A Guy Called Gerald

From the genesis of acid house to the heart of jungle you’ll find the musical finger prints of electronic pioneer A Guy Called Gerald. We quizzed him on Voodoo Ray, the health of dance music and why he’s trying to make sure creators get what’s owed to them…

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 16 Jan 2014
  • min read
Take a glance at any account of the history of electronic music and you’ll find the name A Guy Called Gerald.

It’s certainly true that without this innovator, digital beats as we now know them would probably look and sound very different.

So why is Gerald held in such reverence?  He’s well known for kicking off the acid house frenzy back at the tail end of the eighties with his timeless records Voodoo Ray and Pacific State (as part of 808 State).

But fast forward 25 years and nine albums and you’ll see the trail of a producer who has had constantly had a hand in shaping electronica's trajectory. A series of releases on his Juice Box label helped create the blueprint for jungle and d’n’b while he’s continued to deliver blistering live sets across the globe at the likes of Bloc and Berlin’s Berghain. He may have got older but he’s lost none of his creative fire.

M quizzed him about Voodoo Ray, the health of dance music and why he’s working harder than ever to ensure creators get the money owed to them…

Can you remember the first records which made you want to make music?

It was a track by Afrika Bambaataa produced by Arthur Baker - Renegades of Funk. It made me want to get a drum machine. I was a teenager - it was like ‘85. I wanted to make music before but didn’t realise how easy it would have been if I had the right equipment.

How did you first start making beats?

I had an Amstrad stack system. It had a double tape thing on it so I recorded on to that. A bass guitar and a Boss drum machine. A really basic machine. That was it really.

Where were you finding inspiration at the time?

It was just the music. I didn’t know anything about the music makers themselves or how they were doing it. But it was jazz, funk and reggae. I got this DIY attitude from hanging out with people who built soundsystems.

Voodoo Ray is seen as an iconic record - did you feel like you had a hit on your hands while writing it?   

I was always into whatever was opposite to pop music. I was trying to escape it. Pop music was the cheesiest thing in the 80s. When I was at school, I was listening to a jazz fusion band called Return to Forever at the same time as other people were listening to Agadoo.

Voodoo Ray was never meant to be a hit or a pop record. That’s the curse of it. You know you try and get away from it. Which is what I would advise for anyone else. If it wasn’t for the greed of the people at the record label, you would never have heard of it. I was happy to just do music and listen to it myself.

Did Voodoo Ray stand out from the rest of your songs at the time?

Not really! The thing is I work now with young people to figure out where they’re at musically and there have been so many layers of people saying you have to do this or sound like this, you’ve got layers and layers of bullshit to wade through.

You just need to be yourself and not give a shit about anybody else. If you do that, you’ll find you’ll slide through the bullshit. Voodoo Ray was an accident but that’s the way to do it. Be yourself. Even if there are 20 million people being themselves, you’ll find everything that you need in a truthful musical representation of you. If you do this and don’t get anywhere then do something else. You know what I mean? It’s that simple.

What’s been keeping you busy over the last six months?

I’ve been trying to develop a programme or algorithm that will help you accurately find your music when used online. It’ll give you a correct representation of how much a file is downloaded, streamed and how much it earns you. I’m doing it because publishers are just not being accurate enough.

At the end of the day, my concern is for the musicians. The people who are creating the jobs for these labels and publishers. As one of these people who’s been messed with in a way by the publishers and labels, I feel it’s my duty to help out producers. I don’t want them to become uninspired and disappear because some of them make really great music. I don’t want an artist to be bitter because there’s some bloke sat in an office somewhere combing his pony tail.

So new producers need to consider the business side of things more?  

That’s how these people have managed to sneak in. It’s been the story since day one. The template was probably created at the time of the Beatles. At the end of the day you don’t need someone sitting there counting the money for you.

It’s the classic music business thing to do. Keep the artist hungry, you get beautiful music. My goal is to make sure that the artist is totally clear to what they’re due and the wool isn’t pulled over their eyes.

What are your thoughts on the current health of electronic music?

There’s a lot of new music but it’s harder now to find exciting stuff. Everyone is making music in a similar way. If I was a new producer with balls, I’d choose to go down a different route. But everybody is using the same software. It’s creating a musically dead end street.

It’s like how you had this thing with scratch DJs years ago where the actual art of scratching became a sport rather than something which would make you dance. It killed what is was originally all about. The thing for me was the break dancing. But that died because there was nothing to dance to.

There was an energy of individualism back in the 80s which is lacking now. There’s not much of it around. For me it’s killing the music. Maybe I’m trapped in a groundhog day and somewhere and out there, there are a million people using different software and a million dancers pulling out a million different moves. But from where I am, it’s looking like an army of dancers all wearing the same uniform.

What else are you working on musically?

I’m going to India in February to clean out a bit, then I’m going to start Juice Box again. We’re gonna have a mixture of music and genre and I’m gonna try and push that out later in 2014.