Picking up where we left off in part one (click here to read), here’s part two of our ORIGINALS interview with the legendary A Guy Called Gerald.
Here, we discuss the unusual vocal origins of rave classic Voodoo Ray, his decision to do things his own way with his Juice Box label, and the shifting sands of music technology.
But without further ado, it’s over to you, Gerald…. 🙂
Q. You first got into production in the mid-80s. Who were your influences at the time?
I was influenced by a lot of different things back then – new wave, electro, what New Order were doing. I remember getting a hold of the Arthur Baker mix of Confusion, and that was off the hook for me at the time. There was so much in it.
I would try to emulate it, using foot pedals to cue the different parts of the drum machine, but as I would listen to it, I realised he had all the parts separated, and was able to use different effects on different parts of the track. That was a learning curve for me.
Q. Did that help you when you first set foot in a professional studio?
It was almost like I had the instruction already. I would tell the engineer to mix down tracks onto one track, like I was still working with a four track recorder, bouncing and overdubbing and all that. But with a 16-track mixer, it was endless what you could do.
I probably acted like a caveman at the time. I never had enough plug sockets at home, so when I went into the studio, I would tie all these wires together and try to get them to plug into one socket. It must have freaked out the engineer, but for me it was just a normal thing.
The first studio I think I set foot in was in Hulme. It was called The Kitchen, which was run by a guy called Jamie – it was really interesting to watch how he used the sampler. Computers were rare in those days, and the sampler was the brand new thing.
Q. On the subject of samples, a lot has been spoken in the past about the vocal sample used in Voodoo Ray – that it was taken from a Derek & Clive comedy record by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. What was the story behind that?
I had an old case of records that I would do some routine scratching on, and I was always trying to find a ‘theme’ for my tracks – I would build an instrumental, and try to develop a theme around it.
The Derek & Clive sample came from that approach. It was a recording of two people taking the piss, but there was a small part of it that I thought I could turn into a sort of ‘chant’.
The drums on Voodoo Ray sounded like they were set in the jungle, so I thought it would be really cool if I could work this ‘voodoo’ theme into it.
Q. Voodoo Ray was quite influenced by Chicago and Detroit, wasn’t it?
I was listening to a lot of Chicago and Detroit stuff back then, and I wanted to create a similar vibe; something like The Sound by Kevin Saunderson.
In my mind I thought that there were millions of people out there in Chicago and Detroit making music and trying new things – I had never been there, so I thought the scene there was much bigger than it was.
At the same time, I was coming at it from the angle of a dancer; harnessing the energy that was in the clubs in Manchester.
There is a whole mixture of influences in Voodoo Ray, but at the same time I wanted to create something that was unique. With the jazz thing, everyone had their own style, and you could borrow from what people had done before, but you had to create your own unique style.
In hip hop culture, if you took someone else’s thing, you were a ‘biter’; it would indicate a lack of imagination, and it’s something I wanted to avoid.. I would never use the presets on a synthesiser, for example.
Q. Within a year of Voodoo Ray you had released your debut album, Hot Lemonade, you had recorded a Peel Session, you had co-produced Pacific State alongside 808 State. It was a busy period for you?
There were lots of things happening at the same time, and I found the studio was more like a home to me. I remember going to Spirit Studios with Graham Massey of 808 State, and we would spend something like three days in there, experimenting with things.
I had no other commitments at the time, other than my part time job in McDonald’s.
Q. After the release of your second album, Automanikk, in 1990, you launched the Juice Box label, giving you better control over the medium through which you could release your music. Why did you decide to do things your own way?
I was working Sony Records, and I realised that it was a case of having to ‘dance to the piper’s tune‘. I would never have the chance to be myself. I was starting to experiment with breakbeats, and it was impossible to do that working for a major label.
Dubplates were also starting to happen at the time – I loved the idea of going into a place with a DAT tape and getting it cut straight onto the disc, and then handing it to the DJs waiting in the reception area. You could get the stuff out there straight away. It was like the MP3 of the time.
I tried to show that to the people at Sony and they took offence. One of the things that was in my contract was that I was ‘not able to distribute the master copy of my works’ to anyone else, so I came to realise that they were just a big machine, which had no place for dance music.
They didn’t understand how the system worked; they were too big, and they had too many rules and regulations. I had no choice but to do my own thing, which led to the formation of Juice Box.
Q. That gave you the opportunity to start experimenting with the emerging jungle/drum ‘n’ bass sound?
It did. I remember I put together a breakbeat track, and Goldie listened to it, and told me to chat to the guys at Reinforced Records, who were doing something similar.
I realised that there were lots of people out there with the same way of thinking; we were discovering the same sounds at the same time, and wondering what we could do with them. We weren’t sitting in the studio, away from the world, we were down on the street.
Things were moving fast – it was a real embryonic period. While the big labels like Sony were moving really slowly, new styles would come along on an almost week-to-week basis.
Q. It must be really interesting for you to listen back to the tracks you made around that time; that you can trace the moment when drum ‘n’ bass started to emerge?
When I listen back, it’s like a diary of technology. At one point, we are creating certain sounds, and you can tell the moment that we move onto something else. There’s a change in the production methods.
Black Secret Technology was an example of that – trying to push something forward that was melodic and rhythmic, and deeply embedded in the technology of the period.
Q. Why do you think so many people are fascinated by how dance music was created back then – there was a rawness to the production methods that is difficult to emulate?
For a lot of people, if they were around at the time, they didn’t have the equipment. Now, because you have more technology, things are more inclined to be over-produced.
So many of effects now are ultra-clean and can be ultra-worked out, so when producers listen to the early tracks, they wonder how the hell they made it sound so raw. Back then, we were using distortion pedals, all sorts of things.
With something like jungle, a lot of the early stuff wasn’t quantised, so it was really difficult for DJs. Everything was recorded with live drums, so you had to ‘ride’ the track, set the tempo and hope to stay in sync. With the later tracks, things are very much locked into place.
Q. We’re seeing a rise in ‘cloned’ analogue equipment, and Roland recently re-issued a new edition of the TB-303, TR-909 et al. Why do you think this is?
Younger people were basically born into a computer, and everything they know comes from that. After a while, they start breaking away from that, and want a mixing console and an old-school analogue set up.
Whereas for us, we always were travelling forward, embracing the latest technology as it came available.