Saturday, June 23, 2012

Trim v James Blake: the story

"Lemme tell you the low down..."

Today Fact broke the news that two of the lost James Blake v Trim tracks would finally hit vinyl on R&S. While it’s amazing news for music enthusiasts all over, it’s bitter sweet for me. I’d like to explain why.

Trim v Harmonimix is the lost Keysound EP that never was. 

Now, this is the kind of thing people in music don’t normally talk about.  I can think of dozens of stories that artists tell off the record and behind the scenes; you hear them daily. So-and-so is collaborating with this elusive artist for example: but it never materializes.

And so judgment says in these scenarios perhaps I shouldn’t say anything; typically I don’t. But this EP is so exceptional and so personal to me, that on its arrival in the world – whatever label releases it – I’d don’t want it’s story to pass unmarked.

On the 2nd of January 2010, James Litherland wrote to me. I’m not going to print the email, that’s creepy and weird, but the gist of it was that he’d been listening to “Margins Music” and Trim YouTube videos and here was a track I should hear. In the email was a link to “Saying.” Obviously it was pretty amazing.

It’s hard to imagine now he’s really famous but I’d only vaguely heard of his music, probably via his Hemlock release that we’d played on Rinse. He certainly hadn’t got near the heights he would later scale. I wrote back saying thank you and trying to share the sense of wonder I get when I reflect that you never quite know who’s listening to your music; which you don’t.

We kept in touch and over the months realized we shared a fellow admiration for Trim, who he sampled on “Saying” and we’d written a tune with on “The Bits.” James supported us as a DJ on the “Margins Music Live” date we did with Trim, and we began talking about whether we could put together a Trim v James Blake EP. James was unsure if he wanted to do something quite like a straight grime tune but definitely wanted to work with Trim’s voice. I remembered that on one of the Soulfood mixtapes there was an acapella, so I sent it over to him, alongside a “best of” Trim zip. I also dug out and recorded my interview with Trim that I did in IoD when we did “The Bits” photoshoot.

The interview tape became a third track that looks like it’s not appearing. The acapella became “Confidence Boost,” one of the most incredible productions of the last 5 years. Proper “wot do you call it?” in its own right. As he was sending over different versions of “Confidence…,” I strongly remember James explaining that he was trying to manipulate Trim’s (spoken) voice so it sounds like he’s singing backing harmonies with himself. I’d guess he used a plug-in that layers different harmonics on top of themselves but to this date I’m unsure how he did it. It’s genius in both its ideas and execution.

Then, with the acapella licensed from Trim’s camp and as the three tracks shaping up to be an amazing Keysound EP, events began to unfold. There was tense if not entirely exceptional conversation, that I now regret, around when “Confidence Boost” was being played on radio. In the same conversation, James expressed the view – which I respected - that he wanted the tracks to remain as lost dubs, perhaps caught in the same kind of mythical limbo as fans had experienced with dubstep’s lost anthems.  Then of course events began to accelerate for him in a different direction. After graduation, the vocal album he’d mentioned he’s been writing… well we all know how things panned out for him, but as a consequence, he was beyond reach.

I’ll be honest, I always held out hope that one day the dubs would have been “lost” enough and we’d follow through on what we’d started, but, as you might expect given James’ success, our paths no longer crossed and it wasn’t to be. But here they are, masterpieces finally “lost” no more. I'm happy everyone can finally “Strike a pose…”

[UPDATE 25/6/12]

So, since this post was written James got in touch the old fashioned, normal way: picked up the phone to talk. So that's me looking pretty dumb about saying "beyond reach" then.

Chatting to him, it became clear how differently we see both past events, which explains how much of this could have come about. I didn't write this post to cause offence and if I caused it unintentionally, I'm happy to say sorry, because I don't write a blog to be a rude to people. I wrote the piece to mark the emerging of some incredible music. So while our versions of events diverge, I respect the fact that James took the time to call and talk: I hope the 12" sells 100,000 copies.


Suggestion Boy said...

Thanks for sharing this, fascinating back story. Too early to say James Blake will never release on Keysound, Skream did, so maybe one day.

I was hoping that the link which said 'panned' would link to 'Pan', though.

West Norwood Cassette Library said...

yes, thanks for sharing the back story despite the fact that it saddens me to read it. what happened to the good old fashioned 'acid house handshake'? ah well, long live keysound - more power to your fist...

Anonymous said...

Martin, I've never been 'beyond reach' as you still have my phone number, and if you wanted to talk about any of this you could have just called me.

Blackdown said...

Hey James, as I mentioned on FB, I guess I didn't know the future of those tracks had changed from the way we'd left them. Anyway, I'll give you a shout today - my mistake for trying to use other mediums of communication over the years.

Anonymous said...

crazy how it is so hard to communicate these days given the extensive means.. happy endings all day

Anonymous said...

Ah - it takes me back to the days of east coast/west coast beefing (death row vs bad boy) - but with a polite UK style. More tea and biscuits than guns 'n ammo and all the better for it.

Anonymous said...

Love the last words in the update!