SBTRKT are in a fairly tricky place considering what music looks like this year. Dance music as a whole is bigger than ever and any artists that compromise its underground nature by essentially finding commercial success are accused of damning the genre to an audience it wasn’t built for. Its a constant debate and a constant bone of contention when a sound founded as part of a scene gets brandished ‘mainstream’. Whilst SBTRKT could fall in to this trap under grounds of ticket/record sales, they seem to have dodged the label. This is down to a mixture of things but tonight proved their sheer ability as a live act and the addictive infectious nature of their sound certainly contributes to their immaculate reputation.
When SBTRKT and collaborator and key LP force Sampha take to the stage tribally masked and suitably enigmatic there is an air of anticipation then the noise comes. SBTRKT has become a leading force in modern 2-step, future garage. Tracks from his LP like ‘Hold On’ and ‘Sanctuary’ get the response they deserve. The songs are big but understated. The vacant beats and shivering bass lines are occasionally lost in this venue but on the whole the energy and kinetic energy of the tracks translates really well to the live show.
The artists on stage are bouncing around occasionally grabbing drum sticks to maximize the crescendos of these futuristic masterpieces. Their musicianship is also demonstrated on tracks like ‘Heatwave’ where the rhythms are off-kilter and the layers and layers of sound get lost in each other. For two people on a stage to capture this sonically shows SBTRKT as a real force to be reckoned with.
The crowd seems to get more excited as the night goes on. Perhaps the preconceptions that surround SBTRKT as a commercially viable electronic act mean that some of their oldest fans were reluctant to move. The reluctance slowly died as the night went on. When the jagged beat of ‘Wildfire’ rumbled across the floor there was no posing in sight. Little Dragon’s almost inaudible vocals paired with the insane synthesized hook makes for one of the most electric dance tracks in recent years. Nobody could stand still, the steady heaviness of this single makes it one that is exciting and slightly zonal at the same time. SBTRKT then return for an encore and perform ‘Right Thing To Do’ after asking “Do you know about Jessie Ware Bristol?”. Of course we do. The song is sung along to shamelessly, for a track that sounds so simple on record, the beat infects the crowd with an unprecedented energy.
SBTRKT are masters of this. Disguising dance floor fillers as underground bubbling anthems. Their sound hasn’t been swallowed up by the Skrillex generation because it’s always maintained an element of puzzle. SBTRKT himself has always maintained a policy of speaking through the music alone and that is for the best. They share their label Young Turks with murky lo-fi icons The xx as well as up and coming producer Kwes. It is clear that whilst SBTRKT have found success their roots are still firmly in a league of electronic musicians who are making the music they want to make. On further inspection, SBTRKT aren’t in a tricky place, this guy is in a very fortunate one.