It’s a coming of age story. When Englishman-in-Berlin George FitzGerald first signed to Domino sister label Double Six at the start of 2013, he was full of optimism. He is part of a generation of artists and DJs who witnessed at first hand the early and experimental days of a uniquely 21st century sound – dubstep – and then saw it explode into the club mainstream, catapulting them to unimagined successes as it did. Along with friends and compatriots like Ben UFO, Joy Orbison, James Blake and Pearson Sound, FitzGerald had been schooled in the power of bass vibrations and sonic experimentation at the small, cult-like FWD>> club night in east London in the mid-2000s. This cadre then found themselves able to take these lessons, along with those of the Berlin techno explosion, to the world as the dizzying diversification and renaissance of club music post-dubstep took hold globally, rejuvenating traditional genres as they went.
Back then, seeing his friends’ music conquering the clubbing strongholds of the world and being signed to one of the biggest and most important indie labels, he felt emboldened to write his first album length piece of work. Considering the vertiginous ascendance, led by Disclosure, that many of his peers were experiencing at the time, it seemed only natural that George should follow through with his own play for chart success, but he was already moving on to something new.
First, as the softly spoken George explains, his initial sketches “were just false nostalgia, or beholden to something that I’m not: to Chicago, or Detroit, or London’s 2-step garage, or sampled R&B vocals… and I just started caring less about making that sort of zeitgeist statement album, and more about just not feeling like all my idioms and tropes were borrowed anymore.” It was at this point that George decided to take stock and try to reconnect with influences he felt were true to his conception of his own self.
Albums by Orbital, Leftfield, Underworld and Depeche Mode sprang to George’s mind when he began to think about the records that had shaped his early interest in electronic music and he set out to make a similarly great and similarly British sounding dance album. Key to this move was a decision to eschew the female soul and RnB vocals that have become such an ingrained part of contemporary dance music. Instead he worked with vocalists Oli Bayston (frontman of Boxed In) and Lawrence Hart, both of whom have crisp English voices sharing more in common with Neil Tennant and Dave Gahan than the usual powerhouse topliners.
At the same time, there was a rather more dramatic event affecting the process: heartbreak. As George went into recording the album, he was coming to the end of a serious relationship, and the vast successes of club culture started to ring a bit hollow.
Renting a studio in Ibiza while there for some gigs in summer 2013, George began to feel increasingly alienated from the party excesses and one-dimensional EDM records he was hearing. “Everyone does a pill and is in love when the record about ‘love from above’ comes on,” he says. “Then they just go home and real life resumes. For me at the time, my long-term relationship was falling apart with being on the road constantly and it didn’t feel right to keep writing music about those themes in an emotionally simplistic or escapist way. So without sounding too pretentious, the title of the album Fading Love relates to my dwindling enthusiasm for music that ignored the things going on in my life, and documents the disintegration of my own romantic relationship at the time.”
The final piece in the musical puzzle that began his production career was a move to Berlin as part of his university languages course. Initially turned off by the rather decadent and washed-out “minimal” scene there, he eventually discovered the more visceral, deep-rooted techno of the notorious Berghain club which seemed to square with his experiences of dubstep and soon after got the patronage of fellow ex-pat Paul Rose aka Scuba – who would sign George to his Hot Flush label. Very quickly, in 2010, George threw aside his postgraduate studies deciding that “if I was going to do the music thing, I was going to do it properly, not just knock out a few tunes at night after I got in from studying and clubbing, but really make it work.”
It was precisely that attitude that has served him so well in making this album. Difficult though the emotional processes may have been for him, the focus on honesty both in what is expressed in the record and in the creative process was strengthened with the same all-or-nothing discipline he always applied to making straight-up club tracks. After previously allowing computers to be his main instrument, George turned to tape, analogue electronic instruments and the real voices of his friends for Fading Love, “not because I wanted to show off in interviews and be a snob about it – but because I wanted to make my music more alive and spontaneous, keep the errors that were made and turn them into features, even if that meant losing some of the cleanliness that makes tracks ‘bang’ on big systems.”
All of which has led to an album that is no less lacking in ambition than George was in 2013, but is a long, long way from the 1000 watt celebration of personal and cultural triumph that it could easily have been. This is a record of sharp left turns – like “Shards” which seems to “drop” in the manner of a conventional track but then fades away, leaving the listener with a sense of promise and loss at once. Like the tormented “Your Two Faces” which took 15 months of dissatisfaction and catharsis to complete and, as George says, “hints at being a really evil techno track then dummies into something quite intimate.” Like the swirl of melancholy and bliss in the ambient piece “Miyajima”, which he says “I sketched out whilst on the small island shrine Miyajima with my girlfriend. It’s like a tiny oasis of calm. That was the last happy moment of that relationship.”
But this is not a record of self-pity or disillusionment. The honesty of its lyrics and production make it a powerful document of a restless mind trying to find the best in a confused situation. “Crystallise”, although it is nominally about a relationship that’s hardened and “become sclerotic”, is full of the euphoria of release and escape. And George’s favourite track of the record, “Beginning at the End” has a self-exploratory title: it was begun when that relationship finally reached breaking point, and within less than three minutes is full of burgeoning possibility and a sense of moving on. And right now George is full of that possibility too.
For all the disappointments of club life, he has a renewed love of DJing – “I don’t feel like I’ve got to showcase my own material any more – especially now my tracks have very little to do with the clubs – so I can really play exactly the kind of sets I want to!” Feeling bolstered by his experiments with song structures and vocals to look forward to a time when, like James Ford of Simian Mobile Disco, he might use his dance experiences to become a producer for other, more diverse artists. George FitzGerald really has come of age in the production of Fading Love, and – while perhaps not in the way he originally envisaged it when the strange process of making the record began – is still ready to take on the world.