In the intimate club setting of Wrongbar, Aaron Jerome aka SBTRKT (pronounced ‘Subtract’) brings his critically acclaimed self-titled album to a live setting. Jerome wears a tribal mask to keep listeners focused on the music, and not the person making it. Maybe that’s why SBTRKT has generated a respectable buzz as an upstart composer with electronic grooves as vibrant as the colourful shields he wears.
Anonymity aside, much of SBTRKT’s charm resides within his chameleonic approach to dance music, the South London producer, flirts with bouncy dubstep, up-tempo synths and midtempo soul compositions, all relatively tranquil and very rhythmic. Most of the vocals on SBTRKT ‘s set are handled by Sampha, whose timbre is reminiscent of James Blake, albeit with a less impressive range. Sampha has been a long time collaborator, and their chemistry is undeniable onstage. Tracks like ‘Trials Of The Past’ and ‘Never Never’ are elevated by the singer’s evident emotional investment, to say nothing of the relative ease onstage with which he strings pleasing vocal lines through and around SBTRKT’s kaleidoscopic beats. Mid way through the set, he invites Toronto native Drake to the stage, proceeding to tear through the super-infectious ‘Wildfire’, sending the crowd ballistic as the charismatic rapper whips them into frenzy.
While SBTRKT’s self titled album is rooted in genre-blending electro-pop, onstage his hushed tones and sparse backdrop give it an atmospheric feel; using a humming bass line, restless equalizer and sporadic keys to allow Sampha to wield cosmic tales of survival and perseverance. It’ll be interesting to see what becomes of SBTRKT in the coming months. He can hide his identity, but there’s no denying his sudden emergence as one of dance music’s notable producers, very well steeped in his own layered aesthetic, yet open enough to welcome other musical influences into the fold. A mask can’t hide true talent for long.