Dubstep has shuffled its way into pop music in recent months. Earlier this year I was actually a big fan of the kick-and-snare patterns, modulated bass lines and manic drops, but I have gradually lost interest in the music. The main reason I developed a distaste for hardcore dubstep was because I thought that the genre was seemingly unable to be anything more than a backdrop for late-night head banging and fist pumping. James Blake proved me wrong.
James Blake is one of a handful of emerging artists ushering in a new era of “post-dubstep” music. His songs are uniquely crafted with elements of dubstep that complement his soulful voice and emphasize his dynamic piano playing. Simply put, James Blake is a dubstep singer/songwriter — a categorization that I thought would never exist.
Blake has been breaking ground since mid-2009 when he began releasing several EPs exhibiting his spin on ambient dubstep. In February James Blake released his self-titled debut album, which he produced, recorded and released on his own label to widespread critical acclaim. Since this release, Blake has been touring around Europe, Australia and North America. On Oct. 8 Blake played the penultimate show of his 2011 international tour in Philadelphia’s own Trocadero Theatre, which I attended.
I have been to several concerts, a few at the Troc, but this show was uniquely captivating, mind-opening and trance-inducing. After seeing Girl Talk earlier this year, I wrongfully believed that most electronic artists performed entire shows from behind a MacBook Pro. Surprisingly, two other musicians accompanied Blake on stage, offering more of a concert-feel as opposed to a solo DJ set. Ben Assiter beat at an electric drum set, Rob McAndrews pecked at a guitar and sampler, and Blake sat behind a microphone, synthesizer and piano as if he were Billy Joel.
In spite of that comparison, James Blake’s music is nothing like that of Billy Joel’s. Blake’s auto-tuned voice and uncanny piano jabs when accompanied by Assiter’s click-bass drum patterns, and McAndrews’ fuzzy guitar and eerie samples amalgamated elements of shoe gaze melancholy, deep blues and euro-house. With each song, the simple aesthetic of a smoky background glowed in synchronism with each intentional swell of feedback and rhythm. Throughout the show I could feel the rippling bass vibrate in my clothes and shake the hair on my arms, physically translating the power of Blake’s music.
Some definite highlights of the show were the performances of “Limit to Your Love,” popularized by Feist, and “I Never Learnt to Share,” which featured James recording his own vocals on stage and sampling them throughout the rest of the song. Blake also played several piano-only songs that allowed audience members to collect themselves before bursting out into unified bobs and dips during the very danceable “CMYK.”
Overall, the concert felt intimate enough to be mistaken for the James Blake edition of MTV’s “Unplugged.” Certain segments of the concert almost felt like a conversation. During the gap between songs, Blake frequently interacted with the audience, talking about how appreciative he is for his fans, and even sent a few ripostes to obnoxious spectators. These casual interactions between artist and audience only served to make the show more enjoyable.
I wholeheartedly recommend that you all see James Blake live, especially if you do not like dubstep. Although James Blake’s tour wrapped up on Oct. 9 in Washington, D.C., Blake made several remarks about how much fun touring has been and that he “hasn’t had this much fun in a while.” With that in mind, expect to see James Blake back in Philadelphia the next time he is on tour.
Keep your eyes out for James Blake, and look out for the rise of post-dubstep. Blake played on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” in July and just released another EP featuring a song co-written with Kanye West collaborator Bon Iver. After you listen to some of James Blake’s vast discography, be sure to check out other post-dubstep acts like Katy B, Mount Kimbie and Jamie xx.