I log onto Zoom, the saviour of so many and the source of meme material and infamy for parish church committees over the last year or so… it doesn’t work.
Well, Mercury is in retrograde I joke, although I’m deadly serious.
Thankfully I’ve been given Gerald’s Whatsapp number in an earlier correspondence so I call him up and there he is.
He looks lean around the face, happy and in shape, whips of grey are visible in the hair but it’s mostly hidden and I am distracted by a huge smile anyway.
I’m a huge fan of Gerald and Acid House, so I’m a little nervous. The man on the other end of the line feels like a friend immediately, so I simply address him in such a manner.
“Hi Gerald, how are you today?”
“I’m great, I’m In Croatia, just played a small festival here. I’ve decided to stay on a while as it’s so beautiful and all I have to look forward to is a lockdown if I return”
“Of course, you’ll have to quarantine when you get back to UK”
“Yes, exactly. I’m here staying with friends. I much prefer it that way, connecting with people and seeing the sights. I am happier getting shown around the place by people I know and not really down with the in and out in 24 hours thing. It’s beautiful here”
“So, what’s this festival you were playing?”
“Noise Test is a locals only festival, limited to 1000, it’s outdoor and completely compliant with all covid restrictions.”
The Croatian government have given the go ahead to events with less than 1000 in attendance and state they are happy to refund anyone who cannot attend due to covid. They did the same last year to great success.
I immediately question “why the hell can’t it be like this everywhere?”
“Are there any other big names there at all?”
“No none at all. It’s all locals in attendance and locals playing the music. There are no other DJs or acts you will have heard of. No one is travelling there. It’s very contained and safe. It’s great, a welcome break. I don’t miss the travelling. My equipment getting damaged and all that”
"What equipment are you using these days? Do you still use 808s and analogue machinery?"
“No, not at all. I haven’t used analogue machinery since the start of the 90s. My modus operandi has always been pro-tech, using the latest gear and technology available. I’m future techno, always have been. I moved to digital in the 90s with Akai Samplers and the like. I used to play in Eastern Bloc on Saturday afternoons doing live stuff and showing the youth and anyone else who was interested, how to use the equipment. I’ve always been generous and giving with my knowledge. I wanted to show every man and his dog House Music”
Eastern Bloc was established in 1985 by John Berry and Martin Price of 808 State.
Gerald’s influence becomes even more apparent when he explains how he showed Mike Pickering (Hacienda Nude Night DJ) how to operate the gear, allowing him to set up his band T-Coy and draw worldwide attention to the city and its club life on what was then the dawn of the Madchester scene and the start of influencing the world, with records such as the North compilation springing to mind. A golden era and one which I was lucky to have experienced myself. Travelling down from Scotland to attend these clubs and after parties.
“OK, so we are here today to discuss your latest project which is a re-release of a 5-track ep you did in collaboration with the author, Trevor Miller?"
His book is called Trip City as is the ep. It is due to be re-released (both book and vinyl) by Velocity Press out of the UK.
Velocity Press have been responsible for releasing the most interesting and informative factual and biographical books from the era, such as 'Join the Future, Long Relationships, Who Say Reload? State of Bass' and 'The Secret DJ Book Two'.
“I’d like to focus on the music Gerald. I’m a writer myself but I think we should really be discussing music and not literature”
Laughs again - ”Yeah”.
“So, with this book collaboration. Did you read the book before you made the music? Did the writing influence you in any way with what you produced?”
“Oh yeah, I mean Trevor specifically asked me at the time to make some tracks to go with his book.“
There were very few books, if any, like it around at the time. The acid house scene was still in full swing. It was the second summer of love and no one had really stopped to look around and see what was happening, let alone write about it.
“I got the manuscript off Trevor, the book wasn’t out yet, I read bits of it and made music to go with what I’d read. I wouldn’t say I read the book and sound-tracked it. I read bits of the book which got me thinking and feeling and then went ahead and made the music. So, I’d have to say the book did influence the sounds. It’s what I was asked to do and I thought it was a really interesting concept and collaboration”
"Is that how things were back then? Was there a lot of collaborating going on at the time? I mean, in Manchester, was the scene a unified one with people helping each other out, or was it rivalrous?"
A huge smile crosses his face.
“I just wanted to show every man and his dog how to make acid house music. I just wanted to show them all how to link up a 303 and an 808 and make a tune. For me I was interested in schooling people and showing them how these fascinating machines worked. I really wanted everyone to know and spread the word as much as I could. wherever I went but there were soon many issues that came up and I ended up in court fighting two court cases”
"I’m presuming this is the infamous 808 State thing and Voodoo Ray?"
“Yes, I was in court fighting 808 state and Rham records all through 1989.”
"When you look back on that era, when TRIP CITY first came out, are those happy feelings you have?"
“Well, 1989 was kinda weird. I felt like there was loads going on but I was missing it. I was living in a squat in the crescent flats in Hulme Manchester. I was number 12 in the charts and I was fighting 2 court cases. I knew all this scene going on around me but I felt like I was missing out on it all. Those days were a steady stream of interviews and recording and travel and shows. I felt like the whole thing was bypassing me and I was missing all the fun”
I remember those squats and the Kitchen in Hulme in particular. I used to end up there after nights out at the Hacienda and Konspiracy. The Kitchen was mad and comparable to the Twilight Zone through in Chapeltown which had a young DJ called Ease aka Nightmares On Wax. These were basically blues parties, like shebeens that had converted to House Music and techno.
“Yeah, The Kitchen was great, that was Jamie’s flat from Jam MC’s. He started throwing do’s in it and then the whole thing blew up and he was running a night basically."
It seems quite obvious by Gerald’s demeanour that these are fondly remembered moments in his life.
“I was l working back then, you know, holding down jobs to get money.”
"Yes, I remember hearing 'Voodoo Ray' getting played on Radio 1 and Mike Read saying you were working in a McDonalds."
“Yeah, I worked in McDonalds for years. Then one day it just got like the place was absolutely mobbed. All these ravers and fans and music and media were coming in. it was chaos. McDonalds told me they had to let me go. There I was at number 12 in the charts, but squatting, getting ripped off by Rham Records and 808 State, trying to do the right thing and work hard - and they sacked me.”
"You mean the place was mobbed with fans when you were working?"
“Well, yeah, it was too much, absolute chaos. People climbing on the chairs and tables. You can imagine what it was like at the time. This fresh wave of enthusiasm to a level that had never been experienced before. The whole scene had blown up quickly and everyone was going mental - but I was just trying to make ends meet and they wouldn’t let me”
"So, you were getting ripped off by Rham Records for Voodoo Ray and 808 State were riding high in the charts with a song you had written?"
“Yes exactly, Me and Graham had went into Spirit Studios in Manchester and just started recording. We did an albums worth of material together He was on some music course at college and got to use the studios through the night. It happens a lot these days. Colleges allow bands to practice etc but back then it was unusual. I had my 808 and I knew how to work the synths and stuff, Graham was in an indie band called “Biting Tongues” and had no connection to electronic music whatsoever. We recorded all these tracks, then I went off and had to be this pop star, which I never wanted to be. I’ve never been into that. I just wanted everyone to know how to work the machines and I was all about showing them the ropes. I had been heavily immersed in it, fascinated by it since 1982. It was Planet Rock that turned me on. I just wanted to make stuff like that”
"So, Bambatta and Arthur Baker was your introduction to electronic music?"
“Yes, very much so, and scratching.”
"Scratching? You mean with 1200 technics?"
“Yeah. Grandmaster DST was scratching on Herbie Hancock’s track Rocket and I was gripped. My mum had an Arista stereo and I went to A1 Music store in Manchester and bought a second hand 808. I took it home and plugged it into the Arista headphone socket and started scratching and cutting up records over the 808 beats.”
"How was your mum about it?"
“Oh, she didn’t mind the noise at all, she was very cool about it. It was like sampling really, I’d play bits of records and make noises by scratching them. The whole thing was influenced by DST and Malcolm Mclaren and Buffalo girls. All that scratching’s making me itch. I wanted to know how to do that. It was fresh and exciting and not many others were into it. I remember hearing New Order’s Confusion and the Detroit and Chicago stuff came along and I was heavily influenced by that too. That was the music I wanted to make.”
"So, it was the Americans who influenced you more than the Sheffield sounds from just across the Pennines?"
“Yes. it was totally Transmat and Metroplex and KMS at the time. The artists all had pseudonyms, there were very few records coming out. They were all made by the same people. The whole scene was tiny. No one took electronic music seriously at the time”
Going back to the Trip City ep. Listening back to it, there is a darkness that is prevalent and goes hand in hand with how I remember Acid House being. So many paint pictures of loved up hug fests, everything happy and smiley, but my recollections of the Acid House scene at the time were very different. Sure, the football violence calmed right down but they were still pretty scary individuals. My earliest memories of the scene were very intense, edgy and basic back rooms, boxing clubs and the like, with hardened criminals and some very serious looking people. It was scary even.
You had to be on your game and being locked in these rooms with these people could be intimidating and daunting to say the least. Dark foreboding basslines, hard grooves with no escape and ominous sounds on top, a million miles from candy-flipping strawberry fields and Carly Simon records, which were getting rinsed in Ibiza and in Southern Clubs around London.
“Yes, it was exactly like that. The squats were kinda lawless and many of the people at the parties were from the dark side”
"Did you make the music on the EP to reflect that darkness? Was the music made to show that or did it come from within? Was that the kind of music you felt compelled to make or was it a reflection of the scene and a response to the heavy nature of things around the clubs and parties? Especially with regard to the 'Trip City' EP."
“Oh, it was definitely my own music that I was compelled to make. It wasn’t influenced by the scene. That was the music I wanted to make. Those were the sounds coming out of Detroit at the time and that was where I was looking for the new stuff. I was first blown away by Planet Rock in 1982”
The influence Planet Rock had on Gerald is clearly outlined as he mentions the track 4 times during the phone call.
“After Planet Rock, I just wanted to know and understand more about synths and how they work. I heard New Order's 'Confusion' and was into Jean Michel Jarre and anything with synths in it, basically. I wanted to get under the bonnet and into the engine room. I wanted to learn how to operate and make these sounds”
So, with the influence of Planet Rock having been clearly defined and the craving for understanding the operational side of things, I am reminded of the Dub producers in Jamaica and London. Were they an influence, too?
“Oh yeah, Scientist, King Tubby etc. I was fascinated by the process. I wouldn’t say I was interested in making that kind of music but I was completely into how they did it. I was intrigued by the building of sound systems and how they made the noises and created the dub elements. I was into twisting stuff and figuring out how the sound was built. It inspired me, along with any synth music at the time really, to do my own things. At the time the focus was on the dancers and not the DJs. The main thing people went to the clubs for, what they wanted to see, were the dance troops battling. We would have crews from all the cities in the North on the floor busting moves. The focus was on them and not the DJ. I was into making music that kept the groove, making music for these dancers. They needed a constant groove, much like the hip hop dudes in the States, lifting the breakdowns and rhythm sections from classic tracks and playing two copies back to back, just looping the groove over and over. The energy was on the floor, there was no focus on the DJs at all.”
Great, not like today then. Today’s DJs stand with their hands in the air on stages and with big screens behind them showing them to the crowd.
“It wasn’t like that at all. It was a shared communal experience based around the dancefloor. The energy and vibe were intense. 1985 was my Summer of Love. I was laying down the tracks and the crews were dancing to them”
The music on the Trip City EP is relentless groove. There are no break downs or drops, just an undeniable dance beat, which goes on forever without any stops. The tracks coming out today mostly have break downs and build ups, drops and sections which show the crowd when to dance and what to do. It’s like wait for it, wait for it…..OK NOW!
“Yeah. A lot of the new stuff is up and down, it’s not adventurous. I think people dance differently these days too. Knowing there will be sections in songs and it’s all very machine like. I was about the machines and what they could do. You are a conduit for these machines. They provide the blank canvas and you have to fill it with with your own personality. I remember this guy I knew getting Cubase back in the day. He got a doorstop thick manual and studied it page by page, the whole manual and then went on to show off what he now knew about midi and the like. He sounded like a machine. There was no element of it that sounded human. It was the machines making the music and not him. It’s much better to make the machinery mimic humans and not the other way round.
I was doing my thing in Manchester. There was a lot of electronic music around. Just the house and acid stuff was fresh and using synths. I wasn’t ahead with the use of synths in music. I was just the one showing everyone in Manchester how to do it and many went on to become very successful”
This seems to be the perfect time to bring up the moot point of 'Voodoo Ray' and 'Pacific State' again. To discuss the business side of things.
"What exactly went down with 'Voodoo Ray'? You have been very vocal in recent months about never making a penny from the track. To most it’s an unbelievable state of affairs. 'Voodoo Ray' ranks high amongst almost any DJ of the era. It is a definitive house track and one which pushed the new sounds to the public and catalysed the mass shift to house and electronic music in general in the charts and on television."
“OK, well Rham Records put out Voodoo Ray and claimed all the profits. They never paid me a penny. There were a few bands on their roster, specifically KMFDM, at the time, but there were many more, who were all getting ripped off by Rham. They took my music and intellectual property and image and made it their meal ticket. Eventually, by about 1992 I had lawyers who were more effective and closed them down. It was at this point I signed for Sony but I didn’t want them to be releasing the old Voodoo Ray stuff. I had moved on and was making jungle under the Juice Boy moniker. I never wanted to be a pop star so I stuck to what I was doing at the time and the whole thing was kinda forgotten about. Fast Forward to 2019 and Rham Records re-emerges. The guy running it wasn’t the old boss, he was only an assistant back then. All of a sudden, all my music, image and intellectual property was being released on Spotify and the like and this guy was making money using my name, without giving me a penny. It’s just gobsmacking how someone can walk in off the street and take your identity and product. The people looking after the artists are generally very slow on the pick-up. The corporations like Spotify and Soundcloud were miles ahead. I mean the PRS and PLC were totally lagging in technology and what they could do. Spotify and Soundcloud could mute your track being played on the radio. They were technically advanced. A lot of the companies looking after me and my music were still trying to pay me by cheque!”
"It’s unbelievable to think such influential tracks were written by you and make you no money."
This opens the door to the new approach Gerald has adopted. Far from sitting on his hands and watching his name and music be ripped off, he has made bold steps forward in the way his music is to be released in the future. He spends the next ten minutes explaining to me how it will be done.
“I went down the rabbit hole. The future is blockchain. I’m not talking about cyber currency, Bitcoin and the like. I’m talking about using blockchain to secure, distribute and micro manage my own career. It’s a mechanism being used by some small countries now. It’s the best invention this millennium has thrown up. Blockchain will be running countries within the next ten years. Bitcoin and cyber currency were great in 2010, 2014 and even up to 2017 but things that are popular reach breaking points and never magnify fully into society. They get overran and taken over by shifty shysters. Blockchain is the perfect tool for managing your musical career. It has been on my mind since 1997 and the dawn of the internet. I always think ahead and back then I remember thinking it would be nice to sell my music via the internet and in a blockchain manner, avoiding the middle men and the rip off merchants. I’m working with a software developer just now to develop an intelligent database which allows me to distribute and where and when I do it. It’s an ideal situation. The weak spot has always been protecting the music and its distribution. Blockchain gives you that protection. You know the details of the payments and the plays the track is getting. It’s a one stop shop, which allows you complete control of your intellectual property. You can tell how often a track is being played, how long it is played for and who is playing it. You see clearly the details of payment. This is the way the world will be.”
I think about my own writing career and the effortless ways of self-publishing my books that have been presented by Amazon. The company has so much bad press that is completely deserved but the one avenue they have facilitated is the release of writing.
Previously I needed three books written and an agent to even approach a publisher. It took 5 years to write my first book. That’s 15 years before submission and then it will only get released if other people like it. Amazon allows me to print my book one copy at a time and sell when one is bought. No need to have a thousand copies printed and end up in debt, panicking and worried about recouping on my writing.
Gerald pays total attention and agrees.
“I had to make demos to get my music to the record companies. That involved studio time and DAT and Tascam reels. It all cost money. The music industry worked in almost the exact same manner. You needed money to get a record out and when you did it could put you in debt. People today find that hard to believe. It so easy these days. You record the thing at home on your computer and send it off to hundreds of labels or whatnot at the touch of a button. You don’t even leave your house. I have bright hope for the future and look forward to taking control”
DJ Dribbler was one of the four DJs at Edinburgh clubland institution “Pure”. He was Orbital’s tour DJ during the mid to late 90s and has since continued to DJ all over the world. He most recently held a residency on Amsterdam’s Red Light Radio for four years. He has written two novels. The 2019 cult classic Harry’s Kebabs and the follow up sequel “The Take Away” due to be self-published on Amazon on July 7th 2021. Buy Harry’s Kebabs HERE.
Contribute to A Guy Called Gerald’s lawyer and legal fees as he fights for the rights to Voodoo Ray on his crowdfunder HERE.
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