Of the acts that surprised and disappointed me during Austin City Limits, perhaps no artist changed my view of them as much as 22 year old London singer/composer James Blake. While I enjoyed his drawn out, droning pieces that blended ambience, electronic pop and neo-soul, experiencing this live brought out a completely new element to his works.
Starting out soft and restrained, Blake and his band toyed with ethereal melodies, minimal drums, and set the atmosphere almost instantly. Once properly lulling the audience, Blake took songs like “I Never Learn To Share”, “CMYK” and “The Wilhelm Scream”, and delivered bass drops heavy enough for a dubstep concert, effortlessly intertwining haunting beauty and deep, thumping beats that reverberated throughout the crowd.
A friend I was with remarked “this would be perfect in a dark indoor setting with some nice visuals”. This was true with many of the acts I was able to catch, but none more than with Blake. His sound demands the proper environment so that silence is appreciated as much as noise. In a festival setting, silence is typically a moment for concertgoers who enjoy hearing themselves to yell at the top of their lungs.
There is an interval in traditional Japanese music called “ma”, which is to put it simply, the silence in between sound. Ma is valued as much as any melody or note played, and while Blake’s music is far from encasing the ideal of ma, the concept kept springing to my head during every quiet moment. The impact of asymmetrical intervals of soundless anticipation was a thing of beauty in Blake’s set, and I would love to see more of this as he continues to grow as a composer and performer.
James Blake is touring the US until mid-October, so don’t miss an opportunity to see him if he comes by your area. Unfamiliar with Blake? Click HERE to listen to 3 new tracks from Blake’s Enough Thunder EP due October 10th. You can also download an “Essential Mix” that Blake created with BBC Radio 1.
– Submitted by James Whelan, Music Design