All this is made possible by the Tel Aviv native's easy charm. When I arrive, he offers me a schnitzel—a holdover from his time in Berlin—and holds forth on Netanyahu, money and an idea for a zombie movie set in Ibiza. It was in LA that Gerber pulled together his Fabric 64 mix as well as 11 11, a collaborative album made with Puff Daddy. He's also produced tracks with Dixon and Miss Kittin over the past year or so, and he has a project with Matthew Dear in the works.
Gerber's happy-go-lucky demeanor belies a serious expertise with his kit. In particular, his ease with hardware compressors gives his productions a sense of space harkening back to the Martin Hannett-produced Joy Division records he name-checks. Gerber, who cut his teeth on guitar, stresses a desire to maintain a live feel in his production and seems to regard dance music as his second love after rock. His influences, coupled with his live approach to production, feel similar in spirit to DFA, though rather than a groundswell of support from Brooklyn hipsters, Gerber's rise came courtesy of mid-'00s hits on Bedrock and their attendant big-room caning. Though his studio is outfitted with an impressive array of hardware, especially for what amounts to a temporary (if very nice) space, you don't get the sense that Gerber toils over his productions alone for long stretches at a time. On the contrary, he finishes a track over the course of this interview, speaks of doing some of his best work while hosting afterhours parties and generally tries to maintain the vibe of a collegial band practice space.
Let's talk about your home studio. It sounds like when you jam, you set up a bunch of machines so everything's accessible. Is that how you work for the most part?
I actually read an amazing quote. I don't think it was Brian Eno—Brian Eno and his quotes. I read this beautiful quote…
Is it the quote about how composition is improvisation in slow motion?
Either you have a very organized mind—like maybe a scientist. Their minds are so organized that they can solve formulas within their mind, and all the information is organized and reachable at any point. Or you have bursts of genius—like, you're stupid all the time, and then all of a sudden you go, "Whoa," and something comes out of it. For me, I think the quote, I can't remember who said it, is first you shoot the arrow, and then you paint the target after it hits. It's more about trying to put yourself in a state of unconsciousness, and you just jam, and it's more like sculpture. When it feels right, it's the moment when you actually start to dance. You're alone, you know it's working, it's the moment you have goosebumps.
I think it's a problem all producers have—the biggest difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is meeting deadlines. And if I'm being honest, I'm not so good in the deadline. I think most people, they're mainly focusing on every detail, and they spend hours on the bass drum, and [think] that's how it should be done. The way I create—I just don't like to get bored, so if this sounds good for now, I'm not going to spend hours on it, I'm just going to move to the next thing. I just keep moving from one place to another. It's like a playground. I'm also a great believer that you should use everything that is [in the studio]. You know, these machines are great, this vintage stuff that people have and they never use. Just out of respect to the synth, I will find something for it.
I know the Juno-106 is a big instrument for you. You buy one in every city you stay in, is that correct? Was that one of the first synths you learned to program?
It's an extremely simple synth. It has a definite analog sound. When the resonance is open, and the cutoff is open, it still sounds kind of lush—not as lush as like a Juno-60, not as lush as a Jupiter-8, or let's say the [Yamaha] CS-80. With the Juno, the thing is, I don't have to think so much with it. Obviously I would prefer to have my studio everywhere, all my stuff. But since I can't, and I can't buy a Jupiter-8 wherever I go, I know easily, in a second, I can just create something with the Juno.
I'm curious to hear about this Studio Electronics Omega8. I hadn't seen this one before.
This one has a very CS-80l custom-made filter, and also an Oberheim emulator.
What time of the day do you normally like to work down here?
I would say I'm more of a nighttime person. And I would say that in the afternoon is kind of the moment where I'm starting to be normal. I get in early, but I don't feel it yet. I try, I try, I try, and I don't, and I keep trying, and it doesn't work. And at some point, I start to feel it. And when I feel it, I try not to stop. So I would say afternoon, and if I feel good, I usually just continue. Probably the best thing is to have some people in the studio. Because when you have some friend or some girls or some situations—when there is something happening around me, when it's not just me, I can do my thing.
[Gerber plays a track and triggers an effect on the AMS DMX 15-80S digital delay unit] Did you see what it does? How cool is that? Wow. This fucking machine.
The piano keyboard seems like a natural workspace for you. Did you have any formal training on the piano?
I used to play guitar. I was not trained, but a lot of the tracks have guitars.
I noticed that. A lot of your productions have bass or guitars.
Yes, and I love that stuff, and it just—yeah, it sounds fucking great.
Do you think the amount of outboard gear and compressors you use makes it easier for you to play tracks out immediately after they're finished? Are you doing premasters?
I actually don't look at it like this at all. It's more of a sound character that I'm looking for, because compression is not just to limit—it's also a musical tool. With most of this analog stuff, I have to say that most of the time when I'm sending to mastering, I would say 99% of the time, they just take the music and maximize the volume. And I think it's a shame, you know, because there's so many things you can do with equalizers and experiments. But they're just doing their job, because DJs, who are usually travelling—when you get the tracks back to listen to them, sometimes you just go with the flow. The mastering can be very creative. I mean, I'm not dissing all the people that do mastering—they're free to do what they want to do—I guess they want to satisfy the needs of the dance floor or something. But character is missing for me.
And that's what you're trying to get, like with actually playing instruments and analog gear on the music you're making in the studio.
Yeah, it's a big thing. If you put it from the laptop and MIDI to play, it's like [in very straight, un-swung time] dun-dun-dun. But if I also play the chords, when I put all of them together, it then starts to be very alive. When you're in the computer, all the things are at an exact tempo. Obviously that can also sound good—it sounds like I'm against people who do that—but I'm looking for [a sound that feels] like it's being played, almost like a band.
When you play guitar, you just jam with the chords that you know. Something like that melody of that [SMS] synth—it took me a long time to get something that. I want [the sound] to be kind of an arpeggio, it has to be a little bit indie, but techy, not too dreamy. I do a lot of things—sometimes I play, sometimes I use the MIDI—because some songs I want to play, but I couldn't just come up with just something like this. Maybe I play something and then I change it [with the computer]. And maybe I put it through a kind of randomizer. At one point it's like, wow, this is strange. And I think also the nature of techno, unlike a lot of other genres—in a nightclub, you want to dive in and forget about things. Techno is also trying to get peak moments, getting a lot of drama, with small nuances. You have to be smart to get this drama without using the big drops. The big drops are for less intelligent people. Obviously, people absolutely love it, the crowd loves it—I can't see the crowd complain when people play big tune after big tune. But that's like playing safe, and if you're an artist, you need to challenge the society, you need to have people to ask questions as well. You can't just give them exactly what they want.
And obviously not everybody can afford to be buying all these things [gestures to the gear in the studio]. You don't need these things to make great music. This [gear] is more for me, like, a fun thing. With or without [all this hardware], the track would sound pretty good. It doesn't really make a difference. We could make good music just on the laptop—just on the iPad. We could make a track on the iPad, take it to a professional studio and mix it. But if you can, you can try and make it better. Let's take young producers. I think you need one analog synth. If you record everything analog, and you record a soft synth on top, it sucks. But if you have everything on soft synths, and you have like one analog [machine], it just gives a lot of character to it. People should be trying to do special things, but when they go and see the DJs, and they see them just dropping bombs one after another, they think that's what they should be doing.
Let's say you buy a new plug-in, and the first preset you press, it actually sounds fucking amazing. So you make a track out of it. But it's kind of wrong, you know. Change it a little bit. Obviously for a person in the crowd, or a person who listens, it means absolutely nothing—because they don't have the synth. But between the guild of all artists, they'd sometimes think that this is not fair—like, it's too fucking easy. And if you're in that place, and you want people to follow you, you want them to follow you because you came up with a great idea, not because you were taking other people's ideas.
What are your thoughts on sampling?
I'm not against sampling. I think sampling is cool. Even stealing. If people sample my beat and make something cool out of it, it's cool. If they make something shitty out of it, I would try not to know about it. But you know, you can't just take one thing and make it [into] a track. You can steal, you know, some elements, some hi-hats, maybe at the end of the track there's some reverb or some vocal or some bass. This is like an advice forum for young producers who can't afford this reverb... they don't even know sometimes how to make this reverb. You just sample some thing [that has that effect] and you put it on top of your track and it already sounds cool.
Are you sampling a lot these days?
I should be sampling more. Even when you sample your own thing. [Turns to music he's working on] Now that I've finished the track, I could make something completely different out of, let's say, these parts. You can start manipulating it, put it through this filter, or reverse it and now it's something that I couldn't have imagined. Or then I use the second bar at the start, there is now this thing that I couldn't think of.
I see you're working with Ableton Live. Is that your main DAW?
I used to work with Cubase. I love it. But I got sucked into Ableton. I don't love this software; it's just very easy to compose with it. It's not so good for editing, and the sound is not great.
I want to talk about collaboration. You've said that when you look for collaborators, you're looking for somebody that will bring something else into the equation. So you'd definitely prefer to be in the same room with a Puff Daddy than a Dixon?
Nah… obviously with someone like Puff, I prefer not to be with him in the same room. It's gonna suck. I just know what I'm doing, so I focus like that. I work with Matthew Dear, we have this new project together, like an actual band that we're thinking of making. I've always adored this guy—and he's, I'd say, a better producer than me. He just knows exactly what he's doing. He's so good with sound, so talented. But it's nice to have this thing—first of all, with someone that you appreciate so much, and you're with him in the same room. When I'm on the mix, he's on the track, and then he goes out, I go back, and we're together. But it's a lot of mutual respect. You make a band, you know, something you can compare to working with a drummer, and all of a sudden you jam. And you find something, and you play, and there's this intensity in the rehearsal room.
Guy Gerber plays this year's Bestival, which takes place at Robin Hill County Park on the Isle Of Wight between the 10th and 13th of September.