Freaked out by the photocopier? Frightened of the fax machine? Fascinated by both? Don’t worry, our relationship with technology is necessarily double-edged – and it’s this crucial ambivalence which is central to the sounds that have SIMON REYNOLDS in a lather.
TECHNOLOGY promises “total control'”. But there’s a deadly ambiguity here: who’s the controller, who’s controlled? Technology serves the secret agenda of corporations and government agencies as easily as it empowers individuals and facilitates resistance. When it comes to state-of-the-art gadgetry, we’re all potentially in the position of Gene Hackman’s surveillance expert in The Conversation, f***ed over by the very machinery at which he’s a virtuoso.
Jungle — the most relentlessly digitalized musk on the planet — grasps the double-edged sword of technology with both hands. Jungle oscillates between auto-erotic fantasies of man-machine omnipotence and paranoid anxiety about the invasive, manipulating capacity of technology. In the junglist imagination, technology figures as both orgasmatron (a pleasuredome of artificially-induced sensations) and panopticon (the terror-dome in which every individual is constantly under authority’s punitive gaze).
With Black Secret Technology, Gerald Simpson puts an Afro-futurist spin on this technophile/technophobe ambivalence. The title aligns Gerald with the black science-fiction tradition that runs from Sun Ra, P Funk and Lee Perry, through Afrika Bambaataa and Derrick May, to Goldie and Jeff Mills. Gerald’s music actually sounds like a virtual jungle, a data scape environment that’s sensorily intoxicating yet teeming with threat. Breakbeats coil and writhe like serpents, samples morph and dematerialise like fever-dream hallucinations, itchy’n’scratchy blips of texture/rhythm dart and hover like dragonflies. This could be heaven, this could be hell… either way, this jungle is a terrain where the natives, the tech-savvy, have the advantage.
Black Secret Technology divides into fairly distinct utopian/dystopian sides. First, sheer bliss; the mellow jazz-goo of ‘Darker Than I Should Be’, the lover’s rock idyll of ‘Finley’s Rainbow (Slow Motion Mix)’, the mystic vapours of ‘The Nile’. ‘Energy’ hymns neurological overload, oozing druggy textures and angelic voices over a bassline as stealthy and spring-heeled as a panther. ‘Silent Cry’ is even better its music box chimes, bittersweet vocals and sombre synths instil a mood of piercing poignancy, like Aphex gone junglist.
Then darkness falls. On ‘Cybergen’, the vocal samples are hideously twisted and extruded, like the human soul bent out of shape by the technology driven pressures of the late 20th Century. Kicking off with “You’re gonna be a bad muthaf***er” (sampled from Robocop) and named after a sub-machine gun, ‘Gloktrak’ is Gerald’s most brutally disorienting track to date: eerie, almost MBV-like drone-swathes waver and contort over squelchy blocs of Cubist rhythms and a pressure drop bass-lunge so stomach-jolting it’ll have your lunch leaping out to greet the daylight.
Finally, ‘Voodoo Rage’ junglizes the aciiied-tribal anthem that made Gerald famous. The “Oooh-oooh-oooh” chant of the original is relocated to a dense thicket of slimy poly rhythms. Juxtaposed with torturously timestretched vocals, the chant’s ’89 rapture contrasts with the absolutely 1995 tension-and-dread of its new context: it figures as a tantalising echo of the communal release and Utopian dreams that rave culture once offered, but that are now long lost.
Black Secret Technology is all about the danger of bliss and the bliss of danger. Emotionally (narcosis vs vigilance) and sonically (melting ambient vs jagged drum and bass), Gerald’s music embodies the contradiction of the present.
It is absolutely NOW, absolutely essential.
© Simon Reynolds, Melody Maker, 18 February 1995