I'm so tired of repeating myself/Beating myself up/Take a trip and multiply/Least go under with a smile. —Jamie Lidell, "Multiply"
Jamie Lidell lives in a village of his own design. Geographically, the British expatriate producer lives in Berlin, Germany. While he claims it doesn't feel like a metropolis, it is certainly no blink-and-you'll-miss-it hamlet. However, to Lidell, Berlin offers benefits without bustle and the city never leaves him feeling like "a lone molecule in a huge bloodstream of activity."
Having spent his first 18 years in Huntingdon, near Cambridge, and needing no more than a bicycle to get around, Lidell feels comfortable having left behind previous homes in London and Brighton for Berlin and his "walking crew." It's partly thanks to these characters that Lidell was prompted to "put the nail in the bitch" and in late 2005 release Multiply (Warp). With Multiply, Lidell has made a subtly electronically enhanced album of soul crooning that's slick as crocodile-skin boots and velvety suits—while working to "untrap" himself from insecurities and a conservative upbringing.
"As a kid I was obsessed with playing games with the sound of voices," says Lidell by phone from Berlin. "I'd have my mum's tape recorder in the living room and I did the trick of one cassette to another, play something and sing on top of that. [Beat novelist William S.] Burroughs would be proud; at the end it would be wobbly static.
"I took it to the playground, to the house, clipped bits from films—Hollywood-drenched fantasy plays," Lidell continues. "I was making new episodes of Star Wars where I did all the characters, though I did like the hero a bit more. My parents split pretty young and that ruined it. I thought there was a darkness in the world, so I had to keep it light somehow."
Lidell still preserves that childlike spirit "so the boring cunts around us don't ruin everything." At a March 2004 performance within London's Royal Festival Hall, Lidell emerged cloaked in a sheath of magnetic-tape loops, like a Koosh ball of cutting-room-floor trimmings. This outfit, conceived with Lidell's visuals collaborator, Pablo Fiasco, keeps the Sun Ra flavor in a cheeky musical mastication of Motown and Stax Records homage. Additionally, this outfit also symbolizes Lidell's skills at rhythmic regurgitation honed by early experiments with looping guitar pedals, then digitally encapsulated within the music-software program Max/MSP, which allows for instant edits during improvisation. Lidell's performance of melodic hiccups steals the evening from Squarepusher and a tribute to Aphex Twin.
I'm a question mark/A walking, talking question mark. —Lidell, "What's the Use?"
Prior to his recent solo phase of emulating Otis Redding on Ritalin, Lidell funneled his admiration of George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic's "freedom of mind" with producer Cristian Vogel into Super_Collider, an elastically oscillating, fractured funk duo who have released the albums Head On and Raw Digits. But with some artists, there's barely a perforated partition between arrangement and derangement, and, in Lidell's case, there's a fourth wall ready to give way at the slightest provocation.
"Derangement can be another tool, novelty, device, and part of derangement is insecurity that ideas aren't strong enough," admits Lidell of his more glitchy early material. "I plead guilty; early on I thought I could hide behind a smokescreen of derangement. Then again, one person's derangement is another person's arrangement. I would love to do another Super_Collider project, but I also take pleasure in things falling into place easily, and if I could write pure arrangement genius like Bacharach and Lennon-McCartney, I would. There is no need for derangement at that point."
Indeed, spurred by producers Matthew Herbert and Mocky, among others, and featuring a host of musicians, Lidell's arrangements on Multiply now swing much more "straightforward," with the lightly splashy percussion all fried eggs sunny-side up with a side of grits. Over that is featured Lidell's appropriation and distillation of R&B/soul touchstones, including Willie Mitchell, Jackie Wilson, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, and Stevie Wonder. Lidell describes his process—both channeling inspirations and actually delivering content—less as sampling and more as live mental multitracking. At the root, however, it still remains a summery means with a dark undercurrent of combatting bleak winters, English blues, and all manner of emotional baggage.
"I have a character trait that is a combination of doubt in my qualities and feeling others have more valid opinions than mine," says Lidell. "But I'm learning to counteract that by facing the wrath of being an artist, leaving things in tracks, and dealing with the impressions people get and opinions they give back. I'm sticking to my guns, cocking the trigger and ready to pull it against the little voices."
The first moment you hesitate/Better ask yourself why/Don't you wait until it's too late/And something inside has died. —Lidell, "Game for Fools"
Little voices aside, critical voices have spoken well of Multiply. Having brought the party to his studio—and with Multiply Additions, a CD compilation of remixes—Lidell is now pleased to get his dandy on while on the road, continuing to handle his pent-up business, while inspiring other people to sweat.
"I like just me on stage with a couple lights and the music there," says Lidell. "I'm increasingly a real fan of simple and stripped down. I don't like the audience/performer dynamic of me coming out and dominating the stage; it seems a bit fascist. When I can't see the back of the room I feel too small at those moments—and I don't want people who can't see me improvising properly to think I'm fucking things up when I'm building them up. I don't enjoy things being too expansive or oppressive or for there to be too much background clutter. I never like to feel way out in the sticks with no one to draw on. I need to reach out and touch people."firstname.lastname@example.org