The Bling Ring: My Adventures With P. Diddy

Israeli electronic musician/producer Guy Gerber has just released an album with Sean Combs. Madonna, say the rumors, is waiting in the wings.

Ross Laurence

Sunday, 5 A.M. outside the Watergate club in Berlin, by a bridge that overlooks the River Spree, near a crowded complex of clubs. The survivors of parties in various states of consciousness, or lack thereof, pass by me like a combination of zombies or participants in a gay pride parade. Some are crawling on their bellies, others who have passed out are supported by their friends, and there are also those who are riding their bicycles about while waiting to get into the Berghain nightclub, the most popular in the city at the moment.

While the drag queens pass by in smeared makeup and punks collect bottles for recycling in rusty shopping carts, I stare at the poster with the name of Israeli-born Guy Gerber, an electronic DJ/producer and musician, printed in big letters.

“He is definitely one of the top 20 in the world,” a DJ friend of mine from Vienna told me the day before with sparkling eyes. I remember what another friend told me not long ago about Gerber’s super-modern image in interviews and photo shoots for the media: “He looks like a movie star – designer clothes, makeup, all of it. He lives in another world.”

A few weeks ago, with the release of "11:11," his joint album with P. Diddy (the renowned rapper Sean Combs, formerly known as Puff Daddy), Gerber made the move from being a hero of the club world to the new kid on the block of pop producers. Madonna, say industry rumors, is already interested in him.

Now he leaves the club and lets fans take his picture for a few minutes. It was mostly Israeli DJs picked by Gerber who played at the party that just ended, including techno producers Chaim Avital and Maayan Nidam.

At 5:30 A.M. we get into a van that takes Gerber to his next stop, Melt!, one of the biggest music festivals in Germany; it's a two-hour drive from Berlin in Ferropolis, a venue that serves as an open-space museum for huge, old iron excavation equipment. Among others due to perform at Melt! are Portishead, the rising rapper Le1F and Israeli singer-producer Adi Ulmansky.

Gerber, 39 years-old, was born in Holon, south of Tel Aviv. His father was a tax consultant; his mother, a housewife. Years ago he played for the Maccabi Tel Aviv youth team, but in high school replaced his love for soccer with one for music, for groups such as Joy Division, Cure and My Bloody Valentine.

Gerber initially played in an alternative rock group before switching to electronic music. At the end of the 1990s he was working out of a rooftop apartment on Nahalat Binyamin Street in Tel Aviv, and a few years later chalked up one of his first milestones by signing with the Twisted label. Subsequently, he signed with Sven Vath’s German label Cocoon Recordings.

In 2009 he moved to Europe and lived for a while in various cities including Madrid, Berlin and Paris. Today he splits most of his time between New York and Ibiza, and spends almost every weekend performing all over the globe.

In recent years Gerber has gradually turned into one of the most in-demand house DJs in the world, a representative of the deep and high-quality side of club music. Some of his tracks, such as his breakthrough "Stoppage Time" and the album he put out in the series of discs of the London club Fabric, are already considered classics in the electronic music world. The alternative underground parties he organizes in Ibiza, Wisdom of the Glove, are a challenge to the typical commercial orientation of this hedonistic party-island.

Gerber’s project with P. Diddy was supposed to have been released in 2011. But like a lot of other things in Gerber’s career – after all, he chose to call his first album, in 2007, "Late Bloomers" – this latest effort also needed a lot of time to come together. And like a lot of other work by him, it was created thanks to a combination of faithfulness to his artistic vision and relentless drive.

The cooperation between Gerber and P. Diddy was an unexpected move, to say the least. One is a hip hop star and multi-millionaire who creates generic pop music for the masses, and sells beverages and clothes. The other is an Israeli electronic music producer, beloved by alternative electronic indie musicians like Jamie xx and Nicolas Jaar, who produces an elegant and melancholic sound, epic and with the ambience of a mysterious flute – a not-too-harsh sound. In other words, everything P. Diddy is not. And still, Diddy, who originally wanted to call the joint album "Ketamine," has said about Gerber that he is a DJ who “plays what you need, not what you want.”

The new album is now available for free downloading, and a limited vinyl version is also due to be released.

“This is Guy Gerber from Holon and fucking P. Diddy. You don’t hear a track, you hear context. How were these two people even able to meet up?” says Gerber. “One day I got an email from Mixmag: ‘P. Diddy is looking for you.’ I said, ‘What’s that?!’ Okay. A month later he called me and said: ‘Listen, I sampled a track of yours, an amazing one. I want you to bring the rest of its parts.’ I told him: ‘Sorry, but I don’t have them, it was erased.’ He tells me, ‘You kidding me? Doesn’t matter, come to New York, we’ll record together.’”

“I went to this studio, where B.I.G., Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston worked. The work there at the beginning was very Kafkaesque. P. Diddy was not around. There's a room there but it has no character. They set up the synthesizers but didn’t give me any instructions as to what to do. I jammed and then he called the studio and asked to play me a track that he plays for all the producers he works with, as inspiration. It's the opening track of my first disc.”

The style of the new album is different than what either of them has done until now, Gerber says: “P. Diddy wanted something strange, different – he wanted to shock the world. He said, ‘I have songs for the radio, I want something your friends will like.’ I thought about what would be shocking, whether to do something strange or something really emotional, pretty music but intimate. P. Diddy, who is the most bling bling, suddenly touches your heart ... What I liked about working with him was the possibility of doing what I felt like doing: to play in the studio like when I was young before my career advanced, but in million-dollar studios. Studios I always dreamed of working in.”

The work with P. Diddy had its ups and downs, until at one stage it was not even clear whether the collaborative album would be released at all.

“I quit a few times and it was not easy,” says Gerber. “I told them it could only be done my way. There was, for example, a section his technician put a filter on ... but I sort of come up from behind, ‘without filters on my track.’ It was an effect like Madonna or Daft Punk, where every piece is filtered and slowly comes back. I said: ‘This is not appropriate.’ And every time there was something horrible, I said: ‘No way.’ I told him: ‘You gave me a chance, I will make sure you look cool. I promise.’

"I told myself that if I did not convince him, this project will be buried and I won’t have a problem. I will be able to sleep very well at night. I don’t care. And I come from a family without money. I want to be rich, but I don’t compromise on my art. Ever. There are those who argue whether my track is commercial. As far as I’m concerned it’s not.”

Ross Laurence
Mikele Tabuki
Bloomberg