Bridging The Cultural Divide: James Blake at Low End Theory

Photo by Lee “Intuition” Shaner via Knocksteady Aaron Frank knows what CMYK stands for but he ain’t telling. In the three years since I moved to LA, I’ve never seen a new artist...
By    September 16, 2011

Photo by Lee “Intuition” Shaner via Knocksteady

Aaron Frank knows what CMYK stands for but he ain’t telling.

In the three years since I moved to LA, I’ve never seen a new artist sweep up fans across such a broad cross-section of socio-economic backgrounds quite like James Blake. The Sunset Strip crowd and industry crabs that rarely scuttle to Echo Park or Downtown got their fix in May when Blake sold out two shows in Hollywood. Returning to town for another pair of performances, Blake blessed the dubstep and beatz fans that initially embraced his music with a special guest DJ set at Low End Theory last night.

Though many regulars were already aware of the special guest, there was a feverish energy prior to James Blake’s performance. Shortly after an excellent early set from Alpha Pup newcomer ELOS, Gaslamp Killer jumped on stage, blasting through a set of new Rustie tracks from the upcoming Glass Swords LP. The wide-ranging pitches of Rustie’s new tracks tested the limits of the newly tweaked soundsystem, as Gaslamp Killer put on one of his best sets in recent memory, periodically shouting out condolences for the recently passed DJ Mehdi.

Then, with his trademark roar, Gaslamp welcomed James Blake to the stage — where the limits of the soundsystem were pushed even further by his initially heavy sub-bass selections. Any fan of dubstep, bass music and UK funky was enthralled for the next 30, as Blake mixed seamlessly, also slipping in some of his own new tracks, possibly from his upcoming Enough Thunder EP, which is scheduled for release next month. Oddly though, while the beatheads and Low End regulars seemed blown away by Blake’s set, dudes with spikey hair in Affliction shirts gradually began leading their girlfriends out by the hand about 15 minutes in.

There’s a strange unspoken gap between James Blake’s fans: the ones that favor CMYK and the ones that favor “Limit To Your Love.” It’s a dichotomy really only comparable to a band like Radiohead, who enjoyed mainstream success with The Bends and have since been supported mostly by a group of diehard devotees. Fans of Blake’s newer, more melodic material clearly didn’t get as much out of his DJ set at Low End Theory as the CMYK crowd. That line was was drawn pretty clearly when he played Destiny’s Child’s “Bills, Bills, Bills”, which the crowd went absolutely crazy for, and followed it with Blawan’s “What You Do With What You Have,” rattling the walls of the Airliner like an elephant stampede, while leaving part of the crowd just confused and bewildered. There’s also the possibility that LA crowds are just as averse to UK Funky and Future Bass as they are with Juke, which clears the floor even when Gaslamp Killer plays it.

Flying Lotus’s ensuing set drew an even bigger crowd off the patio and into the club, where Martyn’s new single “Popgun” blasted through the speakers followed by a smattering of classic hip-hop tracks from Wu-Tang and Jay-Z, and of course a requisite run through of Erykah Badu’s Madlib-produced classic “The Healer,” complete with a couple of Dilla instrumentals. While it was only about 60 degrees outside, the temperature inside the club was around 90 when he finally ended his set with some carefully selected Gaslamp Killer instrumentals. You could literally feel the heat flowing out of the doorway by nights end. And fter two performances from Flying Lotus and James Blake, whose music may seem quite different on the surface, the connections and causalities between everyone from Dilla to Destiny’s Child to Wu-Tang to the contemporary bass junkies were strikingly clear.

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