Pop: A pick 'n' mix fantasy from the `Planet Of The Apes'

Ben Thompson
Thursday 10 September 1998 23:02
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CORNELIUS

LA2, LONDON

- aka the Japanese bedroom pop emperor Keigo Oyamada - borrowed his stage name from the clever one in Planet Of The Apes.

The blindfold pick 'n' mix approach to global pop culture which he develops on his ferociously entertaining album Fantasma (Matador) comes on like a bold extension of the time-honoured roomful of monkeys theory.

When your simian helpmeets have become bored of trying to recreate the complete works of William Shakespeare, why not take their typewriters away, buy them a satellite dish and a Portastudio and see how long it takes them to record the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds?

Once they've got it right though, you might be pushing your luck asking them to play it live.

Initially at least, Cornelius's novel combination of stolen sound effects, ad-breaks, whistling, and heavy metal guitar makes a rather uneasy transition to the live arena. Matching designer police-shirts notwithstanding, Oyamada and his three bandmates look and sound like a conventional rock band, and not a particularly interesting one at that. They threaten to save the bathwater as well as the baby.

This is a distressing turn of events, as expectations are running high among the expatriate Japanese community.

The support acts, Mo Wax DJs The Psychonauts and James Lavelle, the man from UNKLE (Memo to the latter DJ: merely playing your own recordings does not constitute creative use of the turntables) have whipped us up into a frenzy of slack-jawed expectation.

So much so that on the guest list it says "Damon Albarn+5". (OK, he doesn't turn up until the show is nearly over because watching a boring football match meant more to him than the future of pop music, but Oyamada is not to know that.)

In short, the pressure is really on Cornelius.

It is the occidental tradition to extend a condescending amount of latitude to any visiting Japanese performers (How else can one explain the lengthy careers of Shonen Knife and The Pizzicato 5?) but Cornelius's recorded work is good enough to demand sterner judgement.

However, at the 11th hour, the visitors deliver.

It's hard to put a finger on the exact point at which things begin to go right for them, but it's probably the moment when Oyamada does a brilliant Theremin rendition of "Love Me Tender" in front of a video backdrop of Elvis performing the same song on film with Japanese subtitles. Now that's what I call entertainment. And by the performance's closing moments - Fantasma highlights "Free Fall" and "Chapter 8, Seashore and Horizon" - Cornelius have built up a ferocious head of steam.

If Cheap Trick had actually been born at the Budokan instead of merely playing there occasionally, this is what they might have sounded like.

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