JAMIE LIDELL is an Englishman living in Nashville. He makes cybersoul music indebted to his coming of age in the late- ’80s/early-’90s Mentasm-era British rave scene and to his longtime love of Aphex Twin, Derrick May, Human League, Yazoo, Northern Soul, Roger Troutman, New Jack Swing, Stax, and Motown. He’s a generous talker and a gregarious performer, an enthusiastic “soul scientist” and cashmere showman. At the foundation of his work is an appreciation for raw, improvised edits and honeyed grooves, and speaking to him you can practically see his thought process as a persistently running conduit of quickly spliced loops.
Microphones, preamps, DAWs, and A/D converters, cold consoles and oversaturated polysynths, vintage outboard gear, and custom-designed software patches . . . these are just some of the character-drenched factors that play a part in Lidell’s recording process, and we touched on these and more one afternoon in December 2012, sitting in a snug organic café on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
“One big part of making the record was Jamie’s Italian espresso machine,” admits
producer/engineer Justin Stanley while discussing the sessions for Lidell’s self-titled fifth album. It seems that whether dedicating his energies to sonic programming or home brewing, Lidell is the kind of fellow who goes to whatever lengths it takes to draw the most personality out of any source, and the more hands-on he can be, the better.
Lidell’s history releasing machine funk stretches back to the mid-’90s and to his partnership with Christian Vogel in Super Collider, a project that emerged from Brighton, England, as the logical progression of lacing some Autechre with some Prince, and some Plastikman with some P-Funk. While in the midst of that project’s sophomore effort, Lidell moved to Berlin, Germany, and found himself totally skint, and, he says, in a position where being a sociable scrounger could only get him so far when the prevalent scene was “really excellent box players.” “These guys were purely techno and they would rock that sh*t,” Lidell continues. “But I was never into drum machines, was never purely analog. I never had that Roland 303/606/909 formative purity phase. I came from computers—Atari ST, Cubase, linear timelines—and I had been making these ambitious Max/MSP patches to toy with my voice, because that was how I made my music.
“So I needed a way to electronically perform with my voice, and I had collaborated with guitarists with loops, so I started to think about how to combine this. So, to make money, I first combined a Boss SB-202, a Line 6 DL4 Delay, maybe another delay. I was holding it down with some dodgy guitar pedals and then bringing in a computer doing some playback. Then I worked in my Max looper patch and a portable analog console so that each track had its own output, because I’ve always liked that tactile feel, and we could do post stuff at the front of the house. It wasn’t fancy stuff, I couldn’t even do overdubbing; I’d have a couple mics, and I’d have different delays and stuff like the Mu-Tron Octave Divider running with a volume pedal on the aux to control my send level to the delays, etc. And I’d just record those signals and then play them back.
“The looper was a simple thing,” Lidell explains, “just five tracks with the record mode and mutes easily accessible on the black keys with your fingers. Once I got that down, I started to lock a 606 to the computer’s clock, and I’d also hire a Minimoog Model-D, using a bass amp to monitor my own mix to make sure I was getting the low body sound I needed to tune everything with the vocals. That was the show I was running when I put out my first album on Warp [2005’s Multiply], and it was far less austere, way more rough around the edges than a lot of what was around me.”
Honing this patch as he expressively flailed his rangy body about international stages, Lidell put together Multiply with his friend and fellow Berlin transplant Mocky. They worked with various studio sketches that would be laid out and manipulated through a five-loop mentality: two rhythmic/timekeeper channels, three harmonic. Presenting this approach during a serendipitously timed period of funk-soul revival, Multiply won Lidell’s name a wider presence than any of his previous work. Jim (2008), an even more acoustically composed collaboration with several Canadian expats, played out like a logical, well-mannered follow-up to Multiply, further reinforcing Lidell’s crooner side. It was with 2010’s Compass, however, that Lidell more blatantly displayed his DSP-rumpled chops, effortlessly sloughing off the typecasting of “neo-soul singer” to be rebranded appropriately as a retro-futuristic producer.
Now, on Jamie Lidell, the artist has even further reconciled all the disparate elements and diverse circuitry of his tonal makeup, showing how a slowly, lovingly baked career can exhibit much more richly textured flavors than a quickly microwaved effort. Compass was a more emotionally uneasy album made following a move from Berlin to New York City. Lidell used a studio/space-hopping approach to find varying acoustic treatments for Compass, beyond the confines of his 800-square-foot apartment. The result of these sessions—spread from the Niagara Escarpment to the Hollywood Hills—is that album’s aggressively direct, darkly eroded midrange. Jamie Lidell, meanwhile, reflects his relocation to a 3,000-plus-square-foot Nashville home, a more playful space where its owner enjoyed freely experimenting with a newfound buoyancy, digitally editing sketches and toying with rhythmic real estate.