As the floorboards creaked and bowed overhead with the weight of a rabid, EDM-hungry crowd, James Blake and his 1-800 Dinosaur crew occupied the newly opened dance cellar dubbed Celebrities Underground on Saturday night. With the venue’s stripped-down aesthetic — think brick wall and concrete pillar chic — and nothing but a soft red glow upon the booth it was a low-end, low-key affair.
James Blake, singer and producer extraordinaire, made his second stop in Vancouver of 2016 to play DJ and scrap the accouterments. For the hefty ticket price (they were charging $40 at the door!), it was a tad underwhelming after having just seen him perform — live with full band — at the Orpheum theatre for a very similar price. But for the Blake-heads among us, the evening was more about being in the man’s presence than anything else. This point was made clear very early on into his set as the response varied from tepid, foot shuffling and background chatter during any song NOT produced by Blake, to full-on raucous cheers whenever the artist spun one of his own creations.
As far as selection goes, it was an accessible blend of the UK’s best: early days dubstep, a bit of garage, a touch of grime. It probably would have gone more into the eclectic in a different setting but for a Saturday night crowd, it was a party friendly and satisfying on the whole. Highlights would include Sir Spyro’s grime bang’r “Topper Top”, Blake’s own “Love What Happened Here”, and Vince Staple’s “War Ready” in full as his finale.
Being unfamiliar with the other artists on the lineup was quite refreshing, as they each brought a unique sound to the evening. One song in particular — Barnt’s “Chappell” — spun by Airhead is still resonating in my head days later; probably due to how heavy and hard it hit over the Underground’s incredibly powerful sound system.
The evening was not incredibly memorable overall but as an introduction to Celebrities Underground, it was excellent. The space is big enough to pull in big acts and accommodate the crowds that ensue without feeling too polished or sterilized. As for James Blake: hold out for the live show, it’s worth it.