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Amidst his accolades and achievements, the soft-spoken, somewhat unwitting face of U.K. dubstep ran afoul of the American media late last year when he criticized the genre's fan base, claiming that "certain producers -- who I can't even be bothered naming -- have definitely hit upon a sort of frat-boy market where there's this macho-ism being reflected in the sounds and the way the music makes you feel."
As Blake prepared to the share the stage with avant-garde legends Philip Glass, Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson at the 22nd Annual Tibet House Benefit at Carnegie Hall, we spoke with him about working with Bon Iver, his "aggressive" new album, and his current feelings about dubstep in the U.S.
So what are you working on these days?
I've been doing lots of things. Mainly just trying to use the time to be relaxed and away from everything that tour brings, which is normally a sort of unrest in your inner soul [laughs]. You're constantly away, and the musical part of you, which is pretty much most of me, really, is only really half being stimulated, if you know what I mean. The ideas are quite hard to come by, which is why you see a lot of acts having real problems after that touring period, adjusting back to life, because when you're on the road, it feels like every idea is convoluted. But then, when you get back from tour, you've got some head space. It's all about head space.
Speaking of which, we heard that you're working on some "clubby" new songs.
I have been. A lot of the vocal music I've been doing recently has been quite clubby. But that's mainly because I've had more time to go to clubs, and that normally breeds that kind of influence. I've been doing quite a few DJ sets recently, which have been really fun.
Cool, and what are you veering towards for the new record? Is it more contemplative or dance-floor oriented?
I think it's going to be a bit more aggressive, to be honest. It seems that way. I don't feel more aggressive, it's just been ... it's just how I feel. In terms of writing more club tracks, writing more electronically influenced -- I feel like it was all electronically influenced, but now that influence has come to me in a different way.
And will you perform with, or work in some capacity with Mount Kimbie again?
Yeah, Kai [from Mount Kimbie] was at my house the other day, and we've just been talking about stuff, so absolutely no reason why not.
Will you be working further with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver?
I will be making sure that I visit him as much as possible when I'm in the U.S., and I know that he'll be in London at some point, as well. We really do want to work on some more stuff together. We get on as people. He's a great guy, and the collaborations that I normally form are based on friendships, not on A&R moves, so that's the way it'll happen.
What about instrumental tracks? Is that something that you're still working on, or is your new stuff mostly vocal?
No, I've definitely been doing a lot of instrumental stuff. I've had songs reverberating around my head for a while, so now really is the time to get those things down, get them out. I've done a couple. More and more these days, instrumental tracks feel like beds for vocal songs, because I've worked out a bit easier how I'm actually going to do that, you know? Which is quite exciting, because the album really sounds like, to me, somebody trying to work out how to produce their own voice within that context. I just feel like I've worked out my craft a bit more. I suppose anyone who gets their second album can appreciate that you go through a journey, and it feels like, hopefully, if you've gotten anywhere, you feel like you're improving at what you do, in the same way you improve at anything.
Right, because when we first heard you, we didn't even realize that you sang.
Well that's cool, because it means you must have heard me at quite an early time.
Yeah, there was a YouTube video that got sent around, and we were all into the Hot Flush stuff already.
That's really cool. It's amazing how quickly, and how far, that kind of music reached.
Well, grime was something that we were all, at least in New York, really paying attention to.
That's really cool. Probably more than a lot of people in England, to be honest.
Which brings up an interesting question -- how is American dubstep perceived in Europe and the U.K.? Because it's so big here.
I don't know, really. You can hear the lineage; you can hear where it's come from. I think anyone can hear that, and I don't think it's ... the thing is, it's obvious that the internet has made things a lot more widely spread. No matter what it is that you like listening to, there's a way of accessing it now, and with that, there's a way of ignoring things that you don't like. So in regards to what sort of dubstep, or what sort of house music that you listen to, it's not like we're all fed the same thing.
Well, here, it's sort of unavoidable. Several years ago, when Skream and Benga first played in New York, and there were guys moshing, we didn't get it. We thought they were lost.
Like they'd gone to the wrong night ...
Yeah, but then we realized we were the ones who were lost [laughs].
Well, you know, a lot of us have seen the progression, and some people get angry from it. I made a couple of comments a while back that made me seem like it angered me, but it was more of a response to something that someone asked about gender, because from what I'd seen in the U.K., that kind of dubstep didn't work so much. What you're seeing now is that, indeed, you see loads of girls at those shows, and that's not even an issue. But a while back, it seemed maybe my comments were sort of unfounded on the subjects of femininity and all that. It really is horses for courses. It's a genre that will always keep evolving, and maybe one day, it won't even be there. It's just another dance music genre that's been filtered into the mainstream and absorbed, and that's kind of cool.
You were a popular music major, so that cycle ...
Well, you say "popular music major," and it makes it seem so serious. I don't know, maybe it's just me. I know that's what you call it in America but, to us, uni didn't feel so ... I don't know, I come from a very disillusioned university generation.
One-hundred percent, but it's interesting that you can watch dubstep grow from dub and garage to Burial, and then there's like a hip-hop influence with Joker, and then the stuff that's popular in America now, really, is more related to Korn and metal than it is to dance music.
Oh, that's kind of interesting. I had a friend at university who was in a hardcore band. One of them sang, and the other one was a guitarist. Ironically, as with a lot of people who are into hardcore, they have really broad music tastes, I've found. He was also a classical trombonist of a really fine caliber. He's one of my good friends. He introduced me to a lot of music, and I was noticing -- this must be 2006 or something -- the similarities between metal and dubstep, just in terms of time signature. Like, half-step sections in these hardcore tunes, it felt like percussion, and the attitude towards time signatures, and that whole half-step thing was really similar.
Yeah, absolutely. Like Dillinger Escape Plan.
Yeah, yeah. I think there's so much crossover in so many genres, and I think dubstep, what it did was to give you a really accessible framework within which a lot of other genres could operate, and I think that's what a lot of people saw in it. That's certainly what I saw in it. I saw a way to include my own musical ideas within this framework, and so I can't really fault anyone for doing exactly the same thing. I think it's really cool.
Then you see dubstep producers making house records and techno records.
Oh yeah, totally. And you see drum and bass producers that used to produce drum and bass, and then got bored of that, and then they made dubstep, and then suddenly there's a whole new branch to the sound.
Like Nero. And then it circles back and you hear it in pop music, and Sean Paul is making dubstep-influenced songs, and he's Jamaican.
Yeah, and then there's dubstep producers making dub tunes -- really the cycle is endless. And that's what's exciting. Sometimes when your favorite thing becomes hard to go and see because there's not so much demand for it, and there's more demand for this kind of, aggier version of what you once liked, I suppose I can see why people are gonna wish for the good old days. But my attitude towards music has always been kind of progressive, really.