The British media quickly championed James Blake as the poster boy of dubstep’s entry into mainstream outlets. Along with artists Untold and Joy Orbison, Blake rode into the scene with a mishmash of melancholic chord sequences and manipulated vocal samples taken from 1990s R&B — characteristics that are often referred to as a postdubstep sound.
Blake debuted in 2009 on Untold’s Hemlock label. His CMYK EP for techno label R&S the following year increased his reputation within the dubstep community and enjoyed some crossover success, getting support from influential BBC radio DJ Gilles Peterson. However, it wasn’t until the release of his cover of Canadian singer-songwriter Feist’s “Limit To Your Love,” the first single off his self-titled debut album, that he fully broke away from the dubstep scene.
Blake’s connection to dubstep has since become more ambiguous. Even though he is a producer, he sings; his vocals fall into a category closer to that of singer-songwriters rather than the sampled snippets used on many of his previous tracks. Also, the dubstep-derived wobbly sub-bass of “Limit To Your Love” seems to work more as a tool to cut through the sentimentality of the vocals rather than to annihilate the dance floor. Then there’s his image. Album covers and music videos tend to depict Blake in an almost disengaged or even vulnerable way, which stands out from the faceless and masculine nature of much of dubstep.
Previous shows from this year have certainly emphasized Blake’s quiet side — he appears with a guitarist and drummer, while taking a seat behind his keyboards, much like the leader of a jazz-piano trio. Each song is followed by a short silence and an introduction of the next track, a welcome change from the electronic music acts huddled behind a laptop for their entire set without uttering a word. While not all would agree, James Blake’s subtle approach may be just what electronic music needs.
James Blake plays at Liquidroom in Tokyo on Oct. 12 (8 p.m.; ¥5,500); Club Quattro in Nagoya on Oct. 14 (8 p.m.; ¥5,500); and Club Hatch in Osaka on Oct. 15 (1 p.m.; standing ¥4,500, seated ¥5,500 including a drink charge). For more information, visit www.jamesblakemusic.com.