5th Day Residents Revealed: Gertie
The penultimate edition of our ‘Residents Revealed’ feature (3/4) focuses on none other than London’s very own and much loved Gertie. Despite popular consensus the duo aren’t actually brothers, however the strength of their connection through music, bought to life through their consistently impressive performances - not to mention a shared love for facial hair - may lead you to think otherwise.
The charismatic duo have been making ripples on London’s scene for many years and are a solid favourite for many regulars. United through a shared love for techno and collaborating to deliver something unique and truly expressive, here we learn more about how the pair work together, what techno as a genre means to them, and their thoughts on the local techno scene that they’ve come to love so much.
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Can you tell us a little bit about where Gertie came from, how did you guys meet and what led you to start working as a music act?
Lenny: George and I met in 2012 as residents in a club in Colchester, Essex. I was based there as a solider and did DJing on the side. We initially bonded over some early French House music and a shared appreciation of Kelly Kapowski from Saved by the Bell. I wanted to get into production at the time and George was already releasing tracks as part of another duo. He kindly offered to show me the ropes. I did a few courses online, purchased some equipment and eventually in 2014 we started writing and releasing tracks as Gertie.
George: It was a mutual friend (Theo) who introduced us one night, Lenny and I played at the same venue where Theo was a resident, but never at the same events. I’d just finished a gig not too far away and got a text from Theo saying ‘you have to come to the club…there’s a guy you should meet.’ I almost didn’t go but he talked me into it and that guy was Lenny. We talked a lot about production and he asked if I’d mind helping him out getting started. I didn’t think much of it, people had asked before and never followed through, but the next day he called and asked when I was free and if I could show him the basics of Ableton. I knew he was serious when we sat down a few days later and, instead of a laptop, he pulled out an A4 notepad and asked me for a pen.
What does techno as a genre mean to you?
Lenny: Techno has played a huge part in shaping my life over the last few years. In 1997 I joined the British Army at 18 years of age, it was all I had known my whole adult life until I left in 2012. After that, I struggled to find my place in the world feeling lost professionally and personally. Looking back I was searching for some form of connection, something to identify with and the techno scene in London offered me those things. The people I met along the way and the experiences I had during those times, helped shape the person and artist I have become. Recently, I have struggled at times with feeling overwhelmed by all that I have going on personally, professionally and artistically. Music can feel like such a luxury and perhaps an indulgence that should be disposed of when real life presents you with important issues. However, I have come to find that if I deny myself the time to indulge, I suffer as a result. There is something very calming and grounding about this music for me. It’s extremely hard to articulate but I would liken it to meditation. The experience of it in whatever capacity allows me to quiet my mind and feel more centred.
George: Techno for me isn’t like other genres of music, there’s fewer rules; it’s less defined by what goes into it and more by what comes out of it. What I mean by that is you can have a track that’s just a 909, and an ambient track with no drums at 1/3 of the tempo, and they’re both techno. Of course there are things synonymous with techno, but tempo, time signature and rhythm are all less important than the mood a track creates as a component of a set. As a producer that freedom lets you imagine the mood and the sonic environment you want to construct as a whole and create what’s missing, even if it’s just some carefully layered ambiences. This freedom filters through to the DJs who take those ‘pieces’ to create a different world of their own, completely recontextualising the tracks in the process. I think there’s a simplicity in techno but it’s there by design - to allow for this. The complexity comes from the texture of the sounds. Sonically it’s unlike anything else.
Do you believe DJing is an art form? If yes, what makes it so, in your view?
Lenny: When done really well, yes. The true art of DJing for me lies somewhere between a technical showcase, the expression of a deep-rooted understanding of the music and the ability to interpret the energy of a room. A DJ becomes an artist when he thinks not of tracks but of flow. This requires emotional intelligence and is less about presenting other people’s art to an audience but piecing together something unique and of that moment. Much like more traditional art forms, the magic happens not in the accomplishment of total technical accuracy, but more in the imperfections, the character flaws and the spaces in between. If you consider art to be a reflection of the human condition then techno has a very basic and primal ability to create a fleeting reflection of the energy in that moment. That to me is art.
How do you guys perform? What is your process for building a performance and how do you manage any challenges that arise?
George: We’ve played together for so many years now that there isn’t really a set up we haven’t tried. For us the idea now is to to maximise the potential for creativity in our sets, without it becoming a limitation. We learnt through trial and error that just because you have all the kit in the world doesn’t mean you need to use it. We played a set once with two laptops sync’d over lan, running both Traktor and Ableton, 2 mixers, 6 midi controllers, a motorised fader mixer, 2 drum machines and a keyboard. It was more like a live performance than a dj set. We could manipulate any track and bring in any sound we wanted, and while we had some moments that we simply haven’t touched since, those infinite possibilities actually became a problem. We could do anything…and in the same way it can be limiting in production we found it limiting in djing. Where do you go when you can go anywhere? On the reverse side, boxing yourself in can also be super effective, just as it is with production, because it really focuses everything you can do into only a few things. Vinyl sets can still be so devastating because there’s none of the modern features like auto loops and hot cues to play with which leaves you with only one job: spend 100% of the time selecting the absolute best tracks in the crate. Of course there’s inherently less scope for creativity without those modern features, so somewhere between those two is a balance we’re still, and probably will always be, trying to find.
What is your approach to music making? Do you always start with an idea or is it sporadic? Where do you draw inspiration from and how do you interpret that into music?
George: Our approach is that we rely heavily on our sets to guide us in the studio. We try to think of what we had and what we didn’t have and then create the missing pieces. The idea will usually come from a point in the set where we thought ‘…ok, if we had a track like this that would be perfect for where we’re trying to go here.’ A lot of the inspiration comes from the nights; I’ve hummed toplines and basslines into my phone mid-set before…I’m not sure how that looks from the dance floor, probably a bit weird, but if that’s the moment you’re feeling inspired then you have to capture it however you can. Creating music for a club when you’re in a quiet room in your flat is always going to be a challenge, so mentally you have to take yourself back to those moments and start from there. As far as technical workflow goes we don’t do anything too groundbreaking, but something we do try and do is put limits on things. For example, we might decide to only use a small number of channels, or to only use sounds sampled from vinyl instead of synths. Sometimes deciding where to go can be so overwhelming you end up not going anywhere, so by forcing yourself into a smaller box you can end up making more out of what you’ve got that you otherwise would.
What are three of your all-time favourite techno tracks?
An almost impossible task, to make this easier we had to set some parameters. We decided to pick tracks that stand well as pieces on their own. They aren’t ground breaking choices by any means but rather contain the necessary ingredients of what we consider to be a quality techno track:
Ben Klock - Sub Zero (Function & Regis Remix) [Ostgut Ton] The original is beautiful in it’s own right. However the deconstruction of the various elements, cleverly pieced back together, simple washed out hints of sound, creating space that invokes tension and groove. Genius.
Fabrizio Lapiena – 1003b [M_Rec] A truly stunning and emotionally charged piece of music. Listening will bring never fail to bring goosebumps.
UVB – Mixition [Mord]. So much groove, so much tension, full of momentum and drive. The growl on a solid low end paired with a loopy, heady top line, the perfect blend.
What makes a good "techno crowd" for you?
Lenny: For me it’s three things: education, patience and openness. Like all genres of art the scene only flourishes when it continues to experiment and evolve, to push the audience’s boundaries. For that to happen you need a crowd that is willing to be taken to places they are not expecting. It’s the responsibility of the artist to nurture the audience’s appetite for the new. This is not about being self-indulgent or inaccessible, but more about avoiding the temptation to mimic, imitate and play it safe. In the past I have fallen foul of this and as I grow and develop my craft, I am learning to be more fearless and to respect the intelligence of the crowd – it’s where I feel our music is at its purist and the audience connects with that.
What are your thoughts on London's techno scene? Struggling or thriving?
Lenny: The London techno scene is extremely dear to me. Often there are unfavourable comparisons drawn between London and Berlin, but London is creating something of its own, an experience that can only be born out of the unique set of circumstances this city is presented with. Historically the underground music scene as a whole in London has been viewed as something undesirable and devoid of artistic integrity. In contrast, the German government recognises the cultural importance of institutions such as Berghain, and with that comes a certain level of security. Clubs in London face sometimes insurmountable odds to stay alive which means that our scene has become extremely cohesive and supportive. It’s in this struggle, in the small collections of stalwart fans, promoters and artists that London creates its own take on the genre. Of course there has been casualties along the way (RIP Dance Tunnel) but there are so many intelligent and progressive people driving things forward that the scene will always find a way to flourish. That said, with the appointment of our Night Czar, the saving of Fabric and venues such as Printworks and the new Village Underground project ahead, it’s an extremely positive and exciting time to be involved in the London techno scene.