Electronic musician, music producer
With his unorthodox takes on soul and techno music, electronic experimenter Jamie Lidell has solidified his place as one of the most innovative artists in the underground scene. As part of the groups Subhead and Super_Collider, Lidell pushed the boundaries of dance music, but as a solo artist his work has challenged the common expectations of electronic music performers and composers.
Born on September 18, 1973, in Huntingdon, Cambridge, a rural part of England, Lidell took up the xylophone, drums, and trombone very early in school. His music teachers were quite accomplished, writing books of children's music, and Lidell and his classmates were often the songbooks' test subjects. His mother sang professionally with different orchestras, so his musical creativity was nurtured from a young age.
Influenced by the sounds of Prince and Funkadelic, he picked up the electric guitar. Soon, though, Lidell started getting into electronic dance music like Duran Duran and bought an amplifier, a synthesizer and a drum machine, and continued recording in his bedroom on a four-track tape machine, often layering his own voice over the top.
His late teens found Lidell moving to Bristol to study physics, a city where the trip-hop and dance scenes were booming with the likes of Portishead and Massive Attack. However, after being away from school for six months with a severe bout of glandular fever, he decided not to return to the science program and instead enrolled in philosophical studies.
In the mid-1990s Lidell moved to London and became friends with Jason Leach and Phil Wells of Subhead. Leach and Wells at the time were regularly putting on techno parties in London, and while jamming and recording with them, Lidell was exposed to a slew of European techno releases. He was particularly enamored of Chilean producer Cristian Vogel's tracks. With Subhead, Lidell started to understand the nuances of live performance, and attributed much of his evolution to his experience with Wells and Leach. He also began the ongoing learning process involved with digital audio editing.
Lidell left London for Brighton in the late 1990s in the hopes of meeting Vogel, who at that time was quite popular on the minimal techno circuit. Strangely, the two met on Lidell's first day in town, and to their mutual pleasure found that they both admired one another's recordings.
Lidell began sharing a studio with Vogel, and the pair started working on recordings together as Super_Collider. At the same time, Lidell was jamming with the band Balzac to keep up his on-stage skills, and he began singing, though he wouldn't develop his voice to its full potential on a record for several years.
Super_Collider produced a slew of singles and two critically acclaimed full-length albums, 1999's Head On and 2002's Raw Digits. Between their respective releases, Lidell had begun working on his own IDM-style (Intelligent Dance Music) recordings. His first, Muddlin Gear, appeared in 2000 on the Spymania label.
Writing in All Music Guide, Diana Potts called Muddlin Gear "chunky, dense, and layered, reminiscent of a child with a severe attention disorder. On the other hand," she noted, "it is also intelligent, as its style and quality fit no mold."
However, after Muddlin Gear, Lidell needed a change of scenery, and he moved to Berlin, where a large community of techno enthusiasts had taken over the city's center. He told Pitchfork's Mark Pytlik, "I took a break and I learnt software and programming a little bit, and that's how I designed my live machine, which I've been using for years. And now we're rocking out live and I've been doing that again and again and again—learning and refining it."
The machine that he built assisted his live shows by recording and sampling sound bites for his on-the-fly manipulation. His show slowly progressed from a techno-heavy vibe to a soulful one, with plenty of jazzy instrumentation, a bit of hip-hop-style beat-boxing, and lots of heartfelt crooning by Lidell himself.
He also told Pytlik, "I wanted to create a contrast between what I've done with Cristian, which I'm really proud of and took a hell of a lot of energy and time to make something so unique—it's really hard to make something that doesn't sound like everything else, you know? But for this, I just thought I'm going to set up a situation where I can really enjoy singing these songs. I'm going to make it so much fun to sing that I'm going to do these great vocal performances—that was my challenge to myself."
From his new performance style emerged Lidell's most accomplished work to date, 2005's Multiply, recorded in Berlin. It was there that he found the most supportive community of artists, and musicians like Chili Gonzales (Canadian ex-pat Jason Beck), Taylor Savvy, and Mocky contributed their talent and knowledge to the project. While Lidell was confident with his own instrumental performances, he welcomed the additional help from his friends. "What's the point of trying to play keys when Gonzales is sitting right there?," he asked Young. "I hate people who are like, 'I'm playing everything!' What's the point? The community aspect of music is really lacking sometimes nowadays."
For all intents and purposes, Multiply was an album of blue-eyed soul, and Warp, Lidell's Sheffield, England-based abstract-techno label, was a bit concerned about how they might market such a record. Making it harder still was the fact that Lidell wanted to package Multiply as a CD/DVD set, because his stage show had grown to include costumes and a strong video element. The label waffled and released the disc as a single CD; however, after seeing the fruits of Lidell's labor they planned to later release the live DVD. In fact, Multiply became such a big release for Lidell that it garnered its fair share of mainstream acclaim on top of plenty of underground press attention. An Entertainment Weekly review asked, "What's a white British techno artist doing coming off like a real-deal classic soul throw-back? Who knows, but it works."
(With Super_Collider) Head On, Loaded, 1999.
(With Super_Collider) "Darn (Cold Way O' Lovin')," Loaded, 1999.
Muddlin Gear, Spymania/Warp, 2000.
(With Super_Collider) Raw Digits, Rise Robots Rise, 2002.
Multiply, Warp, 2005.
For the Record …
Born on September 18, 1973, in Huntingdon, Cambridge, England. Education: Studied physics and philosophy in Bristol, England.
Began performing with Subhead in London, with Phil Wells and Jason Leach; in late 1990s, began working with Cristian Vogel as Super_Collider; released Head On, 1999, and Raw Digits, 2002; moved to Berlin to pursue solo career, early 2000s; released Muddlin Gear, 2000, and Multiply, 2005.
Addresses: Record company—Warp Records, P.O. Box 25378, London, England NW5 1GL, website: http://www.warprecords.com. Website—Jamie Lidell Official Website: http://www.jamielidell.com.
Entertainment Weekly, July 22, 2005.
The Wire, July 2005.
"Muddlin Gear," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (September 9, 2005).
Pitchfork Media, http://www.pitchforkmedia.com (September 9, 2005).
Warp Records Official Website, http://www.warprecords.com, (September 9, 2005).