Hey, Other Radio people. It's show eleven.
Disclaimer: This was 26 years ago. My memories may be hazy.
In 1995 friends of mine discovered a space in the basement of a shopping centre in downtown Cape Town. Situated on the corner of Waterkant and Lower Burg Street, it was operating as a theatre, the cavernous space set up with scaffold seating, a stage and most interesting to them, a dancefloor with a DJ booth. There was also a massive sound system and a projector with a screen covering an entire wall.
Seeing the venue's potential for an experimental club night, they approached the owner, and The Gel was born.
I was a little taken aback when they asked me to be one of the resident DJs. As a music buyer, I had amassed a reasonable collection and was an avid participant in the electronic music scene, but the idea of DJ'ing had never crossed my mind. Nevertheless, the idea appealed to me. At the beginning of 1995 (the exact dates escape me), we started what was to become a labour of love; at times exhilarating, frustrating, and exhausting, but one of the most worthwhile endeavours of my life.
The Gel's premise was relatively simple: create an open and welcoming space, soundtracked by electronic music and accompanied by incredible visuals. We didn't let the fact that none of us had any idea what we were doing stop us, and for around 14 months, every Friday and Saturday night, we had the time of our lives. And hopefully, so did all who entered the space.
While we all had an equal stake in The Gel, the four of us had distinct roles to play. Peter and Gavin were the visual aces, sourcing material for the VCRs (for the young ones, a way to play visuals on tape) and designing flyers and posters. Patrick and I were the resident DJs, sourcing whatever music we could find that fit the vague catch-all term of ambient.
I must mention an unofficial fifth member, Pieter, a genius computer programmer who in 1995 wrote video mixing software that allowed us to mix between two VCRs and add effects to analogue visual material controlled via the theatre's lighting board. It was genuinely visionary stuff. All those fancy programmes used nowadays for video mixing he had already developed in 1995 running on the hardware of the time.
A typical night at The Gel would begin at around 8 pm and end whenever. Usually about 8 am. Either Patrick or I would play the opening set. At the same time, Peter and Gavin took care of the lighting and the visuals, mixing all manner of archival footage, nature documentaries, insane science fiction and animated film via the two VCR players and Pieter's effects software. Yes, again. VCR!
Musically The Gel roughly dedicated itself to the catch-all term ambient. But that didn't mean we played music without beats. I was particularly interested in music that took its cue from ambient sources, whether that was Pete Namlook's beatless excursions on Fax, Aphex Twin's experiments on R&S or early Warp releases; it all had a specific sensibility that transcended genre. We would move between beatless piano pieces, ambient techno, sometimes trip hop, near silence and even early drum and bass without a care in the world.
And this has informed my DJ'ing since then to be honest. Making connections between sounds is more interesting to me than allegiance to a genre. Not that I mind banging out a house, techno or jungle set, of course.
So to the show. I thought it would be an interesting experiment to play a Gel set in 2021. What would I do given the 25 odd years that have passed? Given the growth of my record collection and the evolution of my tastes, how would it be different?
My show has always been just playing records from the collection and talking about them. But to capture what The Gel was, I decided to do a mix. I pulled out about 100 records, old and new, that have a "Gel sensibility" and just fashioned a mix. Now I never mix records at home and can't remember when last both turntables were on at the same time, so forgive the rustiness. There are a couple of clangy mixes and some questionable sequences, but I think I have managed to capture a passable representation of those times. I sincerely hope you enjoy this episode of the "Times We Used To Spend".