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A Q&A with Algernon Cornelius

'Isolated incidents informing incongruous individuals to incite infinite increments in the immortal imaginary.. or: How I & I survive' written by Clark_Dark distinctly details the lived experiences of the individual (Algernon Cornelius) from his middle class home lost between military bases in North Yorkshire to the acceptance of his cultural awareness, politics and music choices.

I feel that the above mentioned text chronicles the life of the artist so well that I don't want to simply repeat it and instead this introduction will reference my personal experiences instead.

Algernon Cornelius is a highly intelligent, well read individual who creates impactful music that ranges from hip-hop, punk and grime, alongside this he also is a very succinct writer and has co-created a zine called Black Spring.

Over his 15 years of creating he has been in many bands from Mortal Deck to Two Trick Horse and his latest iteration Algernon Cornelius is currently at release 47. The artist was raised in Hastings until moving to North Yorkshire sandwiched between military bases and indeed going to school with children who were stationed at the bases. At the age of 18 after a variety of musical excursions he moved to Leeds to full immerse himself in musical culture and whilst there founded Destroy All Records and Destroy All Monsters, the latter being a promotional outlet where he put on hundreds of musicians.

After his time in Leeds he came to Manchester (where his grandparents moved in the early 60's from Jamaica) and once again started a musical community. He was pivotal in the band Organic Zip, which is where I first saw the artist. The latest project Algernon Cornelius feels like a complete view of the artist from influences ranging from Kano (key to the Jamaican tonality in some of his vocals) to Tom Morello's guitar playing and the political words of Linton Kwesi Johnson and Marcus Garvey (where he got his name) shown to him by his father.

Algernon has more recently featured on compilations such as Group Therapy, Solidarity Tapes and M and has been played on radio shows such as Steam Radio, NTS, AB2B and Sable Radio. Sable have now become host to a new project by Algernon named 'So, You've Become Abandoned By The State' which uses visual and audio elements to explore the heightened feelings of being part of 21st Century Britain.

As previously mentioned he has co-founded the zine Black Spring with friend Claudia Kensani Saviotti which tackles stories of black heritage and experiences of black people within Britain. Ranging from artistic responses to autobiographies and stories of racism and oppression in alternative spaces, this publication feels like a scream for help and awareness whilst also being a beacon of hope and a signal of solidarity. Since the release of Issue 1 of the zine the group have collaborated with Black History Month and Beyond and put on two performances at Manchester History Museum which showcase sessions from both Algernon and rising star Otis Mesah.

For years now it feels as though Algernon has been creating communities and hubs for the 'alternative' people within a city and for that I thank him again and again. The modest man I have met in the street (Clarkus Dark) would simply say 'thankyou' but for the alter ego of Algernon Cornelius, I'm not sure. The anger and aggression that Algernon shows on stage is something else, totally transformative. They become a 'front-man', a force to reckon with and really quite animalistic. Whether they are the times that full expression can be quantified or that is the physical moniker of him, only he will know.

Algernon sums it all up best for me, "like throwing vapour in the air and hoping it forms a cloud."

Who is Algernon Cornelius?

AC: I don't know, I don't really like telling people my real, actual, official name because that feels like too much. I don't like people looking me up on social media.

Evan: Who is Clarkus Dark?

AC: That is just, I guess, a spoonerism of my name. I think it was part of my character development that was different from Algernon Cornelius, the flip side of that. I guess it's supposed to be the darker side of the main character if that makes sense.

Evan: So is Algernon the main character?

AC: It could be. If in reference to my last album I think there's things easier to pick out rather me over explain it but it is the flip side essentially.

Evan : Are there any other spoonerisms or characters that you would refer to yourself as that you may not have done publicly?

AC: There are some names that I've used that are about if you were to look at everything I have done, it's there but without explaining too much. It is there already.

Evan: Is that always been the plan or is that the beauty of the culture that MF Doom brought to us?

AC: It's definitely bringing back that tradition for sure, yeah, like him and a lot of other rappers have done that. I think I got introduced to Madlib through Madvillain and then Quasimoto so it's very interesting in that way.

Evan: It's that album that makes you go 'whoa', there's more stuff than Madvillainy.

AC: Yeah definitely. I think maybe Curls may have been the first track I heard off that. Yeah, I don't know, I think it just instantly sat with me, the sound and everything, it's weird.

Evan: I think I'm the same. I end up having to defend why it's one of my favourite hip-hop albums.

AC: I guess it's just both of them being in a space, being the best they can be, gelling together. To anyone that likes music, you will like that, you don't have to overthink it, you don't need to explain that it's because of this, because they are using that, it's just great.

So who is Algernon Cornelius?

AC: It's a name taken from my grandad, yeah, I don't know, I was just picking names -years ago- and I thought his name was a really cool name. It doesn't sound like a rapper name.

Evan: Is that the mainstay of your music or is that going to change anytime soon?

AC: I think i'm quite changeable, so when and if. I've always been aware that things will change.

Evan: I know you've been part of lots of different musical projects over the years either in Leeds, playing Glastonbury or more modern projects, will you tell us about your musical history?

AC: You want me to tell you? I guess playing in bands was a very significant part for me, putting on gigs and being involved with people doing music locally because that is getting involved with the community.

What exactly did you get up to in Leeds?

AC: Putting on gigs and starting a label, I think we put out two releases.

Evan: What was it called?

AC: Destroy All Records. But it was the same as putting on gigs, if you don't want to make any money then you won't make any money and that is fine, you just have to accept that and you can't really start a label without any money, which is what we did.

How did the time across Yorkshire and Hastings impact the person you are now in Manchester?

AC: I left Hastings when I was 5 so I only really remember being by the sea. I have thought about the fact that from our road you could see the sea and that was our horizon. Whereas in Yorkshire you are surrounded by the moors to the east and the dales to west and really very landlocked. That in itself is a vast horizon when you get out into the countryside, you can see for miles. Not like when you're here and everywhere you look is a terraced house.

Evan: I do think that is a very defining thing of Manchester, even though we are currently in middle of a park we can still see buildings and we know we are surrounded by thousands of houses. Does that close proximity of city living influence or change anything within you?

AC: It's not something I had really thought about, if there is any difference? I think it's more to do with the people that are around. To be fair, most of the music I have ever made has been made in Manchester, most of it has been crafted here.

What is a defining thing about Manchester to you?

AC: I complain about it a lot, the transport system. People say this all the time but it does have a very prominent past that people are kind of always in the shadow of whereas other places don't have that, where you can have a bit more freedom. On the flip side I do think there is a very prominent history that people are aware of and will always make reference to like people's history, politics etc. But I do think it is turning into what every city is right now, being sucked by money but people that do come here do have interesting ideas and when they get together interesting things happen.

I think if you were comparing it to London then it is miles ahead but because I came from Leeds this space is bigger and I had to look harder and it took me longer. The scenes are more spread out, when I talk to someone and they don't know someone from this other scene, they are really closely connected, more than they think. whereas in Leeds there is much more cross-over.

Evan: I might be presumptuous but it does feel like there are 5 venues in Leeds and that's where everything happens.

AC: Yeah but it depends what people you talk to, one person will say that's the scene but someone will say something different, there are always multiple scenes and multiple communities all sliding over each other. You could draw a family tree up and people wouldn't realise the people in this band go to this club and this person runs that sound system and they were in a band with so and so, it's all tied up.

I spoke to people a while ago about starting something user generated where you list all the bands you have been in or been a part of and that would link it self up. It would be massive, it would cross countries and continents. Like the stories that Madonna was in a band with Sonic Youth or Swans, I think it was.

Evan: I think she did some stuff with Jarboe from Swans and then maybe the Birthday Party guitarists Blitza Bargeld at some point, all through Nick Cave.

AC: So then you can already link Nick Cave to 2Pac.

From Tom Morello to NWA to Arthur Brown to Arthur Verocai, how far do these influences go and where have they come from?

AC: It's just music, to simply put it. At the age I am I don't think it's odd that I have such a broad music taste because of technology and the internet but also because of hip-hop. It is a form of music that samples from such a wide palate, that's how I learnt about stuff really, that got me more interested in records and stuff.

Are there any stand out early records or samples that sparked something in you?

AC: It's hard to say, I don't know any particular sample that stuck out. I guess there was Nautilus by Bob James that was sampled in Daytona 500 by Ghostface Killah. Like a lot of people when hearing a rap record, you don't necessarily understand that it is sampled and it's like trying to work out what that bass line is.

Evan: It's like Slim Shady, that bass line, I can't remember who it's by now.

AC: Labi Siffre, I Got The Blues.

Are there any standout albums for you?

AC: I remember buying Rage Against The Machine's first album. I went to HMV and bought ACDC's Highway To Hell and Rage. When I got in the car I listened to ACDC and said 'that's the song I know from that album', took it out and put Rage in and I thought I couldn't hear it because it's just the bass at the start, so I turned it all the way up and then it blasts. That just shocked me, 'this is staying on for the rest of the journey, forget about ACDC'. The colours on the album are monochrome so it just feels like it's own little universe, I can focus in on this, the text is in the same font, it's raw, just one piece of art. It also looked metallic and sounded metallic, you can really hear the brightness in the bass strings and the symbols, it has that very short room reverb and slight gate which is typical in 90's music.

Evil Empire then has this very earthy feel to it as you can tell that they've just been hot boxed in this room, it's a bit more dry, using more of a sepia filter. Albums that look like the world you are going into.

Tell us about your Myspace page, Black Guitarist Revolution.

AC: That was just something I did as a teenager. Where I grew up was very conservative and backwards I'd say. You basically have the RAF about a mile away from my house and then where I went to sixth form is the biggest military base in Europe, so it's very military, kinda crazy. I think it was William Hague who was the local MP, super conservative. So I'd come out of sixth form and hear people saying 'there are no black guitarists' or 'there's only Jimi Hendrix' so then I tried to prove it wrong by setting up the page that showed them all these other people. I think it was just after I discovered Bad Brains, so I was really discovering for myself too, so yeah just making a Myspace page really.

Evan: Can you remember some of the names that were on it?

AC: There was Living Colour, Bad Brains, Tom Morello, a load of blues guitarists, I mean this was a really long time ago and Myspace have since had a big data dump where it lost anything, so there isn't any of it left.

Is that what influences Black Spring?

AC: Yeah, I guess so. I have myself always had that thing where when in a certain pocket of music you have expectations of what you are supposed to do, how you are supposed to act and it is based on those experiences.

Evan: So what is the story of how Black Spring began?

AC: It was me and Claudia just wanting to put something together. We are both in music circles and a lot of the discussion we were having about racism, through our circles and through our lens were about experiences that happened in music. So we thought we would put a zine together that had voices like that in there and link people up that didn't already know each other. I think that is what zines and gigs do.

Evan: I think that is exactly what those experiences are there for. Have you had had any opportunities to learn or experience new things through your work with Black Spring?

AC: Putting a zine together is extremely hard and really takes up a lot of time, yeah, that was the main thing. Things are work.

Evan: What else is to come from Black Spring moving forward?

AC: I'm not really sure. It's the same thing with anything, we both do stuff and it's a case of juggling everything else, especially in a pandemic.

Within the Manchester music scenes is there anyone that you would recommend?

AC: I like all the stuff that has come out of Do Your Best, it's mad crazy interesting, so I'm glad that exists. I really like Mandy, Indiana, who used to be Gary, Indiana. Humint I love, like Humint and Handle are the ones. Iceboy Violet. I'm really interested to hear the new Space Afrika album, the single is great and has really nice production, it's quite lush, minimal but colourful with a paint brush texture.

Like I used to be going to 4 gigs a week when I was younger and these days it's more like 4 a year. When tickets and tours come out I feel that people do go to the bigger shows, trying to hedge their bets at a big show. I do like the improvised feel of a DIY show where I can just walk up somewhere and buy a ticket, getting a ticket online does feel like a real commitment.

Is there anything else we can expect from Algernon or Clarkus in the future?

AC: Well, yeah. I'm always working on stuff. It's like throwing vapour in the air and hoping it forms a cloud.

Algernon has a big back catalogue that is just waiting for you to go buy some very nice cassettes and merch, buy it here. But if you do want to see and learn more from Algernon then go see him on his UK tour this spring.

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