Gig Review: SBTRKT

SBTRKT clearly aim to surround themselves in an air of secrecy, and this was certainly achieved long before their arrival at the 02 Academy in Leeds. The audience was very audibly discussing which direction the performance would head thanks to various online ‘tips’ – with rumours of recent collaborator Raury appearing (despite his being in Atlanta at the time) and others saying it was just going to be a DJ set. The staging did little to answer questions either, with the majority hidden beneath black tarp or massive screens – the entire arena seemed shrouded as if beneath one of Aaron Jerome’s tribal masks.

When Jerome finally emerged, flanked by a drummer and multi-instrumentalist, the result was actually an odd hybrid of live set and DJ set. The initial portion was centred around songs from the new album, ‘Wonder Where We Land’, and sadly these came with little changes to the recorded songs. ‘Voices In My Head’ and ‘Temporary View’, which are such stand-outs on the album, sounded rather bland when just played over the speakers – the nuances of Sampha’s incredible vocal talents and A$AP Ferg’s equally enjoyable lyrics were lost in the space without any changes made to them. Thankfully, the outstanding performance of ‘New Dorp, New York’ lifted the entire arena. The song cleverly twisted to place the two live drummers at the forefront instead of the ubiquitous bass line and then the video projected across the entire wall. It was the amazing spectacle expected from SBTRKT and thankfully the gig settled into a groove from this point forward.

Clearly Jerome has had more time to work with songs from their eponymous album and this came across in the rest of the show which was mainly focused around it. The density of the sound built enormously, and every note seemed to be stretched and manipulated, increasing SBTRKT’s unique songs from subtle into an impressive cacophony. Jerome seemed to enjoy doing this, he looked at ease working an extensive array of synths and equipment, and took pleasure building the audiences anticipation over several minutes before finally dropping some of his larger hits such as ‘Wildfire’ and ‘Hold On’. As well as the music, the production changed too, with the centrepiece now a green laser show projected across the room on the back wall, drawing the audience’s eyes upward and creating a hypnotic and still moment in the middle of thousands of people.

However, despite the impressiveness of these elements, the highlight of the show was when Denai Moore (who was the support act) came out and sang live vocals for the song she collaborates on, ‘The Light’. At this point all the lights switched off or to neutral, and the music stripped back to synth, drums and Moore’s beautiful vocals. It was a moment of real simplicity and was the perfect foil to the rest of SBTRKT’s set, lifting the rest of the night and taking the whole experience to a new level.

Overall SBTRKT’s set was mightily impressive, the only thing that was a slight let down on their part was the lack of live elements to some of the show. Denai Moore’s performance was so impressive, it showed what could have been done if more of their collaborators could have been roped in; but the nature of SBTRKT’s eclectic and wide reaching appeal means that this was always going to be tricky. They are a victim of their own success to an extent. The only real let down for the night overall was the crowd, who seemed preoccupied with attempting to start a mosh-pit and football chants at what is, quite a laid back show. It was a rather unsavoury experience being towards the front of the room, and a shame that a small group of people seemed determined on ruining what was an otherwise enjoyable show. If you can see them external to that specific venue though, it is definitely worth your time.

Words: Keir Shields

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