James Blake interview: “The best stuff comes out in a stream of consciousness.”

07.06.10, Words by: Ruth Saxelby

JAMES BLAKE is an up and coming Dubstep artist from Enfield. That’s a matter of fact statement on the surface but one that has the potential to send arms aloft amongst the increasingly fractured UK Bass music community. Like so many genres before it, as Dubstep becomes the stuff of as-seen-on-TV compilations and advert backing tracks, such is the stigma attached to using the term in some quarters that you’d be forgiven for thinking it had become a very dirty word indeed. So it’s refreshing to hear that’s what Blake wants you to call his music. “I don’t mind people calling it Dubstep,” he explains over the phone during a brief break from the studio. “I think a lot of people get hung up trying to avoid styles. I think it’s nice for people to be able call it that.”

He’s right, you know. It’s easy to forget in the scheme of things that Dubstep is still a young and fairly underground genre encompassing a labyrinthine myriad of styles. To hear one of its newest and most exciting artists boycotting the hype and keeping arms wide open to welcome new listeners makes a nice change. Of course, the most refreshing thing about Blake isn’t his attitude, it’s his music. There’s the 140bpm skeleton of Garage but it’s fleshed out with a beguiling mix of offbeat syncopation, tightly wound synths and expertly chopped vocal fragments (listen to his remix of Mount Kimbie above). It’s a world apart from the pumped up build-and-drop of the more jump-up end of the Dubstep spectrum but it’s still sneaking in the side door on to the dancefloor of plenty of clubs. Is it meant to be club music? Blake thinks so: “I do want the music to be played in clubs but my style of arrangement isn’t necessarily based on Dubstep, it’s based on how I look at music in general. I take it as a big compliment when someone plays something like Buzzard And Kestrel in a club though, which doesn’t have an obvious structure, because it’s like they are saying they are happy to break their set up just because they like the tune.”

Indeed, unexpected twists and turns abound in Blake’s music, but it’s all part of the fun. The woozy funk of Postpone from his new ‘CMYK’ EP is a case in point; it’s a builder, moving from very minimal beginnings to something almost euphoric; a cavern of reverb housing chopped up R&B vocals resulting in something akin to the distant echoes of a futuristic gospel choir. There are also enough unexpected switch ups and stops and starts to wrongfoot even the most ambitious DJ. These unexpected moments are all part of the plan though, as Blake explains: “The best things come about when I haven’t really thought about it. I possibly know what sample I’m going to use but very often it’s a happy accident. I think the best stuff comes out in a kind of stream of consciousness. Sparing The Horses is my favourite example, there’s a little blip that throws you off the rhythm and then makes the impact bigger when everything comes back in.”

Much is made of the R&B element in Blake’s work but rather than an on-trend reverence for the genre, you guessed it, he sees it another way. “People like Aaliyah I wasn’t ever sure if I actually liked them. To me they are better as producer tools because they are very malleable vocal-wise. When [those songs] came out I thought a lot of it was forgettable,” he says. “It wasn’t all based on the songs themselves, it was something to do with how recognisable they are. Whatever I used them in would instantly have a Pop quality, like sprinkling some kind of Pop essence over it.”

It turns out that that elusive Pop essence might be something he is interested in exploring in the future. He’s remaining tight-lipped about it for now but admits that later this year we can expect the first taste of new material which foregrounds his own vocals, housed in something more songlike whilst retaining his signature offbeat style. Before that there’ll be an EP of solo piano and treated vocals coming on R&S that will sound different again. It seems a restless creativity drives JAMES BLAKE: “I like to keep people on their toes. I don’t see the point in ever releasing two EPs that sound the same.”

James Blake’s ‘CMYK’ EP is out now on R&S. Check his myspace for upcoming gigs.

James Blake’s myspace

READ SUNIL’S REVIEW OF ‘CMYK