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Live Review and Photos: SBTRKT and AraabMUZIK, October 31, 2011, Bowery Ballroom – New York, NY

Photos by Colin Joyce

It’s true; all the freaks come out at night in New York. This time of year they just happen to be in costume. Nevertheless, this makes NYC one of the most fun places to spend Halloween in, so naturally a chance to see the masked SBTRKT on the 31st was a no-brainer.

Opening was AraabMUZIK, an electronic DJ known for his fusing of all different elements of hip-hop, house, trance, drum ‘n bass, and dubstep together. Not being familiar with his music, but having heard praise from several publications, I was, at the very least, curious to hear him perform. His 45-minute set (split into two parts so that he could reload his samples) shined at times. Those were moments in which the infusion of the genres were balanced, only enhanced by the 16- and 32-note breaks, and not too over the top. It’s mostly because of my distaste for mainstream ‘dubstep’ but when the set leaned more towards it — drenched with infuriating “WOMP”s and bullhorns — that I felt that the performance faltered. Personal biases towards electronic music aside, AraabMUZIK was certainly technical as he pieced together the tracks on his sampler and did a fantastic job of warming up the crowd for the main act.

In between the sets, glow-in-the-dark SBTRKT masks were passed out to the audience. Anyone in the crowd that wasn’t already dressed up was now masked and SBTRKT was ready to perform for a sea of people donning their visage.

It’s a bit confusing but SBTRKT is essentially two people. Producer Aaron Jerome is the main figure, accompanied by singer Sampha who provided many of the vocals on the self-titled debut. Both wore their masks, but not ones resembling those on the LP or EP covers. They were more so headbands with nothing obscuring the face below the eyes. It turns out the masks handed out to the audience resembled more of that of Sampha’s.

Jerome was focused around his drum kit, turning to queue up sounds on his laptop, hitting his digital pads and acoustic drums, providing some back-up vocals, and jumping to the back to his theremin. Sampha not only provided vocals on nearly every track, but he also played keyboard, controlled some loops, and played a bit of percussion.

Jerome would explode on the drums in a Stanier-like fashion, sort of like a breakdown on any track of his choosing. This proved to be extremely impressive on opening track “Heatwave” but became increasingly less impressive when it became known that he played the same beat (or at least an extremely similar one) on every track, seemingly at whim.

That fact aside, SBTRKT put on a mesmerizing, energy-filled, and technically impressive performance. Despite the repetition, Jerome proved to be extremely proficient and skilled on multiple instruments, showing off his endurance by jumping around his set-up and playing with constant intensity throughout the set. Sampha brought the performance to another level with his vocal performance as he took on the melodies, performing the parts of other vocalists on the album and feeding off of the energy of the crowd, particularly during “Hold On” and personal favorite “Trials of the Past.”

As the duo came back onstage to perform their encore, the Drake remix of “Wildfire” played, which had Sampha resigned to controlling the keyboards and loops, and let the recorded vocals play on for the most part. Here, it became apparent that he was an essential figure of SBTRKT. Perhaps Jerome will choose to have a different touring arrangement in the future, and while it would be nice to bring more vocalists on tour, it’d be a mistake not to bring the multi-talented Sampha with him. In case that changes in the future, you should catch SBTRKT on tour now.

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