SBTRKT (pronounced ‘subtract’ to all you living out the loop) is the man in the mask transforming live electronic sets from ‘dancing behind a laptop’ to something to actually get excited about. And you better.
Described as ‘this decade’s Timbaland’, SBTRKT (aka Aaron Jerome) is making the kind of tracks you keep hitting ‘Play’ on over and over again. With a roster of collaborators to rival any heavyweight producer, SBTRKT has remixed M.I.A., Basement Jaxx, Mark Ronson and Underworld, to name a few, and has been remixed by Drake for his track ‘Wildfire’. Recently releasing his debut album on label-to-be-releasing-with Young Turks, the tracklist reads ‘featuring…’ more often than not, with Jessie Ware, Little Dragon, Drake and his long-term collaborator Sampha in full attendance. Must be a popular bloke, and chatting with him it’s easy to see why – he’s sound.
SBTRKT is an open-minded musician with his ear to what sounds good, disregarding the genre distinctions that bind so many others. From indie to electro, he’s supporting Friendly Fires on tour later this year, and has just finished a track with Thom Yorke – don’t all start screaming at once. Creating deep but accessible electronic, his beats often gravitate around a hip-hop/pop chorus that even a chart-loving electrophobe can get on board with. To electro-pros however (who will be two-stepping all night to SBTRKT this Saturday at Field Day) he needs no introduction – so may as well stop there.
i-D online chatted with SBTRKT while he was hanging about at home, trying to figure out iMovie.
What have you been up to today? Mainly really boring stuff to be honest, I’m trying to make something in iMovie, I have to make an advert for one of my tours. Trying to make it myself, which is a bit new for me!
You’ve worked with such a huge range of artists, how do you feel about mixing genres? I find it quite natural. Musically, I don’t like sticking in a box or feeling like I fit in a particular sound or way of thinking. I’ve got influences from all over the place. In terms of electronic music, I’m influenced by everything from house, techno, garage, to new soul, new jack swing, hip hop – everything. I take elements from all over to form the SBTRKT world!
How did you meet Young Turks and how do you work creatively together? Initially, I met up with Young Turks through a guy Tic, we met back in the day at Plastic People. After hearing some of SBTRKT he got back in contact with me and the link with the label started there. I think it’s the most important label to be on because they’re open minded in terms of the type of music and they always put the artist first. The artist has complete control over products and the music they put out right down to the artwork and videos.
On this album you’ve collaborated with Sampha, Drake, Little Dragon, Jessie Ware – who’s next on your collaboration list? I’m not too sure, I haven’t really been thinking about it too much. I’ve just done a remix for Thom Yorke, so more things like that would be interesting, I’m open to any kind of collaboration really. If you work with one lyricist or vocalist then you get one sound, because you haven’t had the time to gel, but by the tenth/eleventh track, you’ll be coming up with a sound so far removed from where you started.
How do you think Thom Yorke’s move to electronic worked? One of the first ever live gigs I went to was Radiohead, I went with my brother to Brixton Academy to see them play their first album there. I was way underage at that point. They just have their ear to good music and what gets them excited and I think that’s the best thing about artists, when they follow their own paths. He appreciates music on any level.
Why do you wear a mask on stage? It’s not even from a live performance perspective it’s more an identity thing, trying to build a persona. The whole premise of SBTRKT was to remove myself from it, from having to talk about my music or my background, to let the music talk for itself. I was subtracting myself from it. The mask is just an extension of that.
How do you think electronic music translates to live performances? Pretty badly to be honest. The first times I ever got excited about music was watching acts like Daft Punk or Chemical Brothers. A lot of electronic live acts now are pretty much a MacBook and one controller piece which isn’t the same as what those guys were doing back then, the crazy ambitious way they used to creative music live. Now it’s all in one box and you see more electronic artists basically just standing behind their laptop dancing and that’s literally what people call a live show now. So for me it’s about putting a bit more of a live perspective on it.
Aside from Field Day, what gigs have you got coming up? Too many shows it’s constant throughout the year. We’ve got a UK tour, a European tour, Australian tour, Japan tour and US tour from September to November. Then we’ll be supporting Friendly Fires at the end of November all around the UK.
SBTRKT will be performing at Field Day this Saturday.