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James Blake @ Koko, London 14/06/11

June 20, 2011

Originally posted on The 405

Words by Theo Krekis


The time is 20:58 and James Blake is on at 21:15, KOKO, Camden. Where I am is on a pavement,
twenty minutes away, near Finsbury Park, running for a red bus. My legs are aching from lactic acid
and the saliva in my mouth becomes thick with phlegm.

I reach the bus doors, beep says the oyster card and I sit down trying to catch my breath.

Fast forward time and I make my way through the doors of KOKO; elongated bass notes penetrate
the doors, I show my ticket to a man behind a glass cube, push past a row of people and Blake’s
vocal tones drown out the bass and resonate throughout the room. I stand on the centre balcony,
staring down at the dimly lit stage, flashes of yellow and amber illuminate Blake who is slumped
behind a keyboard, accompanied on stage by his drummer and bassist.

The auto-tuned vocals of ‘Unluck’ come to an end and the electronic fuzz hums to a stop, at which
point the silence is replaced with woos, whistles and claps; Blake reciprocates the gesture with some
kind words, which I don’t really take any notice of. Not before long the lyrics “My brother and my
sister, don’t speak to me…” fall effortlessly from Blake’s mouth and his voice is momentarily silenced
by the cheers from the crowd. This number masquerading as a somewhat slow and emotional
gospel, about a disjointed family issue, rises in tension as the kick drum begins, and the sombre
synths and tampered vocal tones build to a screeching crescendo.

A girl with bleached hair nods her head out of time to the beat.

The humble Blake thanks the crowd, letting us all know he hasn’t quite played a gig like this before.
Next up is the rather mundane track ‘Lindesfarne I’, which although perfectly delivered with the
slowed, layered and controlled vocals, lacks the substance, which captivates me about Blake’s ability
as a song writer. Perhaps what’s making this worst is the couple whose ‘song’ this must be, stare
into each other’s eyes and kiss passionately, as the guitar picking begins in ‘Lindesfarne II’, which
makes me wince.

Fortunately for me, without any deliberation, favourite track from his self titled album, James Blake,
begins. ‘I Mind’ is a haunting number with a slowed down quasi-garage vocal, complimented with
softly played piano chords. The track begins to fade out and is replaced with what can only be
described as the sound of a smoke machine spraying out smoke, only there’s no smoke. The sound
almost becomes unbearable but the song quickly comes back to life and as the last strains of the
track come to a quiet halt ‘C.M.Y.K.’ begins. One of Blake’s most reputable tracks from the C.M.Y.K.
E.P. is performed without any trepidation, despite being the first time performed live. Replicating
the 90’s R ‘n’ B styled vocals with the mid-tempo beat is dealt with more conviction than any other
song during his performance tonight.

‘Limit To Your Love’, receives a warm reception and it has to be said that Blake’s performance can
hardly be faulted. Despite the slower numbers like ‘Measurements’ and part I and II of ‘Lindesfarne’,
which deny the crowd from wanting to nod their heads to a beat, or move their bodies in a rhythmic way, Blake still charmed and entertained the crowd with his ability in replicating a selection of well
produced songs live.

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