There is something about Japanese culture which appeals to us Brits. The combination of innovative musicians, artists and filmmakers, who have an obvious American slant but without the arrogance or brashness. Or that a lot of the cultural output in recent history from Japan is just wonderfully different to much of what we have in this country.
Be it either Anime cartoons, Kurosawa or Bathing Ape, Japan is a cool country to be into. Either way, Cornelius is one of his country’s finest musical exports, a pioneer if you will, of the avant-garde and experimental in electronic music, and on tonight’s evidence, quite the showman as well.
But before the Cornelius band’s ‘Sensuous Synchronized Show’ can begin, we are treated to Paul Steel, who has clear intentions on being the British sound of your summer. With his band, he’s as close as you can get to mixing ELO, sixties psychedelic rock via The Go Team. Underpinned by a basic pop-rock formula, he manages to lift things up a notch with his sheer enthusiasm for the task in hand.
All that effort will become obvious when we realise that Steel has already seen what he has to warm up for. Cornelius and his band, resplendent in matching silver formal wear, appear on stage as silhouettes before an image laden curtain comes crashing down to reveal a stage adorned with flashing lights and a huge video wall. As much to the band as a fifth member, this wall is essential to the Cornelius experience: both a focal point for his subtler moments and an addition to the more raucous ones.
It’s difficult to underline exactly what Cornelius and his music is about. As close as you could get would be to say that he is something of a musical chameleon, changing from genres, styles and approaches as and when the moment takes him. Equally at home with a shred-metal solo (he taught himself to play guitar listening to Kiss) or a stripped back ambient dance track (much aligned to the likes of Aphex Twin), it’s this ability to morph throughout a set which makes his live show so enthralling. Even tracks which on record seem a little ‘difficult’ like Fit Song from latest release Sensuous, all stop start lyrics and ambient noise, gets re-made into a funk-laced stomp akin to Prince.
The backing visuals are stunning – from abstract animated scenes to sleeping babies and floating sugar cubes, it’s almost tempting not to focus on the man himself. But, in the sprit of creating a sense of an event here in Camden tonight – Cornelius doesn’t allow that to happen. He has audience members up to play Theremin solo’s with him, passes around a sample box in the first few roads so London can help compose an offbeat jam and struts around with his guitar like he owns the place.
Most importantly though, is the sense of everyone, including the band having a fantastic time. Cornelius is deliciously oddball, but without a hint of pretension or arrogance that might detach him from the crowd. This is why he can get away with being pop, funk, rock, hip-hop and electronic all at once, make songs from the sound of inkjet printers or birdsong. Cornelius might operate on a different level to most musicians, but tonight he showed that he can make himself accessible to anyone.