SBTRKT. “Who?” Subtract. “Nah never heard of it!”
Some may have said that a year ago and understandably too. Known this time last year as ‘another’ tadpole swimming in and out of the world of Electronic music, SBTRKT was yet another DJ/Producer from London who every once in a while would throw a blog a bone by remixing a relevant piece of music. Those that were more on the ball however, realised that although enrolled in the class of ’10, Aaron Jerome could quite possibly reign valedictorian come 2011.
Fast forward to summer this year, off the back of a few EP’s and remixes, ‘Wildfire’ quite literally spread. First through the blogs, then the clubs/tastemaker radio DJ’s, then the mainstream. “Summer banger” would be an understatement, even our most beloved emosh rapper – Drake – took to the beat. And with Aubrey in tow, the Stateside crossover was set: the intricate wobbles, smart punches and thumping bass positioned in all the right places allowed ‘Wildfire’ (featuring Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano) to garner it’s place and became a staple in many a summer playlists. But most promising was that even with the success of it’s first single, SBTRKT’s self titled debut would throw a number of surprises our way, surpassing expectations and becoming a strong accelerator for Electronic in the mainstream.
Sophisticated, circuitous and timely in its entirety, SBTRKT welded together the essence of 90’s UK garage and 2-Step together with the punchy Dubstep influences of the noughties and melted it within American style Soul & R&B. These influences, all piled up on top of each other within an album made of original compositions gave way for this debut to stand on it’s own merit. With producers throwing the proverbial ‘wobble’ onto anything with a pulse these days, it was refreshing to hear SBTRKT deliver a cohesive collection of tracks as well as collaborating with an inspired array of artists. Opting for a more song-focused LP, as opposed to a show-and-tell style production project – SBTRKT kept his audience in mind and curated an album packed with enough energy for the raver, sufficient downtime for low-end head and an abundance of musicology for the ‘academics’.
The albums opener ‘Heatwave’ nods to and explores Junglist sounds; With a deconstructed Amen Break and Sampha’s atmospheric, building wails, as the low end flutters rather passionately. Then as the BPMs rise and the lyrics fade, the puissance is turned up a notch with tracks like ‘Sanctuary’ and ‘Ready Set Loop’ – both favouring a more beat oriented focus with minimal vocals.
A key factor which makes SBTRKT’s debut such a strong contender this year was his foresight, featuring some of the brightest and most exciting homegrown talent. Jessie Ware, Roses Gabor and his most frequent collaborator Sampha each help to bring his productions alive. It is his chemistry with Sampha though that really shines through – armed with one of the most distinct voices, his breathy tone and succinct delivery style adds a fantastic dimension to SBTRKT’s compositions.
The chilling, unguarded tale of ‘Hold On’ allows for Sampha’s higher register to flourish, suited beautifully to the smooth bass rumblings and twinkling percussion. ‘Something Goes Right’ shuffles between the stuttering nature of 2-Step against Sampha’s buttery lead vocals – striking the right balance between instrumentation and song, realism and dreams, producer and singer. ‘Never Never’ bravely explores the indecision of relationships as the vulnerability of the lead vocal explains “see I‘ve never never had so much to gain / and threw it all away / and if I ever ever had the chance again / I’d probably do the same”. SBTRKT sits humbly alongside his muse(s), mixing live drums with funky synths, whilst his vocalists take focus.
Delving in, out and around sounds, SBTRKT is a rich textured tapestry which significantly pushes boundaries. Masqueraded in very few words – SBTRKT allowed his debut to speak louder than any thing else. The music won.