Published Jan 01, 2006Drum & bass is dead. Sure, it still gets played at raves, but it no longer has the vital force of what it had five years ago when many of us were introduced to its dissonant pulse on A Guy Called Gerald's Black Secret Technology. Even the pioneer himself has abandoned the scene, fleeing his native England for a new residence in the United States. These days he's more interested in the sounds of the steel-pan drums being built by his Trinidadian neighbours than he is in the latest tempo changes on the dance floor. It's unlikely that you'll find a single steel-pan note being struck on his latest release, Essence, but the rhythms are rinsed out with a similar sense of melody and liveliness.
"With the last album," he explains, "I think I kind of exhausted the sampling and synthesis side of things without getting really ridiculous with it, and realised that I really love melodies with a sound that's organic and got a lot more feeling in it."
The album still retains signatures of Gerald's style time-stretched textures, epic soundscapes and erratic breakbeat deconstructions but this time with the added sound of his favourite new instrument: the human voice. With the pipes of Deee-lite's Lady Kier, Lamb's Louise Rhodes, songwriter Wendy Page and brother David Simpson in the spotlight of Gerald's mix, there's rarely an instrumental moment on Essence. As a result, the tracks stray away from straight-up dance and into the more introspective realms of This Mortal Coil-like ambient-folk ("Beaches & Deserts") and pre-Detroit techno-blues ("Could You Understand" and "Final Call"). The melodicism of Essence also comes from Gerald's preference for old school breaks and even classic MC samples. Despite being unfashionable, they harken back to what was, for Gerald, the essence of breakbeat culture.
"The thing is," he explains, "in '91 and '92, drum & bass started off with melodies, with Nicholette and Shut Up and Dance. [There are] these kids who think I'm really unfashionable using these old breaks, but they're the crowd at the clubs staring up at the DJs instead of dancing with a girl. They're the guys trainspotting and killing the vibe in the first place."