Originally from Nottingham, Blake moved to London to pursue a career in fashion marketing. He dipped his toe in multiple areas of the creative industries, starting a glossily designed online magazine, Ribbed, and a creative agency specialising in visual arts and web design. Music was an important part of his life. He was having fun playing records and partying, with DJ gigs at small venues like Dalston Superstore and the members club Bungalow 8, but he had no aspirations of music production career. If anything, with major label videos already in the can, the film direction seemed the most promising career path. He'd made some music soundtracking fashion films for friends, but it was nothing serious.
"I just wanted to do stuff a little bit more dance floor after doing so much ambient stuff," Blake says. These experiments in club music would eventually lead to his work as Citizen.
A party that's ostensibly inspired by old school NYC gatherings like The Loft, Love Fever takes place in off-the-radar spaces like abandoned stripped joints. Unusual in the UK's hyper competitive clubbing scene, the Love Fever parties are primarily promoted by word-of-mouth. Love Fever's trademark is its cross-sectional musical policy. As Blake says, "It was a party that played everything from house and disco to techno, which is what I'm about."
When Blake heard the night was starting a label he naturally wanted in. "I hit up Alex and Andy who run Love Fever. The track 'Room Service' wasn't even 50% finished so I don't know why I sent it. They were like, 'This is cool, we want to put it out.' I really didn't think they would, not like that. I thought they'd have some pointers. It just seemed like a natural home as it was my favourite party in London."
Impressed with Blake's work, they hooked him up with Love Fever regular Jimmy Edgar. The pair collaborated over the net and the result was "Deep Touch," a gurgling, erratically percussive number that pushes Detroit electro funk into rough-hewn house territory. With the addition of "You Give Me That Something," a collaboration with vocalist Sean Alto, the Room Service EP was confirmed as the second release on Love Fever.
Only weeks later, Blake met Kerri Chandler's London-based label manager while DJing at a ramshackle bar in East London. The label turned out to be fans of his still unreleased music and wanted to work with him. "The tracks they wanted to put out I really wasn't happy with, so I just went and smashed out four tracks," Blake says. The result was The Deep End EP, which later surfaced on Madhouse sub-label MadTech. "I ended up meeting Kerri about three weeks later," Blake says. "They invited me to play Boiler Room straight away. Kerri Chandler's standing behind you while you're in front of a camera. I was like, 'How's this happened!' You have no idea how nervous I was. You can watch the footage. I was frozen.
"Kerri was super nice. I did the whole fan boy thing. You know he gets that all the time but he handles it really well. He was just really nice and super interested about the project."
Around the time Blake was signed to MadTech, the Love Fever guys put out their first release, Bicep's "Stripper." The track became a zeitgeist moment for the resurgent '90s New Jersey house sound. It also coincided with DJs picking up on a more swinging garage-house style, particularly in London. When The Deep End EP eventually surfaced, Citizen was quickly swept up in the new found enthusiasm for the sound, with Kerri Chandler resurrected as a house music god.
The trend of course helped with Blake's upwards ascent but he was, somewhat unfairly, pigeonholed as a pastiche producer. There are definite old-school influences in his music—he's not shy of using a rousing piano or cut-up vocal—but there's just as much being drawn from the UK bass scene. (He cites two-step producer Wookie as someone who's "always been a constant.") He says that he doesn't feel any attachment to the recent retro-mania. "It's a bit saturated now. Even the first release I did on Love Fever wasn't tied to that sound. It had a few elements, the M1 organ, but it wasn't purist '90s house. I find it odd that people tied it to that straight away. If you really listen it's not '90s house." I ask him if he tries to avoid making his music sounding too '90s: "I'd be lying if I said no.''
Blake feels slightly uncomfortable with the newly acquired attention he's getting. "There's a certain style and standard that's expected of me," he says. "I'm not that well known, but it's getting to the point that people know what I do. When I played my first headline show it was crazy, the amount of people that came to see me. It really spun me out. Do I like this? I'm doing things really out of my comfort zone. I'm always the guy behind the scenes, behind the camera or in the studio. I'm never the guy doing interviews. Or playing a headline show."
His next project is an album with 2020 Vision—a big project for any rookie producer to take on, but Blake is taking it one step further by creating films for each track. "I just like creating stuff. I love music videos. This audio-visual thing is a way of me justifying doing so many tracks." It's something that he's been doing proactively since the start of the Citizen project. He made a video for his debut Love Fever release, roping two friends in and pouring 200 litres of milk over them. This creative process, whatever the medium, seems to be what really makes Blake tick. "If I can live my life doing what I want to do, creating stuff, then why the hell not?"