Unmasking SBTRKT

Unmasking SBTRKT

Aaron Jerome may not be a name that most of us are acquainted with. In fact, until July 1st 2011 you may have never heard of him at all. You certainly wont have seen his face, either.

For Mr. Jerome is the latest in the line of novelty mask-wearing electronic producers (think Daft Punk, deadmau5 and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs) and until recently, he remained anonymous until he finally declared his true identity via Twitter.

Hes also the latest in line to spell his name without any vowels, (think MSTRKRFT) making it physically impossible to spell a nine-letter word on Countdown and undoubtedly infuriating Carol Vorderman.

Hailing from Lewisham, London, his name, (pronounced Subtract) was intended to create a musical identity separate to any single person and he began his career in the capital club, Plastic People. His mask is designed by Hidden Place and is a modern interpretation of native society ceremonial masks.

It reflects that in worldwide tribal societies, wearing a specific mask would evoke the spirit of an ancestor or animal, and is prominently used in ceremony and celebration. It's about uplifting the soul and challenging the normality of electronic music and production, apparently.

Mysterious stuff, indeed.

But unfortunately, whilst his mask may be most unique, his eponymous debut album fails to really explode into something quite as distinctive as his dexterous veneer would suggest.

In fact, this release is a timely summary of where post-dubstep electronic music is at, following its emergence under pioneers Mount Kimbie, James Blake and Jamie Woon in 2011 and The xx winning the Mercury Prize in late 2010.

Whilst SBTRKT manages to fuse several genres, including two-step, UK funky, dubstep and Chicago House with a delightful array of intricate bass, a deft splash of electronic and an undertow of percussion, it lacks the cutting edge of previous remixes of MIA, Basement Jaxx and Underworld amongst others whereby he made his name.

There is, however, an impressive roster of guest vocalists to feast upon, as eight tracks on his debut feature collaborations. Morden-based Sampha is Jeromes right-hand man, appearing in almost half of the tracks, though their best is saved until last as Never Never perfectly utilises Samphas warm and soulful croon.

Other notable vocal standouts include the wonderfully bouncy piano-rhythm of Pharoahs, featuring Roses Gabor and debut single Wildfire, which throbs with a highly familiar dubstep wobble alongside the vocals of Little Dragons Yukimi Nagano and has also been remixed by some fella called Drake.

Hes an American rapper, or something.

But sandwiched in-between the impressive instrumental album-opener Heatwave and the delightfully poignant curtain-closer Go Bang are a collection of emotive, infectious bubbling synths that throb gently without ever threatening to boil over into a genuine masterpiece, giving a disappointing feeling that SBTRKT is still holding something back on this record.

Nonetheless, the album is paced perfectly, almost akin to a live DJ set, combining the hardcore elements of dub and 2step with the obligatory slower rudiments of house to ultimately create a record that might not be as groundbreaking and artistic, but that is potentially more accessible to a wider audience than that of contemporaries Blake and Woon.


(That would be nine letters on Countdown)

Follow him on Twitter @JordanHalford

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