“Thanks for being guinea pigs to this big test...”
James Blake is as self-effacing as ever, further telling the audience packed to the brim with lovers, ex-lovers, stoners and parents, that the ensuing set list would consist of mostly new material. Material taken from his third release ‘The Colour in Anything’, a surprise release that shook the industry earlier this month. Still, Blake cherry picks from an assorted mix of older, more lived-in songs, mostly from his Mercury Prize-winning ‘Overgrown’. Backed by a guitarist and a drummer, simplicity is the key as Blake and his band bounce off each other playfully, each performing dual roles as the synthetic and organic are blurred together.
Blake opens the night with the electronic wizardry of ‘Life Round Here’, a fitting opener as the gig serves as a homecoming of sorts, London the biggest influencer on Blake’s blend of after-dark R&B and downtempo electronics. The choice of venue is Shoreditch’s Village Underground, a dilapidated warehouse converted into a cultural hotspot, Blake this generation’s premier PC producer at home and in perfect synchronicity with the venue’s multi-purpose emphasis on creative art. Blake’s gospel-tinged voice soars throughout the venue, amplified in volume and strength as it hits the very back. It’s a supple voice that Blake loops and contorts with expert ease as is evidenced on new track ‘Radio Silence’, featuring his trademark falsetto.
The set could have solely consisted of Blake’s hybridised, piano-laden slow burners, it’s these songs that have garnered the Goldsmith alumni his legion of lovelorn followers, transcending generations as evidenced from the eclectic crowd Blake performs to. ‘Retrograde’ is met with a warm applause, the track home to Blake’s most confessional lyrics, his live laments piercing and genuinely heartfelt, as is the Frank Ocean-assisted ‘My Willing Heart’, a glacial ballad that receives an equally fervent feedback from the audience.
Yet, club culture is given equal counterpart status, his newer material the perfect paradigm through which Blake’s excels, creating disjointed but sophisticated pieces that evolve and shift gear at exhilarating pace. The middle-section of the set serves as a thrilling, continuous mix of dizzying house, funky and tribal rhythms, Blake succeeding in upping the ante. Kicked off with new LP standout ‘Timeless’, segueing effortlessly into the treated chime of ‘Voyeur’, Blake reclaims his ex-lover’s focus through a looped “her mind was on me” refrain. It’s abundantly clear as the set comes to a crescendo with ‘Modern Soul’ that Blake caters to the soul as well as the body. The pain of heartbreak ever palpable, in that moment you realise no other existing artist is able to occupy the point between desolate electronica and soul quite like Blake.
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Words: Shahzaib Hussain