By Jose Lopez-Sanchez of Dead Curious.
Aaron Jerome – better known to most of the world as SBTRKT – prefers to let others do the talking for him. But whether it’s via his frequent collaborations with fellow Brits Sampha and Jessie Ware, or his uptempo, post-dubstep remixes of big names like M.I.A. and Frank Ocean, SBTRKT brings a distinctive sound to each track that he touches. His spaced-out blend of electronic beeps, crisp snares, and syncopated dance beats paired with gorgeous vocals has helped make him one of the most revered producers currently working, even if Jerome himself shuns the spotlight and its surrounding celebrity culture. In fact, one of the usual talking points surrounding SBTRKT’s live performances (aside from: “Holy shit, that was amazing!”) is his use of masks, which were designed by A Hidden Place and inspired by traditional Native American ceremonial masks. Because we never get to see his face and don’t know much about SBTRKT, our focus remains on the music – as it should.
In an effort to help the uninitiated, I have curated this handy SBTRKT primer. It’s broken down into three broad categories: BGNNR, FRTHR and ADVNCD (yeah, yeah). Feel free to listen to my carefully selected playlist in order. Or don’t. It doesn’t matter – you can’t go wrong.
These are the first three tracks from 2011’s SBTRKT, and if this sequence doesn’t make you a SBTRKT fan, then you’re already a lost cause. While each song has a very distinct sound, they work extremely well in tandem. From the opening snare and oscillating keys of “Heatwave”, to the pulsating forward drive of “Hold On” (both featuring career turns for Sampha), and culminating in the groovy, compressed weirdness that is “Wildfire” (featuring Little Dragon), these three songs grab your attention and drag you along for the rest of the album. Probably worth going to the show for these three alone
Here are the songs that I think elevate SBTRKT above his peers. By all means, these tracks are nominally filler on his debut album, kind of middle of the road tracks that pad out run time, and carry you from one banger to another. But both are absolutely fantastic, even if they might be slower to grow on you that the more obvious hits mentioned above. “Pharaohs” can compete with the best of British dance music, and Roses Gabor absolutely kills it on the vocals. This is a song that Basement Jaxx would have been proud to release at the height of their powers, and there is a clear passing of the sonic torch. “Trials of the Past” is the album’s emotional core, and yet again, has Sampha’s unique voice grounding it all.
Once you think you know what to expect from SBTRKT, it’s time to listen to a few tracks that will throw those expectations out the window, and go for some deep cuts. We all know that a producer as talented Aaron Jerome is not going to be a one trick pony. “Voices in My Head” is a personal (to the point of being quasi-confessional), piano driven track featuring rapper A$AP Ferg, with explosive peaks and rumbling valleys. “Look at Stars” wouldn’t be out of place at an Armand Van Helden set at Creamfields ’99. Pick your poison.
Extra Credit: “Step in Shadows” is the partner track to “Look at Stars”, and it builds nicely on the earlier song’s vibe.
In summary: Listen to SBTRKT. Go to the show. Change your life.