1-800 Dinosaur; Store Street, Manchester, 8/11/14
Blake pauses whilst starting ‘Limit To Your Love’ with the words “I think we can make a better sound”. True, maybe he could have. The 1-800 Dinosaur collective’s takeover of Manchester’s legendary Warehouse Project was hard to gauge: a weird fusion of dance music coupled with Blake’s mellow mood. The task of pleasing both the dance audience and Blake’s more avid fans of his albums was definitely a challenging, even impossible one.
Showing up with expectations of an intimate ghostly and consuming gig from James Blake may have left you dissatisfied. Last Saturday night Blake sold his soul to dance music, transforming his usually bleak melodies and reverts to a heavier dubstep sound in an attempt to please the rave-ready atmosphere in the bowels of Shore Street.
Airhead’s dancey set as an opener sucked the crowd in perfectly, difficult as it was to tear ourselves away from the tribal-esque drumbeats of Mr Assister in Room 2. However, an extended wait created a ripple of impatience through the crowd as midnight struck with no sign of Blake. All was forgotten though, as first track ‘CMYK’ played out, true to Blake’s jazzy and soulful sound. For the rest of the set he turned to dance music with the focus on his drop-less dubstep style. For some songs this dance influence worked, for others not so much. ‘Wilhelm Scream’ and ‘Retrograde’ retained Blake’s traditional delicate, eerie mood. The dance influence did enhance songs like ‘Limit To Your Love’, which had dance beat layers that the crowd lapped up. Having Blake’s live band onstage left us awed, as the skill of the musicians was effortlessly displayed.
Aside from James Blake’s live set, his talented friends (Airhead, Mr Assister, Dan Foat, Klaus and Mala) played equally engaging sets. Dubstep pioneer Mala stood out, ending on a drop of Bob Marley which left the crowd feeling vibrant and uplifted. Blake retained a generous and friendly stage presence, thanking the audience and bigging up the talent of each musician. His long live set certainly didn’t steal the show away from the other artists.
Overall a party atmosphere was created, which is what the Warehouse Project intends. But it felt like Blake’s live set was overshadowed and under-appreciated by an audience who had mainly come to dance rather than be immersed in Blake’s sound. The venue and the expectations people have when they come to a WHP seemed to force Blake to adapt his sound to suit the rave feel. Personally I see this as a shame and feel to really appreciate Blake you need to be in a much more intimate venue. On the other hand it is impressive for an artist to be so versatile and please the crowd at such a renowned event, even if it meant sacrificing his sound slightly.