Review: SBTRKT at The AcademyTweet
Review: Nicola Byrne
I was on a coach last Friday at 4am, listening to a ‘night bus’ playlist on which SBTRKT featured heavily. Fans of such playlists will know the specific mood they’re going for; melancholic, ambient and minimalist beats. SBTRKT deliver on all accounts, so to experience their live show as the complete opposite of the mood on that coach, was a bit strange.
Aaron Jerome and his collaborator, Sampha, wear tribal masks on stage, adding themselves to the ever-growing list of musicians that wear silly headgear in an attempt to stay anonymous. Well, Aaron, you’ve failed. But at least we now know who to praise.
On record, they’re polished and technical, while tonight in the Academy, Jerome sets loops and plays skull-shattering drums, while Sampha’s in charge of the keyboard vocals. It’s more ‘band’, than the producer/DJ vibe to be found on SBTRKT.
The set-list is essentially a re-hash of the album, while sounding scarcely like it. It’s fascinating to watch Jerome and Sampha hard at work, instead of witnessing lethargic efforts of playing tracks off an iBook—a feeling that overshadows much of the shows in the genre. The live drums and keyboard give the tracks an razor-sharp edge, kind of like the way listening to an orchestra recording isn’t half as entrancing as witnessing the music coming together in reality. But instead of brass, strings and woodwind—it’s loops, drums and distortion.
Hold On blows up the room, even spurring a sing-along, while the disorientating blue backlight is interrupted by spontaneous flashes that shock the system. It borders on uplifting, with samba drums bursting through the underlying gloom. Jerome’s drumming is relaxed and un-mastered, but with his constant looping and synthesising, it doesn’t need to be. His adaptation to the crowd’s feedback is masterful, a feat that can only come from years of experience—or the natural instinct.
Trials of the Past really shows us what Sampha’s dulcet—almost R&B—tones are capable of, while Jerome’s drums penetrate glittering synths to create a perfect level of elevation.
Sampha is the original vocalist on many SBTRKT tracks, but Right Thing To Do sees him take the flame from Jessie Ware’s haunting vocal on the recording. His voice fits beautifully over the trippy beats and groovy percussion, completely transforming the song to a more soulful number. Jessie who? Pharaohs is tweaked in all the right places, while still holding the superiority its title begs. Samba-like grooves send tropic vibes into the room, while Roses Gabor retains her steady vocal force over the percussion-heavy pace.
Who would have expected a mere iTunes bonus track, Living Like I Do, to be a highlight? Somehow, with Sampha’s soulful renderings hummed under layers of retro drum and bass, it was. A creepy glow of the mute lighting kept the enigma going, while taking the Academy back to the ambience of an early-90s rave.
The massive ‘moment’ was always going to be the anticipated detonation of the opening licks of Wildfire. The track sounded little like its former self, with the remixed beats flowing gritty, like sand spilling on a drum. Insane looping revved up the rhythm but the air felt a slight anti-climax to the imagined outcome.
But it’s clear why it sounds this way. It’s a room-filler, a show that can only get bigger and better. Every inch of the Academy is sprayed with noise, while the Bank Holiday crowd are delivered a set they can move to rather than tracks to ponder alone on a coach. SBTRKT are simply delivering us the best of both worlds.
SBTRKT Photo Gallery
Photos: Kieran Frost