Bubblin' Up: Citizen
- Words: Glenn Jackson
When Citizen talks about the London scene which has fostered his budding career, there's a sense of affection and grattitude in his tone. "It's a small scene, really," says the Nottingham-reared producer. "It's friendly and approachable—which is something I never expected—but it was like that straight from the outset. It seems that everyone is supportive here and really appreciative of each other's music." In fairness, Citizen may have had an easier time getting heard than most, as his music followed years spent DJing around the city (as Laurencematthew, a form of his given name, Laurence Matthew Blake), something he did in part to keep up on emerging trends and ultimately "stay in the loop." Still, once Blake got serious about his production project and decided to take on the Citizen role, his output has largely spoken for itself, the bass-loaded excursions quickly finding a unique niche that incorporates elements of classic and modern house, with an added soulful touch that undoubtedly perks up dancefloors.
"The whole Citizen thing is sort of an alter ego," says Blake when asked about the origins of the project. "I've found that working in visual arts is an intense process, and you have to be able to let off a bit of steam. I think Citizen was created to do that, [to act as] a persona." While Blake grew up with a healthy interest in music, obsessively listening to—and sometimes stealing—garage mixtapes from his older cousins before venturing into early attempts at production and DJing in his teenage years, his professional career eventually diverged towards the visual arts. Through it all though, Blake assures that his early love for garage has remained strong, even as he's developed a wider appreciation for other types of dance music over the years. "I was really into garage from a super young age, and from there, house-music elements started drifting in. It just had another element to the sound that was a lot more sensual and sexual, which is what drew me more towards house music as I got older." Furthermore, when it came time to take on the production project that has since become Citizen, Blake couldn't move past this acquired affection for vibrant, soulful house, "I started out by making new-jack swing, but it kept sounding like house. After about six months of doing that, I just sped up the tempos of all the tracks and said, 'Fuck it.'"
Blake is quick to admit that his first proper EP, Vanity (released by Austrialia's Templar imprint late last year), was put together as he was still feeling out exactly what shape Citzen would take. With much of his inspiration for the release stemming from the dense, forceful tracks of fellow UK producer Blawan, Blake describes the EP's three original tunes as "harder" and "more experimental" than the sound he's mapped out since. Even so, the songs provided an alluring first glance at the project, one highlighted by a propensity for thick, rolling low end that has since become a trademark of Blake's songcraft. To this end, the London resident says there was never a preconceived notion or conscious effort to craft a consistent sound in the low-end spectrum. Blake explains further, "From listening to garage all those years ago, I've always been attracted to bass, but there was not something in the Citizen manifesto or an attempt to be part of the 'bass-music' sphere. I just try to make everything as—for lack of a better word—emotional as possible in terms of the structure. I try to put myself on the dancefloor to see how I'd be reacting to the arrangement and the sounds that are there."
This year, Blake has gone on a tear, releasing a trio of EPs that have solidified his place as one of London's finest rising names. Combining a sumptuous take on rich, skipping house with the man's proficiency for powerful low-end content, each release has showcased a slightly different angle of Citizen's approach. In June, Blake's contribution to the Madtech imprint (a sub-label of Kerri Chandler's Madhouse endeavor), the Deep End EP, saw him leaning towards percussive, tech-infused house rollers, its four tracks complete with swooping chords and touches of garage-indebted shuffle. Two months later, Citizen appeared with Room Service, the second 12" from Love Fever, the London-based party-turned-label which Blake affectionately describes as the city's "best non-commercial party," adding, "It has this private mystique about it; basically, it's the only party I've been to where there are no dickheads." The three-track effort has proven to be the producer's most distinctive so far, its massive title track delivering classic house staples—reworked R&B vocals, lush chords, and hand-percussion melodies among them—wrapped in a loaded, ultra-modern package. The record also features "Deeper Touch," a sharp slice of stripped-down house created alongside Berlin's Jimmy Edgar. Most recently, Blake lent his skills to a limited 12" of '90s-indebted, vocal-led house on the aptly titled Diva EP. Released last month through Five Easy Pieces, the effort saw Citizen dive headfirst into his garage-loving side to come up with three pieces of retro-minded smoothness.
Despite the various leanings displayed across his output this year, it's safe to say that Citizen has a sound. His songs can be heavy handed in their low-frequency density, but remain exceptionally alluring, even sexy, in their dedication to only the most warm and soulful of progressions. This, to Blake, is exactly where he'd like to be. "I feel like I've arrived at what I want to be putting out. I've been on a bit of a roll lately, and made so many songs. I feel that I've definitely found the sound that I want," adding, "The key being that I am always trying to make emotional house music."
What exactly the future holds for Citizen is unclear. Aside from his professional obligations and general creative endeavors (the man co-runs a future-thinking online culture magazine called Ribbed and directs his own music videos in his spare time), Blake plans to spend "as much time as possible" on new Citizen material. A follow-up 12" with Love Fever is in the works, as is a collaborative project with the Joe Ashworth—half of London duo Joe and Will Ask—which Blake describes as "really throwback house stuff." And with people like Ben Westbeech and others starting to knock on his door for remixes, Citizen has good reason to stay optimistic about the future for himself and the London community, "It's a positive atmosphere and vibe here at the moment. I hope it stays this way into 2013."
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