Award-winning artist, producer, songwriter, and vocalist James Blake is playing at a few of the largest festivals this summer! He released his groundbreaking and universally acclaimed Mercury nominated eponymous debut album in 2011, and Mercury winning second album Overgrown in 2013, as well as being nominated for a Grammy and multiple BRIT awards. He has toured the world and performed on stages ranging from Glastonbury to the Sydney Opera House to Japan’s Fuji Rock Festival. His musical output has seen him collaborate with artists as diverse as Bon Iver, RZA & Brian Eno. James also forms part of the 1-800 DINOSAUR collective, maintaining his underground roots with the label and club night and residency on BBC Radio 1, showcasing forward thinking new talent as well as previewing unreleased material from James himself.
Early in 2016, James Blake threw a party with his 1-800 Dinosaur label collective and early Dubstep evangelists DMZ at The Prince of Wales pub, Brixton. Through his last five years’ musical adventures, James’ exquisite song suites have taken him to lofty places. James Blake climaxed the world tour in support of his last record, Overgrown, to successive standing ovations over two nights at The Sydney Opera House. ‘Just mind-blowing, the kind of thing you dream of,’ he says. ‘Every night ended with just me and piano.’ As he releases his third suite, The Colour in Anything, James is still only 27 years old.
For every sublime, a ridiculous. In the wake of his self-titled debut, James was invited to join a choir including Antony Hegarty, Laurie Anderson and Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt to sing behind Lou Reed at Carnegie Hall for an emotional finale at a Free Tibet benefit, curated by Philip Glass. ‘The reason I still can’t play in mainland China,’ he notes. It was an experience only marred by the toke of a joint handed him from one of the cleverly obnoxious Brooklyn hip-hop trio, Das Racist, before stepping onstage. ‘There I am, my gangly 6’6” self, poking out the back of this ridiculously well-appointed choir and I’m like just feeling so awkward. And paranoid, of course. It was a bit like being in Dad’s Army.’
During the making of The Colour in Anything, James has found himself in other rarefied circles. There have emerged amid the undeniable global musical elite new friends, allies and admirers attracted to his bespoke musical mood, his certainty with sound. His influence has proved legion. There is barely a boy in his bedroom making beats that is not in thrall to some of Blake’s methodology and sound. At the upper musical tier, his music has proven irresistible to the international r&b community who came courting for collaboration.
There was the meeting with Kanye West in Hollywood’s Hidden Hills, for which Blake, not West arrived two hours late (‘they were perhaps a bit too Hidden?’). The LA playback for a new Beyonce record, with the artist’s daughter singing along in approval to a vocal hook of James’ composition (‘Beyonce said “that’s how you know it’s catchy”). There were the hours he poured into sessions for Frank Ocean’s forthcoming opus (‘absolutely the biggest influence on this record’). And the Transatlantic passing back and forth of alchemical music files with his good friend (‘the closest I have to a brother’) Justin Vernon, Bon Iver, which forms The Colour in Anything’s arresting, surprising, rousing, beautifully semi-intelligible centrepiece I Need a Forest Fire (‘even I don’t know what some of the lyrics are’). There were sessions in Rick Rubin’s Zen Malibu retreat, Shangri-La, where James watched with sanguine calm as Rubin spliced together his hours of improvisation, lying on the floor, scratching his beard.
‘It’s gone by in such a flurry that I didn’t sometimes stop to appreciate what was happening to me,’ James says now, looking back on the surreal moments that have punctuated his brilliant musical life. ‘I’ve been around some of the most unbelievable writers and musicians, choreographers and composers. Only now do I feel like I’ve had some of the blindfold taken off me where I can see what actually happened.’ James is a prodigious, gifted musician whose area of speciality – that flirtation point at which club music goes in for the clinch with Classical – has yet to be bound by genre.