Sunday, 16 January 2011

James Blake // Plan B Brixton // 14.01.11

+ support from Cloud Boat

Gigantic bass drops may be the norm in dubstep, and even in the strange stylistic fudge James Blake finds himself, but with a meandering guitar duo like Cloud Boat it is probably the furthest thing from your mind. Their intense bass walls seem little more than a novelty however, it just doesn't work with their earnest indie sprawl. Ending with a cover CMYK was also a joke that far outstays its welcome, but they certainly seem to aspire to create the dubstep fusion (an ugly term I know) that Blake does, but without any of the immediacy. Nevertheless, they are very new and act as a great warm up for the main event.

James Blake is palpably nervous when clambering on stage, and rightly so; the venue is packed and his debut album is not officially out for nearly another month and there is literally no stylistic precedent for the songs he will be playing. All he is riding on is the immense hype; a fickle beast that could collapse inexplicably at any moment. In fairness this is a bit of an over dramatisation; there is a tonne of drunken singing originating from the other side of the stage than James Blake, his drummer and his guitarist (Airhead, who collaborated with Blake on an EP), indicative of the fact that release dates mean little to people now.

The first few piano chords of opener Unluck lead into an engulfing syren's scream of noise, his voice twisted from quiet and complentative to tortured and yearning, yet drowned out by creeping thunder of the bass and the razor edge of the synth. If it sounds a little chilled on the record, here the brutallity of the lower end is maximised, deep like the Marina Trench, dark and subsonic. It exposes his dubstep roots whilst playing against his delicate voice for emotional effect. In fact, James Blake creates music to move you; both emotionally and physicaly.

Wilhelms Scream and I Never Learnt To Share tread a similar path, as they build from Blakes near-naked vocals, mixed with layers and layers of autotune and synth, culminating in a dense walls of sound, shaking the room and drowning out all the other senses, "like a waterfall in slow motion" for sure. It is such a contrast from the record, where the dubstep side seems quelled, here it has been unleashed, not better than the LP, but very different. To Care (Like You) bubbles along, a lighter backdrop stemming from the more recent housey experiments in the bass culture, but no less emotionally devestating. Here in particular the digital mixes with the analogue nearly seamlessly, and even the vague suggestion of a pedal being pushed or a switch being flicked only adds to the excitement of a style of music that is usually created in sterility coming to life. Not that the live paradigm limits them; Blakes vocals are are deftly sampled live, cut up and pitch-shifted as much as on record. The new context only adds to the rawness, especially for the obligatory Limit To Your Love, which is renewed as the sub bass physically vibrates and resonates around the small room and large crowd. He ends where he first started, with anthemic dubstep, covering Digital Mysticz Anti-War Dub, which is the lightest and most straighforward track of the night. Blake is now sounding exstatic and confident in the hypnotic simplicty, he has made the same progression from humble beginnings that his tracks make, a trend that can only continue into the future.

Blake has had immense pressure lumped on him to produce a great album. My review of that will follow, but telling from this perfomance he has the confindence and creativity to work as a slightly more mainstream performer. The short set was more like a taster for things to come, and despite the general cyncism about the blogging community for its minute attention span, here we see an artist creating something 'real', something that will stay with people for a while.

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