronic dance music production”. Do you think that most people, in this age of EDM and what not, are missing the point?
Definitely. The problem actually starts at the root in the production side of things. It’s become easier to create loops and beats and I feel a lot of people start by DJing and actually need music and beats that are easy for them to DJ with. So I feel a lot of musicality disappeared or is hidden under an avalanche of new music. It’s morphed into something else. As with all art forms, it’s moved away from its original situation.
The ideas moved towards the situation where the people who are spearheading this EDM have very little interest in the actual technology or production of their own art. They employ people usually to make the music for them. The original idea came from a DIY situation where people would build their own music.
You still have a regular live schedule, how often do you perform with people who inspire you – the ones that make you think ‘right, that’s how it should be’? Any recent examples?
I rarely perform with people who inspire me. The last time was in Detroit at the DEMF when Juan Atkins put on a party in his loft.
The UK underground seems to be taking more inspiration from jungle and hardcore than it has for a while: acts like Paul Woolford’s Special Request, Tessela, etc. What about those guys? Do you keep up on that stuff?
Not really. I’m always in motion and I’ve not been in the same places.
OK, then what about hip-hop? You’ve put out a couple of laid back rap mixes in recent years, do you still take much inspiration from new hip-hop? Or are you strictly old school?
I’m an old school b-boy when it breaks down to it. As with all genres, the music has been filtered and morphed into something that is more commercially viable than what it originally came from. So, put it this way, by the time NWA started, I’d already left the building. I’m still influenced by hip hop or electro funk from the early ’80s. I see that as a unique form of inspiration.
I always approach music from the engineering side of things. If I don’t hear anything in a piece of music that sounds like it has been crafted in the studio where it sounds like something unique then I automatically shut off. I’m not looking at the next big hit, I’m looking at new forms of making electronic music. A see a lot of hip-hop today as just preset hit loops. In fact, because of the technology, a lot of electronic music can just be cut, edited and pasted. There are more DJs than there are experimental electronic artists, so you are going to get more cut and paste hit loops than more experimental music – it’s natural. When artists have a love for something and are creating – their initial goal isn’t trying to create an instant hit but during the early 90’s a tribe of people evolved called the ‘remixers’ who would look for popular artists to bring them into the mainstream. This is now an integral part of popular music culture and has basically warped what used to be an experimental open field.
Do you regret that open letter to Deadmau5 a couple of years back? Have you played any festivals with him since?
No, I don’t regret it. I doubt that I would ever be asked to play at a pop festival. I’m more underground, always have been. I’m from a different type of background.
Catch A Guy Called Gerald with Tevo Howard and more at Another Party this weekend in London. More details and tickets here.