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Taking inspiration from his surroundings, Algernon Cornelius makes music for your listening pleasure. Having a musician granddad who encouraged him, Cornelius played several instruments before settling on production. This is a passion which is sparked by freedom of expression and a love of hip hop. Cornelius makes music on his own terms, pushes boundaries and is not afraid of taking risks.

His debut mixtape, Happiness, is a cleverly crafted mixture of delicacy, funk and edginess, using strong vocals, punchy brass and heartfelt piano to maximum effect. With new collaborations up his sleeve, it will be intriguing to see where he goes next. A natural storyteller, both musically and in person, he can spin a yarn about sound equipment, grand pianos and, err, budgies.

Why did you start producing?

There are lots of noises in my head and they just have to get out somehow. Thankfully, I’ve had family and friends that have had music equipment around, so I’ve been able to make those ideas real. When I started listening to hip hop, hearing Jam Master Jay cutting records to make a new song (like on ‘Beats To The Rhyme’), that blew my mind and I wanted to do that.

How did you get into it?

I got given some CD turntables from Argos for Christmas one year and I was already getting into hip hop at the time. I started building sets in my room and then mixing tracks together and thinking, “Hmm, that sound would go really well over this beat.” But I went down the rabbit hole when I started studying Music Tech at A-level, and from then I started using software.

How long have you been producing?

I guess I’ve been putting music together from an early age, making songs and sound collages in my head. That’s slowly been allowed to realise itself onto different instruments and equipment as the years have gone on, from playing piano to trombone, then guitar and bass, turntables and then getting music production software. I got a copy of Cubase Free with a guitar pedal when I was about 16 or 17, so I guess it all started proper then.

How would you summarise the art of music production?

My art, specifically? It’s constantly battling the relation between what’s in your head and what’s in front of you, and trying to make sense of it while conveying an emotion, feeling or story. On a commercial level, a producer or engineer will make something that translates to an audience or a market, but I like producers who don’t care about that and like doing stuff that’s ‘wrong’.

What do you like about producing music?

In everyday working life, especially in Britain, there aren’t many ways of expressing yourself. And even when there is an opportunity to do so, it comes with rules attached. When I started this project I didn’t want any rules about what it was going to be or how it should sound. Producing in this way has become very liberating and that’s what I like.

What inspires you?

Colours, the rhythms of the city, northern colloquialisms, cartoons, George Clinton, space, dinosaurs, Middle Eastern and Caribbean food, Godzilla, my girlfriend (who will be massively embarrassed by the fact I said that), plants, water – pretty much anything. Just stuff I see walking around.

Grandad Joe

Who are your influences?

I take lots of lessons from producers like Pete Rock, DJ Premier, Dilla, Madlib (especially), but I try to always go further. I think what Madlib teaches is that you can just do something completely stupid, like the track ‘Fake Fucks’, and it’s still okay, as long as it’s you. I think more than anything he’s helped me find my own voice.

What are your favourite genres?

I’m inspired by a lot of different sounds. I’m really into footwork at the moment and a lot of glitchy, fast stuff like IGLOOGHOST, lo-fi hip hop from the likes of Dirty Tapes, and I love noise-rock. I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz and soul records recently and I’ve been trying to find more dub and rocksteady too. Hip hop is obviously my favourite, but that’s because it’s my life. It’s more than a genre tag.

Where do you find your samples?

Mostly YouTube, but I have a little dictaphone I sometimes use. I buy a lot of records and ripped some samples from those onto my SP-404 [sampler].

What advice would you give to people who would like to start producing?

Don’t let money stop you making music. If you can download a free copy of something, then get it, if it means you can get those ideas down. Then when you have it, learn it inside out. Try everything, make things sound wrong, test the limits of your technology. Once you know the maximum parameters of that world, you’ll be able to navigate it. Remember that everyone is still learning and someone can always learn from you as much as you can from them. You are a universe builder. Basically, approach music like you would Minecraft.

Which other producers do you rate? Can you name any local producers you’re into?

I haven’t been in Manchester long enough to get to know the local scene, but people I’m aware of are Levelz, Madam X, the Broke ‘n’ English crew, Pete Cannon. I really dig Bambooman. What he does is really innovative and weird, which I like. Dr Zygote and Jazz T both make some proper gully hip hop. That’s on the UK side of things. Overseas, I think Sporting Life is pushing things forward and Earl Sweatshirt’s beats are quite unique. There are too many producers to name for my different tastes really.

Would you like to collaborate with any vocalists, rappers or musicians? If so, is there anyone in particular?

Definitely. I haven’t worked with a rapper or vocalist yet, so that’s something I really want to learn and build on. I have some collaborations planned for something new, so I’ll see how that pans out. I’m pretty excited about it.


What was the inspiration for Happiness?

I was in a very weird place. All my friends had moved away so making this music kind of became therapy for me. I think the theme and the concept came with that, and all the songs seemed to be uplifting in different ways. Each track is like a different shade of happiness. I just wanted to make something that didn’t have the creative restraints that usually come with being in a band too.

What’s your favourite track on the album?

I think maybe ‘Fake Fucks’ or ‘Butterfly Tears’.

What is your dream for the future?

To have a lot of music and a lot of stories.

What is your recipe for happiness?

Give yourself time to rest and think, and to eat right. Oh, and colours. Get lots of colours in your life.

You can read Anna’s review of Algernon Cornelius’s Happiness mixtape here.

Next article in issue 28

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