SBTRKT: Soulful

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British producer SBTRKT’s eponymous debut album was, by all accounts, one of the top releases of 2011. But while tracks like Wildfire and Pharaohs quickly took on a life of their own, the life of the man behind them remained something of a mystery. Appearing only behind his now-trademark African voodoo-esque mask, Aaron Jerome has made it clear that he prefers to let his music speak for itself. Last here for música /TUMBALONG festival a few months ago, SBTRKT is thankfully already back in Australia to co-headline the Laneway Festival tour. In-between stops, inthemix spoke to the esteemed producer about the album, the live show and his take on brostep.

Hi Aaron. So the album’s obviously been such a huge success, how do you feel about how well it’s gone?
You know, I suppose it’s just really positive when people respond to the music you’ve created. Because you don’t really expect, or know, how things are going to be received and how many people will pick up on it. But worldwide, there seems to be a lot of people hearing it and responding to different tunes.

I think that part of the reason for the album’s success is that some of the tracks, like Wildfire, is that it works in a club environment without being typical ‘club’ music. Was that your intent when you were recording?
Yes, I guess. Electronic music is at the heart of everything I try and create, and I suppose dance music culture and all the sub-genres that have come from that is what I put first. But that kind of structure has always been big for me and strong part of what I do. So it’s just combining those two worlds, the club thing as well as just electronic music.

What do you look for in a vocal performance? Is it a matter of letting the vocalist lead the way?
With vocalists I look for the tone, that something in the voice, before I even think about whether they can stretch or sing a song. I generally look for that unique, crazy weird performance, if I can. Little Dragon is someone I really appreciate because she has such a unique tone and vision in the way they create music.

It’s the same with Sampha, my main collaborator on the album and who I’m now touring with, his style and tone is so much different to a lot of other singers. So yeah, I try and stay away from things that become too normal or too obviously specific to a certain genre or sound. I like to try and flip things around and do something slightly different. I think that the key element, obviously, is something that is slightly soulful but taking it in a slightly different direction.

Some points of the album really celebrate the sound of two-step. Why do you think two-step fell out favour?
I think it’s like any genre, things move on and musicians move on as well. People just create new genres and new sounds come along, so I guess it’s something which sort of developed from a London scene – people just move in different directions. But like anything, there’s a saturation point of when it cottons on to more mainstream terms and comes into the charts, and then people start to ignore the certain sound it began with.

Garage, for me, was a prominent point in discovering a music scene I felt really enthused by, but it’s not the only point of reference for me. It’s something that’s got a strong linkage to the music I create and the sort of house and techno and dubstep scene, that was kind of the interlinking point, I suppose.

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