JAMIE LIDELL as part of Beats, Breaks & Culture at Harbourfront Centre (235 Queens Quay West), Saturday (July 8), 8 pm. Free. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNNNN
Go hunting in stores for Jamie Lidell's new disc, Multiply (Warp), and you'll likely be stumped about what section to start in.
His falsetto harmonies and Motown-cribbing production make soul a logical first choice. But check the melodic accessibility, tweaked-out jazz influences and hiphop beatboxing and you've got something unclassifiable enough to slip into pop/rock's nondescript gutters.
However, Canada's largest music retailer files Lidell under electronica. It makes sense because of Lidell's label and past incarnations, but that doesn't mean the multi-instrumentalist R&B novice accepts such categorization happily.
"It's cuz of the Warp tag," bristles Lidell from a music shop in Vancouver. He's referring to Sheffield IDM label Warp Records, home to glitchy tech groups like Boards of Canada and Prefuse 73, but more recently to art rockers Maxïmo Park and Broadcast.
"They lazily always rack it according to the label. I guess it's to be expected, but it can be slightly annoying. It will take a while before Warp sheds that old electronica label and people recognize that it's become just another indie. I always like to be racked in the soul section. I think that's the most appropriate place."
Perhaps, but it may take a few more efforts before Lidell gets associated with the Marvin Gayes or Princes of said section. Especially considering how deep his roots in electronica and techno run.
It goes back to Brighton around 1997, when he and Chilean techno-head Cristian Vogel paired up to create Super_Collider, a soulful and cerebral laptop project remarkable for massive, innovative production and Lidell's emerging fluid falsetto.
The duo rocked rave scenes across Europe, released some singles and a full-length, was loved in Germany but remained "misunderstood" at home. When Lidell, now living and recording in Berlin, released Multiply last year, he didn't expect much of an about-face in terms of positive response, but so far he's been proven wrong.
"I didn't really care," says Lidell about his expectations. "It had been so long since I'd made a record, and I'd never got anything resembling a good reaction before. I've had my fair share of bad press. It wasn't like I was a big fucking sensation already with many fans to lose, you know? So it's always a pleasant surprise to get good reactions."
Lidell's much-talked-up live show (he plays Harbourfront's Beats, Breaks & Culture Saturday) might catch you off guard if you come expecting the textured layers of Multiply. Aside from some occasional projected visuals, he's a one-man show and uses little instrumentation besides his pipes and some loopy effects.
However, Lidell uses his whole body when laying into the microphone, reminding audiences of James Brown's dropping-to-his-knees routine in that "I'm dying but I'll give you one more chorus" kind of way. Of course, being alone onstage means total control. But it also means total blame if anything goes awry.
"I'm not so flustered if something does go wrong," says Lidell calmly. "I'm of the mindset that things don't always have to be so professional. I kinda prefer shows that have a little scrappiness to them, you know what I mean?
"Sometimes when people get really big, they push off a force field that prevents you from getting near the performance. If things go wrong, that's part of the necessity of doing something spontaneous, and mistakes are part of going to the next level.
"Plus, if the [audience] doubts you, you can come back even stronger, and then it's like, 'Fucking right, we're back with more juice. '"