According to LTW boss John Robb, there’s a new wave of drum-n-bass bubbling on the Manchester underground scene as I write this. What better way to spread the word with an interview from Moss Side’s finest Gerald Simpson, The Guy Called Gerald who created one of the finest Jungle / drum-n-bass albums on the planet; Black Secret Technology. First I go back in time with my original interview from way back in 1996 for now defunct Metropolis magazine pre internet days.
Old skool hero Gerald Simpson is alive and well and living in London. The Mancunian hero whose name should by rights be revered by anyone into any kind of contemporary dance music. A long long time ago Gerald was introduced to the 303 and never looked back.
“I was introduced to the 303 by Roger Lyons (Lionrock). I was hooked from then.”
And Gerald career went from there, from early roots with 808 State (witness New Build), through tracks like Born In The North, Hot Lemonade and most of all of course, the classic Voodoo Ray, a massive turning point for the acid house scene. It was the first massive British acid record, and anyone who was around Manchester at the time and ventured into The Thunderdome, Konspiracy or their ilk will tell you why. Nothing else touched it for sheer genius. Voodoo Ray was of it’s time perfectly.
Not everything was as rosy behind the scenes though. Gerald was getting virtually no money at the time. Despite his tune’s success, he was living on the breadline. He felt like Manchester was ignoring him, like he was left out of the clique. Gerald fell out with several would be managers and was left without anywhere to live at one point. He’d do a gig and the promoter would do a runner with the money.
“One time I was left without even the taxi fare home after”
And people wonder why he left the North! Anyway enough of that. Gerald eventually got round to recording Black Secret Technology, still one of the best Jungle/Drum-n-bass albums around. The album didn’t get promoted as a big thing, but anyone who’s heard it has been an instant convert, at least people I’ve spoken too. And how could people not be, with tracks like Finleys Rainbow and Cybergen, not forgetting the fuck me breakbeat on Life Unfolds His Mystery. The album did well in the end of year polls but didn’t go immediately overground in the way that Goldie or Alex Reece’s debut have done. Gerald says he doesn’t worry about this though, it gives him time to do his own thing on the Juicebox label without having to answer to pathetic majors who expect three albums then refuse to release them.
“I have the freedom to do what I want, and get treated with respect by the people around me. And now you’ve got another chance to get hold of it. Black Secret Technology is getting re-released because when it was recorded my state of mind was in turmoil, because of my move from Manchester to London.”
One person who heard the album and was an instant convert was David Bowie, who got on the phone straight away.
“It was quite a shock being rang by Bowie! I mean this guy’s been changing music every two or three years, but I was surprised he’d be in touch with Black Secret Technology”
They’ve been working on some material together but there are no definite plans yet… Sort it out! Gerald’s been busy with plenty of other projects too, remixing the likes of The Orb and Lamb whilst also working away on a new album, which if all goes according to plan, should be out some time in February, two months after the mid December re-release of Black Secret Technology. Gerald promises an album that’ll be harder with more vocals. He also stresses that it’ll be an album thing, not an excuse to release a shitload of singles. And whats more Gerald will be touring to support the release. Touring Britain isn’t something the mans previously been that keen on.
“I preferred Europe more than Britain, due to the way they responded to new stuff. The Jungle scene is becoming manic out there, and they fucking love it!”
Wayne Carey – Metropolis Magazine 1996.
“In my early 20’s I cast religion out of my system. This opened me up to an older natural path for me. Voodoo Ray was my “E.T. Phone Home”. Black Secret Technology was my answer.”
A Guy Called Gerald
24 years later I catch up with Gerald for a chat about what’s been going on since and what the future holds for his innovative music style.
LTW: Alright Gerald! It’s been 24 years since I last interviewed you. How’s it been going?
“Well, I went to New York then moved to Berlin, I ended up being there 10 years maybe more? I went there to get away from America. I wanted to make an album and it was like a German record label offering to release it. Berlin was really cheap and chilled, and three months in I met these people who had a new studio, then 10 years later I was still there.”
LTW: It’s the 25th anniversary of Black Secret Technology. What are your thoughts on it today?
“It was really different. At the time it was groundbreaking I suppose. I’d been experimenting a lot up until then. Technology was getting kind of interesting. I was kind of getting into imagining what it would be like with computers and communication.”
LTW: To me it was a groundbreaking piece of music. You veered off towards a techno sound after that. Was it just an experimental drum n bass phase?
“Well yeah, basically a lot of the sounds at the time were getting a bit harder on the jungle scene. I wanted to sound like, how I can say? More liquid. I came from the more acid house kind of vibe. It was more experimental I suppose. A lot of people were using samples. A lot of them came from the DJ world. I came from the studio world. Where they were coming up with samples, loops, that kind of thing. I was trying to push the sampler, look into the science of the loop. I wanted to push it as far as I could push it, doing something different that what had been done before. I kind of started doing that kind of style since 1992. I needed to be a little bit different from what was happening. I wanted to introduce a crossover between the human and machine. Take Cybergen. I was getting into computer games back then, addicted. Like now you get people who can’t stop looking at their Iphones. It was a similar thing. Like the words “Cybergen. A new drug.” It was like a liquid crystal that takes you outside your head, you know what I mean? Like an LCD screen. I was imagining it being something that would take you out of your reality.”
LTW: I’ve noticed you’ve been going live on Facebook lately and you can just see your arms and hands twiddling all the buttons. Is this a lockdown thing?
“Yeah, I’m trying to get together old and new stuff for live streaming. Things break down, it’s one thing after another. Where the studio is, there’s no time. People will tell me to try to schedule it, but then I’d have to record it. I like the feeling of it being live, so I’m sticking to my guns on that one.”
LTW: What’s your stance on BLM and what does it mean to you at the moment?
“Well there’s always been the violence and intimidation, like in New York when I was there. I’ve had incidents with the police a few times. Like for instance when I bought a bottle of Lucozade from a store. I was in the middle of nowhere. The police stopped me and said “put a brown paper bag over your drink” I said “It’s not alcohol” He said “Don’t answer me back” He took his baton out. “What are you saying?” he said. As soon as you answer them back they think it’s the start of a fight. I was like, this is crazy. He marched me to the shop. I got a bag and put it around my bottle, and now it looks like I’m drinking alcohol! Now I look like some seedy bloke who’s drinking from a brown paper bag. That was just one incident.”
“I was living in a dodgy part of Brooklyn. I was hanging with a drummer who had a beat up old car, and he drove me home one day. He parked up just outside the house, dropped me off and I was just about to go in. These four police cars pulled in. One of them got out and said “don’t move.” This was the day after a black guy got shot 21 times for going for his ID. I was like, fuck this, I’m not moving. So I’m stood there, all these cops in plain clothes saying “what are you doing in this building?” I wasn’t really living there so I said “I’m working there. I’ve got the keys in my pocket. I can open the door.” They said “You look like some guy from Brownsville” I said “Listen to my accent. Do you think I’m putting this on? I’m not even from here.” They kind of clicked and then they stopped. Before that they were trying to pin me for something that I wasn’t. I didn’t have any ID so I could have been the guy from Brownsville.”
“They don’t even believe anything you say because you’re black. Things haven’t changed. The New York District Attorney (Rudy Giuliani) at the time was going to give the police Dum Dum bullets. What happens when you use these, it creates more damage. It explodes in the body. His excuse to use these at the time was that they wouldn’t hit anyone else when fired. It was basically an excuse to destroy people. My experience at the time was, well I’m getting fatigue in New York and I need to leave. I didn’t leave there until 2002.”
LTW: “So you witnessed the 9/11 alleged terrorist attack?”
“It was really weird. They thought everyone was a terrorist. If you’re not American or patriotic you’re seen as the enemy. What I saw in real life was different to what people were seeing on TV. Where I saw the Twin Towers from my window, I saw a building on fire. The other building was just full of workers being told to get back to there desk. It was weird. I never saw any aeroplanes. I saw the building going down. Whatever happened they got away with it. I’ll tell you what, if you’ve watched a controlled explosion you’ll see the building come straight down. I wouldn’t have believed all that but I didn’t see any aeroplanes.”
“When I looked out of my kitchen window I saw fire coming out of the top of one of the buildings, some black smoke. My girlfriend was on the way to work. She was told to go back because the trains weren’t working. Whoever told her to turn back knew that the building was gonna go down. At the time it was just a fire on the top of one of the buildings. That was my New York experience.”
LTW: Do you miss Manchester?
“Do you know what? I’ve not been there for so long. I’ve been there visiting friends but the most I’ve been there is probably two days. I’m gonna have to come back there actually. I would love to do some music up there at some point. It’s just been so long. There are times when I’ve been hanging out in Dubai for say six weeks with friends. They’ve got an airport there where I can go from there to anywhere. Berlin was similar. You can travel anywhere from Berlin, same with London. I’d like to be somewhere near Manchester just outside. Somewhere north. Moss Side has changed. My family are still there. It would be interesting to check it out again. I remember Burley High (old school, now demolished). I’d love to see what that area is like now. It must be strange, really strange. I’d be lost. I wouldn’t know where I was.”
LTW: Anyway, enough of the doom and gloom. Any releases or albums planned for the future?
“I’m working on one at the moment actually. The concept is I’ll record it and stream it at the same time, then cut and record it in the place where you produce the vinyl. It will be streaming as it’s being cut, then actually produced. It shows how instant we are compared to what we used to be. Broadcasting something as it’s being recorded and cut. The music style is going to be different blends. It’s going to be a mixture of everything. Instead of having a publisher I have an IP manager. She’s a music lawyer but she knows IP. It could be the way forward for publishing. Artists are not connected to the financial part of their intellectual property which I think is a big problem. These companies take it for granted when they stream your stuff and you get paid pennies. Even if you’ve got a publishing deal, they’ll take a percentage of it, then there’s administration fees. They can invent how much is being used. I’ve had this experience with loads of different publishers for years. I’d warn any artist who wants to sign a deal to look at the small print. I didn’t get paid for Voodoo Ray for years, I’m now getting paid for it through trailing back. I could have just left it and I wouldn’t have been. If you make music you’re supposed to get paid for it. You sign things thinking everything’s gonna be alright, when the shit hit’s the fans they don’t give a shit. I’m sure I must sound like a conspiracy theorist.”
And so it goes. A great catch up from the man behind Voodoo Ray and one of the best drum n bass albums created Black Secret Technology. Dodgy cops, conspiracy theories, a new album recorded in a unique way coming soon. Gerald Simpson is still there on that cutting edge. We look forward to what’s coming next…
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Words by Wayne Carey who writes for Louder Than War. His author profile is here