Live Review: James Blake at Manchester Warehouse Project – 26th November 2011

By on Wednesday, 7th December 2011 at 2:00 pm

For a night that was supposed to be dedicated to dance, it’s surprising how little dancing occurred. James Blake’s Saturday night appearance at Manchester’s Warehouse Project (being curated by Belgian dance label R&S) started early at 9 and ended up finishing at the wee hours of 5 in the morning, with a total of 12 acts performing altogether. Amazing! However, for the purpose of this review, I’m going to focus on the main man of the moment, Mr. Blake. I will admit here that I am not in anyway a fan of James Blake, but I will try and avoid any kind of bias. Honest!

Blake’s keyboard driven beats are hardly what you expect from a night like this; however, the tinkling and wavering of the keyboards is enough to have at least a few dance purists moving. By the time Blake arrived for the live set, the venue (under the Piccadilly railway station car park) was packed, sweaty and every shade of uncomfortable you can imagine. The bass during opener ‘Unluck’ was bordering on unbearable: while the pulsating beats had my heart pumping, it was a complete sensory overload from the start. Uncomfortable for me, yes, however in amongst the sensory bombardment was Blake’s wavering vocals, bringing order to the proceedings.

‘I Never Learnt to Share’ is an intense catastrophe of sound, with the introduction suitably dulcet, moving into an intense collision of keyboards. The post-dubstep sound he is looking for is released in the end with the crowd erupting in a sweaty, keyboard-induced mob.

This performance though was epitomized by the subtlety of this young producer’s music. It managed to fill a room while still remaining g as minimalistic as it is on a record, like the xx for the dubstep generation. The venue’s brick arched setting helped with this, keeping the sound enclosed where it could reverberate into the electronic beast it is meant to be in a live setting.

As I mentioned earlier, in this crowded setting the ability to dance was at a premium, which is bizarre for a dance-driven club night. But I don’t think anybody left the building unimpressed. Blake knew exactly which buttons to push to keep the audience ticking and on his side throughout. For a guy who is only really in his infancy in a live setting, he looks anything but an amateur.

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