Were his pioneering art punk work as the most experimentally inclined member of Wire Bruce Gilbert's only claim to fame, he would still be an important figure in the avant-pop world. Gilbert's work outside of that group, however, is at least as intriguing.
Born in 1946, Gilbert was already 30 when Wire formed, a former art school student with a background in the British avant-garde music underground of the late '60s. This atypical interest is an enormous part of what made Wire so unlike the other bands of the first wave of U.K. punk, as the esoteric leanings of guitarist Gilbert and bassist Graham Lewis meshed with the somewhat more straightforward style of singer Colin Newman and drummer Robert Gotobed. Over their brilliant first three albums, Wire expanded the sonic boundaries of not just punk, but rock music in general.
Wire's final release in their initial incarnation was "Crazy About Love," a 15-minute drone that pointed the way toward Gilbert's next projects. Partnering with Lewis in the duo Dome, Gilbert released several increasingly experimental albums between 1981 and Wire's reformation in 1986. The partnership's pinnacle was 1982's MZUI/Waterloo Gallery, a combination of ambient music and found sound that's among the most unusual and absorbing records of Gilbert's career.
During Wire's second incarnation (1986-1991), Gilbert actively pursued a solo career; as this edition of Wire moved more and more into a skewed but subversively commercial pop direction, scoring college and alternative radio hits like "Kidney Bingos" along the way, Gilbert's solo records completely dropped all pretense of pop music. 1984's This Way contains Gilbert's first score for the avant-garde Michael Clark Dance Company and a pair of lengthy minimalist electronic pieces akin to Steve Reich's early-'70s work. 1986's The Shivering Man has more of an odds and ends feel, collecting several of Gilbert's commissioned works from the era. (A CD compilation of tracks from the two U.K.-only albums, This Way to the Shivering Man, was released by Wire's U.S. label Restless-Enigma shortly before that company's demise in 1990.) 1991's Insiding is the best release of this period in Gilbert's career; its two lengthy pieces, ballet scores commissioned by dancer Ashley Page, unfold and develop intriguingly over their allotted 20 minutes each. Released later the same year, the EP-length Music for Fruit sounds distressingly like leftovers from the sessions that produced the far superior Insiding. Gilbert also helped Lewis on his own post-Dome solo project, He Said, during this period.
Following Wire's protracted decline and eventual collapse, including a distressingly dull final release as a Newman-Lewis-Gilbert trio named Wir, Gilbert followed his almost entirely electronic muse (Wire's fearsome guitarist has barely touched the instrument since 1980) onto the dance floor. By the mid-'90s, the fiftyish Gilbert was a fixture in London's techno clubs, DJing, and remixing under the name DJ Beekeeper, most often performing inside a garden shed above the dancefloor for a touch of Wire-like visual humor. At the same time, Gilbert also released 1996's Ab Ovo, another Insiding-like collection of ballet scores. Wire occasionally reunites for live performances, but not recording sessions.