A GUY CALLED GERALD with ADAM MARSHALL and MARIO J at Raw Space (221 Sterling, #5), Saturday (September 30). $20. www.tribemagazine.com. Rating: NNNNN
A Guy Called Gerald (aka Gerald Simpson) has already been a dance music pioneer twice in his life, first for helping define and launch the UK acid house craze with the massive hit Voodoo Ray in 1988, and then in the early 90s for helping give form to what would become drum 'n' bass.
And lest we forget, he also co-wrote 808 State's biggest crossover hit, Pacific 202.
Despite the impressive resumé, though, it's unlikely that many expected him to be blowing dancers' minds again in 2006, but that's just what's happening with the recently released Proto Acid: The Berlin Sessions (Laboratory Instinct).
The buzz is so big on this new chapter in Simpson's career that some have called it his best work yet, and to say that of someone who's played such a pivotal role in the past 20 years of dance music is particularly high praise. Proto Acid is even more striking because Simpson's last few albums weren't very impressive; for a while it looked like he was going to settle back into coffee-table techno land rather than reinvent himself with a collection of raw and intense dance-floor pounders.
As it turns out, listeners weren't the only ones underwhelmed by the dance pop direction he'd been going in. Simpson himself has admitted that his label at the time (K7) pressured him to pad his albums with celebrity guest vocalists, which led him to pare back the dance-floor elements to make room for pop ornamentation, and he wasn't particularly happy with the results either.
While living in Berlin, he started reworking the way he approached his craft. Scrapping the turntables, he began jamming on two computers and a DJ mixer, improvising live sets in his studio for a few friends. These grew into informal extended sessions in a tiny basement, sometimes stretching for eight hours at a time, one of which was recorded and turned into this album.
In some ways it feels like a DJ set, with the tracks blending into each other as a seamless mix, but the way it's constructed differs significantly not only from traditional mix compilations but also from the high-concept computer-aided mixes that artists like Richie Hawtin have been experimenting with in recent years. This isn't about chopping up other people's songs and reassembling them; it's a document of the artist jamming out his own unique grooves -- a snapshot of the studio process.
True, there's something decidedly retro about the sound, but it's more like an idealized reimagining of that past than a retreat to comfortable ground -- exactly what we should hope for from an innovator like Simpson.