James Blake: Euphoria Personified

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Hammersmith Apollo, 1st November 2016

The whole day has been a reminder of autumn. It’s chilly, the kind of chilly when the tip of your nose gets that slightly uncomfortable cooling sensation. Mustard leaves cover the pavement, the crisp rustling beneath my feet is like a final scream. Winter is coming,

I’ll wait.

So show me why you’re strong

Ignore everybody else

We’re alone now.

That was my first encounter with James Blake. Its 3am and I’m alone in my room. Music plays every night, and tonight is no exception. Retrograde begins. I remember loving the emotion. The words felt so comforting, the kind of words that come at the right time and transport you somewhere else. Sometimes I think deeply about what makes me fall in love with creations. And I figure it’s to do with honesty. Or the illusion of honesty, at least. Retrograde is real to me, and that’s backed by the emotion of the narration. When an artist truly believes in the message, it shows. More than that, you can feel it.

The illuminated sign on the Hammersmith Apollo says James Blake Sold Out in big letters. I’m a bit nervous about this. I would describe James Blake as comforting, because in my bedroom that’s exactly what I feel. In a big arena, with the ultimate aim being to rile up the crowd, comforting isn’t the ambience of choice. Though, it’s exciting as well. How will a sound like James Blake be amplified on stage?

I take my seat. That’s right, I sat down at a gig. Never thought I’d see the day when I was one of those people. But it’s approaching 8pm now and I’d be lucky to see the stage at this point so I shoot my shot. Instantly worth it- it’s quite a view from up here. The only light in the auditorium is coming from a large screen projecting trippy graphics, while a man mixes electronic and techno infused beats. The beat maker, I find out later, is Mark Pritchard. At one point he mixed electronic instrumentals with grime tracks, what a sound.

I’ve never seen such a diverse group of people in a concert before. Beside me, 50 year olds take their seat. In many ways James Blake’s music is timeless, a sound as mysterious and captivating as the man himself. It seems he lets the music do the talking for him.    

Before I know it, the stage is dark again. Mysterious moving shadows are placing things on the stage. There’s shuffling within the crowd. And then all of a sudden- bright lights. Drums, guitars and keyboards are symmetrically placed, there isn’t a laptop in sight. Three figures arrive on stage and the crowd absolutely roars at the sight. Mr Blake walks on casually, not timidly but not boldly either.

My worries are quashed the moment fingers touch the keyboard, as a rush of energy is delivered to the auditorium in the form of high pitched vocals. Like harps, the melodious vocals soothe, as the deep bass tones scream from the speakers. Light and dark elements are played with visually, as spotlights illuminate the stage and then recoil once again. Every transition of the lights is smooth, joined at the hip of the electric rhythm. The intense melodies, the dramatic light show, the emotive vocals all combine to leave me in a state of utter euphoria.

On the train home, I hum the instrumental of I Need A Forest Fire to myself. I’m floating and wondering whether it’s been a dream as I close my bedroom door behind me and immerse myself in James Blake, once again.