James Blake, a classically-trained pianist turned DJ and producer, never fit the rock star mold, but caught the music world by storm with his organic brand of contemplative electronic music and soulful vocals. The ... Read more »
James Blake, a classically-trained pianist turned DJ and producer, never fit the rock star mold, but caught the music world by storm with his organic brand of contemplative electronic music and soulful vocals. The British-based musician went from recording sessions in his dorm room to critic's darling after winning the coveted Mercury Prize for Album of the Year for his 2013 album, Overgrown, even beating out David Bowie himself. After narrowly missing the prize in 2011 for his self-titled debut, Blake established himself as pioneer in the post- dubstep movement.
Born James Blake Litherland on September 26, 1988, he grew up in Enfield, North London, the only child of his mother - a successful graphic designer - and his musician father, James Litherland, a member of the British progressive jazz-rock band Colosseum. The young James laid his musical groundwork starting with the piano at the age of six, and completed all eight grades by 15. A gifted pianist at the selective Latymer Grammer School, Blake continued his musical studies at Goldsmiths University in south London. It was there he discovered his niche outside of the classroom in the form of EDM (electronic dance music), after hearing dubstep for the first time at a party in 2007. Blake was hooked and quickly started making his own tracks and making the club rounds as a DJ. While working on his degree, he began producing and recording, and self-released his debut EP, Air & Lack Thereof, in 2009. Blake became fully entrenched in the scene, booking and promoting producers like Skream and Benga, who would later become future collaborators. His EP's would serve as both musical experimentation and course work for school.
After establishing a reputation in the clubs, Blake surprised everyone with his self-titled debut album in 2011, dialing back the dub intensity with an intimate, electronic sound paired with tender vocals and thoughtful pauses. The 22-year-old Blake recorded the entire record in his bedroom in New Cross and rejected the record companies who suggested he re-record it with a producer in a studio. The album was released through Universal but it took a while for it to gain momentum, given Blake's new direction in style. After rigorous touring and word of mouth, Blake was crowned the UK's new "it" boy, with his album landing on the BBC's Sound of 2011 and making the shortlist of Mercury Prize nominees and Critics' Choice BRIT Award. Not a bad feat for a recent graduate.
While Blake's first album featured a handful of covers and more youthful musings, he wanted to find success strictly with his own original material for the second time around. His post-collegiate life helped to shape his follow-up album. His girlfriend Theresa Wayman, singer and guitarist for the indie band Warpaint, helped him with arrangements, while his father came on board as producer for his second studio album, Overgrown (2013). From the onset of the first single, "Retrograde," the album was a success. The more personal album combined elements of R&B, gospel and folk and featured Brian Eno and RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan as collaborators. The album not only snagged him the coveted Mercury Prize but generated buzz across the pond, earning Blake a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist in 2013. As he continued his promotional tour for Overgrown, Blake released a number of popular remixes, covers and hosted a BBC radio show, returning to his DJ roots.