Story and photographs by Heather Seidler
On Tuesday night, British electronic wunderkind James Blake stepped onto the Masonic Lodge stage in the legendary Hollywood Forever Cemetery for his second sold-out live performance in Los Angeles. The intimate affair was another benchmark for Blake’s fast-moving career—which has been distinguished not only by hefty amounts of hype, but the 22-year-old’s alarming ability to exceed all expectations.
Even before the February 2011 release of his debut self-titled full-length album, Blake had already captured the deserved attention of every music site/blog across the internet and graced the cover of major UK magazines. To fans and critics alike, his hybrid post-dubstep album is considered one of the best of 2011.
The classically trained Blake is an audacious musician, taking a studio-born, but not bound, form to the stage. Opening with “Unluck”, his hypnotic vocals bloomed, folded and unfolded, beneath minimalistic beats and sparse but propulsive melodies. The ever present sub-bass creeps up on you like a dark monster from under the bed, combining seamlessly with his soulful, baritone voice which sounds beyond his years.
Framed by two keyboards and a cascade of pedals and cables, accompanied by a drummer and guitarist, Blake seemed in an internal universe of his own making, hardly looking out into crowd, but permeating every corner of the room with the beats and soul of his music; it’s there and it’s not there at the same, in the sense that even the lack of music affects you with the spaces in between, revealing a subliminal peak at what hides at the heart of his music and its strategic silences.
Blake’s set generally relied on tracks from his self-titled debut LP, but the singer also included cuts from his previous EPs, including an intricate version of “Klavierwerke”. As I sat on the edge of the stage, his crafted samples were so heavy you could feel the bass rattle deep in your nerves, blanketed by the plunging beats it became impossible to be only an observer, cells themselves participated in the syncopated rhythms.
Blake’s spacey new take on old Rhythm & Blues archetypes is just part of his genius and is clearly evident in his live performance. In fact, I hadn’t felt the full grip of the album until experiencing its dark electric gospel live. His trifecta of Jazzy finger work, deconstructed vocals and handcrafted rhythms, has made fans insecure of the limited noun we call dubstep. The debut album is clearly a departure from the dubstep roots of his previous three EPs. With ease he skirts around musical genres, kicking down the walls surrounding contemporary bass music.
At the finale of the show, Blake came back onstage alone performing a new untitled song as his encore, his band watching from the sidelines. Observing the communion of the rhapsodized crowd made Blake appear inadvertently cast as the role of reverend of a new drum & bass doctrine and the audience his devout acolytes.
By 11pm, I had migrated to Blake’s after-party to catch his DJ set at Dim Mak Studios. When Blake took to his second stage of the evening, the eager crowd erupted and Blake couldn’t curtail the smile on his face, making it obvious he genuinely enjoys being behind the decks, showing another side of the multi-talented tunesmith. After watching Blake spin a set that lasted till 2am to transfixed showgoers, as the night drew to a close, I found myself still discovering elements of his show as they continued to seep in. Without investing in any hyperbole, the whole one-of-a-kind experience left a lasting impression which also left me wanting more.
Thanks to the greatly appreciated efforts of Blake’s publicist at Universal, I had the rare fortune of interviewing Blake before his show which gave me some privileged insight into his songwriting process and the musical diet of his youth. Keep an eye out for the full feature on James Blake in Ladygunn’s upcoming Fall issue.
James Blake will be returning to Los Angeles September 18th to perform at the Music Box. Get your tickets fast, they sell-out faster than you can count to 20.
Give Me My Month
Tep and the Logic
I Never Learnt To Share
To Care (Like You)
Limit To Your Love
The Wilhelm Scream
E.T. (new song)