Iris van Herpen

Iris Van Herpen Couture

Every artist dreams of making music that destroys boundaries and forces listeners to accept them on their own terms. On his self-titled debut album, James Blake has that and more with a panoramic suite of tunes that demolishes the structures of pop music to build a glittering new edifice on the rubble. Blake made the album at home using a laptop, mic, MIDI keyboard and a pair of speakers, but the sound he produced is as expansive and challenging as anything that you’re likely to hear this year. The album combines elements of classic balladry and R&B soulfulness with dubstep’s deep rumbling bass tones, odd time signatures, vocal loops full of glitchy effects, late night acoustic piano and a striking use of silence in unexpected places to create music with a sound that’s all its own. The songs are experimental, but accessible, and never sound like they’re trying to impress you with their cleverness.

“The sounds of dubstep can be felt in your body,” Blake says. “There’s a physical satisfaction to that and it adds another dimension to what you’re listening to. Producers like Mala, Loefah and the like know how to exploit that sub bass pressure; it can really send you to another place. My other big influence is Stevie Wonder, not least because he was so eclectic—a multi-instrumentalist with an unrivaled voice. For me it was really his voice at the end of the day. He’s my desert island artist.”

Iris Van Herpen Couture

“My dad (James Litherland, who played with Colosseum, John Baldry, Leo Sayer, Steve Marriott and other UK heavies) was my only influence ‘til I was a bit older. He introduced me to the singers who I’d still count as my favorites, like Sam Cooke, and old blues and piano records by people like Professor Longhair, Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin’ Wolf. The fact that he’d made a living making music, and knowing how hard it could be, made me feel like it was possible to do the same. He played guitar though, so at times he had to rely on other people in bands in order to get paid. The frustration with that eventually made him go solo and start recording and producing himself. That got me to experiment with making my own recordings as well. When I was growing up, my parents were both self-employed. They were the only people around me that worked for themselves and that made me realize the importance of being self-sufficient.”

Iris Van Herpen Couture

Blake exploded onto the UK’s dubstep scene in 2009 with a series of singles he recorded on his own while he was attending college at Goldsmiths, where he took a course in popular music. “I mostly studied minimalism and gamelan, which are the biggest influences on my music from that course. I didn’t involve myself in the course enough to get much out of it. I spent most of my time writing at home, or doing other stuff. Minimalism changed the way I listened to music though, and I started avoiding the stop-start dance floor impatience of some of my earlier tracks.”

– Rosa Maria Bertoli


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