James Blake – the new crown prince of electronic soul
Need To Know
* James only owns 20 vinyl records
* James’ favourite album is Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue’
* James’ first ever release was on legendary early-’90s rave imprint R&S
You may soon hear a song by 21-year-old Londoner James Blake called ‘The Wilhelm Scream’. If you do, you’ll know, because it will reach in through you ears and crumple your heart.
James’ maudlin voice bubbles up above feverish synths, before the whole love-weary thing succumbs to a storm of abusive feedback noise.
It sounds like Burial got R Kelly, Grouper and the ghost of Arthur Russell in the studio together and told them to argue about love. It sounds like The xx if the tension simmering beneath their dinner party politeness erupted into cuckolded wives tasering their husbands.
“I was never a scene kid,” says James. “My whole musical existence has been playing on my own, and I think the music’s sense of solitude comes from there.”
Early on, that music was classical piano and James’ voice, improvising along to other peoples’ songs for hours, glad that his own trains of thought weren’t about to collide with anyone else’s.
Now? James mischievously suggests that what he makes is “ragga”. It’s not. It’s just ‘his music’.
But like many auteurs in 2010 – most notably Untold and Mount Kimbie, who Blake has remixed and performed with respectively – he now finds his violent, electronic soul slung in with the only UK scene for such frosty scenelessness: dubstep.
“The first time I went to FWD>> I was out for someone’s birthday,” he says of dubstep’s London birthplace. “Everyone was disappointed because it was quite anti-social and pitch black, so no-one could see each other. But I was loving it.”
That admiration is more obvious in his pre-‘The Wilhelm Scream’ work, with his debut 12-inch ‘Air And Lack Thereof’ pairing guillotine snares and sub-bass swells with meticulously pitch-shifted vocals. It’s always been emotional, though.
“I hope people on the dancefloor get the same, intense feeling I get when writing,” he explains. “Some girl came up to me once and said she was at a club with her friends, then heard the Untold remix and was in tears.
“That’s the best thing anyone’s ever said to me. Dance music has more to offer emotionally than just euphoria.”