In a bout of anonymity, so as not to detract from the music, SBTRKT’s eponymous debut LP was released in June of this year – a fresh-cut collection from a style-mashing experimentalist producer – and somehow, a ceremonial tribal-mask became the face of post-dubstep.
Playing The Workman’s Club in Dublin as part of Heineken Green Sphere’s Winter Festival, SBTRKT live are essentially Sampha and Jerome – Aaron Jerome being said (no-longer-anonymous) London producer and Sampha being the lead vocalist on the record.
Like the album, ‘Heatwave’ opens proceedings; a wash of layered chorals, synth arpeggios and splinters of live percussion. For the most-part Jerome is stationed at his drum kit, rolling out crashing lines that initially muddied the digital waves – certainly by comparison to the crispness of the record – but as the set progressed became the anchor of SBTRKT’s tribal edge and carnival-style celebration.
Going against the emotion of “You’re giving me the coldest stare / Like you don’t even know I’m here”, the bitter lines of ‘Hold On’ are sung back joyfully, a modern soul tale bent around a Chicago-house lift and 2-step breakdown. The framing of SBTRKT songs shift constantly, but house is never really out of the picture. ‘Living Like I Do’ is a soaring club anthem in contrast to the moodier ‘Trials of the Past’, but frenzied synthesised hooks and pitch-addled vocal accents maintain the party spirit. Where Sampha’s tones connect with the audience, smoothly blending with lilting bass to hypnotic effect, it’s Jerome’s cymbal bashing, staccato break beats and knob twisting desktop trickery that keeps them dancing.
‘Pharaohs’ brought on a Mardi Gras. ‘Something Goes Right’ kept glowsticks in the air. ‘Ready Set Loop’ mashed all the aforementioned together in a heady jam. But ‘Wildfire’ was the climax. Drake’s edit was filtered in, his spitfire emcee verse made for some grinding dance-floor moves as dub bass rattled the room and spiraling chopped electronica clouded the headspace.
If Kelly from Misfits were in attendance, she’d be asking: “What the fuck, is post-dubstep?” There’s no clear definition. Like their individual masks, SBTRKT’s live performance is a veil, one covering r&b, garage, jazz, funk, hip-hop, euphoric dance, pop and more. What is clear though is, masked or not, SBTRKT is one of the most distinguished, and distinguishable, figures in electronic music.
Photos by Kieran Frost.