James Blake: “I’ve never made a dubstep tune”

“I loved the first few things that I heard from James Blake, then I heard The Bells sketch on his Hessle EP and was like, wow,” Mark Pritchard told inthemix at the tail end of 2010. “Then I saw he signed a major deal and found that interesting and great that a bigger label would invest in an artist like him. Limit To Your Love came and I was like, “Okay, it’s all looking like it’s falling into place”. I think next year he is going to kill it and deservedly so.” Pritchard was right. Come early 2011, the then-22 year old Londoner released his debut album. It didn’t take long for the self-titled LP to earn the adulation of critics from here all the way to the Mercury Prize panel, where the album earned the nomination as one of 2011’s best.

Somewhere along the way, James Blake got stuck with a ‘post-dubstep’ tag (“Honestly, I don’t even know what I think about ‘post-dubstep’,” Blake insists). Around the same time, dubstep, once the very underground sound of the Big Apple Records crew, certifiably blew up and debate over it became top of the dance world’s zeitgeist. Come interview time, Blake was regularly called on to give his opinion on the state of the genre – and his comments about dubstep’s new “frat boy market” didn’t go unnoticed. A couple of years down the track, brostep’s time in the sun has passed and the R&S signee, who’s long superbly commanded the moodier end of the bass spectrum, is back with album number two. Overgrown, Blake’s many diehards will happily report, is released tomorrow.

While he was in the country for a pair of intimate shows last month, inthemix sat down for a catch up with the genre-bender. But if you missed him on that sold-out trip, don’t worry – he’ll back in a few months for Splendour.

So we’re here to talk about Overgrown. How does your new album differ to the debut?

Well, I think it’s a better album in terms of running order and the way it feels after you’ve listened to it. It’s less a random collection of songs and has more of a “beginning”, “middle” and “end” vibe going on.

When you introduced Retrograde on BBC Radio 1 while speaking with Zane Lowe, you said that your Joni Mitchell cover was a “turning point” for you. Does that mean that there’s more piano and less electronic stuff on this album?

No, but I think my voice is a bit less adulterated: it’s more in the foreground. But then it’s actually more electronic as well – more rhythmic, I think.

You also mentioned that this album had more club influences because you’d been going out more since the last album.

Yeah, I’ve actually started running a club night in Plastic People, 1-800-Dinosaur. It’s going really well: we’re getting a lot of people through the door and it’s really starting to be packed each time and pretty fun. I get to play anything I want with all my friends around me, and just play some vinyl, have a laugh, have a drink and talk to people who’ve come along to the show and don’t even know that I DJ. It’s part fans and part just everyday, random people off the street. It’s quite relaxed.

What was the idea behind starting the night?

We wanted a place where we could just have free reign of a club, and we really liked that club specifically. There’s no pressure to dance – there are no lights on the dancefloor, it’s completely pitch black – so for all the self-conscious dancers out there, they have a place they can go where they can just listen to whatever and stand at the back, if they want. They don’t need to care what anyone thinks of them. But also, I kind of wanted somewhere where I could write tunes specifically for it, and Voyeur from the new album kind of sounds like a tune that I wrote for that club.

You’re obviously DJing a lot now. Have you found that to be a satisfying experience compared to doing a live show?

Yeah. I actually DJ’d before I started playing live. I’ve been DJing for about three or four years. With all the tunes that I used to release on labels like Hemlock Recordings, Hessle Audio, R&S, I was DJing alongside that. I wouldn’t say that I’m a great DJ, but I would say that I certainly have some experience under my belt now to know that DJing gives me inspiration to write club tunes.

Do you only use vinyl when DJing? I ask because I remember in one interview you said that you don’t think laptops don’t have a place on stage.

I don’t think laptops really have a place anywhere in live music, to be honest, because the way they are used is mostly to sync things and to automate otherwise human practices. And that’s always a sad thing, whether it’s in music or in anything else: what can otherwise be something very human and emotional can end up sounding cold and boring. When DJing I play vinyl and CD.

How often is 1-800-Dinosaur held?

It should be on once every two weeks but we haven’t been able to do it recently…it’s just whenever I’m in town and we can book the club in, really.

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