SBTRKT – Webster Hall – April 3, 2012
SBTRKT isn’t interested in the question of identity. He avoids it all together. A semicircular tribal mask covers the top half of his face, protruding forward. It shifts in relation to the movements of his head. It’s a layer of protection, although seemingly unnecessary. The name is actually the alias of UK producer Aaron Jerome. He explained last night at Webster Hall that the mask and the anonymity of the pseudonym are used because “I’d rather not talk about myself as a person, and let the music speak for itself.” Which is what he did, and in the process proved that SBTRKT belongs in the company of electronic music’s most acclaimed artists.
The music speaks with immediacy, but it’s not as easily categorized. On his eponymously titled debut, the songs touch on a number of genres: electronic, dubstep, soul and house. But when played live, the distinctions are meaningless. With the assistance of frequent collaborator Sampha, the two splayed the album onto the crowd. Jerome was constantly in motion—programming, adjusting and, presumably, improvising sections of electronic layers. He also added live drumming. Snare hits skittered across a broad pond of bass. Sampha’s voice, somewhere between James Blake’s without the puberty cracks and Antony’s without the pomp, wailed from below the depths. It felt natural until you realized that each sound filtered through many 1’s and 0’s and heavy amplification.
But the strength of the performance was in the immediacy of the arrangements. From show and album opener “Heatwave” to Sampha’s strong offerings of “Something Goes Right” and “Trials of the Past,” each song felt denser while remaining as approachable and fundamentally the same. Sampha rhetorically asked, “What would you like to hear?” midway through the set. The crowd responded in full, with multiple answers leading to auditory mush. The pair ended up playing a remix of “Wildfire” featuring Drake. This seemed to be the right answer. But SBTRKT’s choices, questionable as they may be, all seem to be the right answer, for himself and for his fans. —Jared Levy