If you’re only slightly familiar with SBTRKT there are probably three things that you want to know: his name, what he looks like, and how he pulls off a live show. Firstly, it’s pronounced “Subtract” and his real name is Aaron Jerome, a South Londoner who grew up on a farm and has gone on to collaborate with the likes of A$AP Ferg, Warpaint and Little Dragon.
Secondly, he’s tall, unshaven and anonymous – a person who prefers to be centre OF stage, rather than centre stage. And as for how he pulls off a live show? Like a Wizard of Oz performing musical magic tricks with a knob twist here, a flick switch there, and massive electronic chord progressions.
Coming off the back of performances at Falls, Southbound, Field Day and Melbourne, SBTRKT hit the Enmore Theatre in Sydney, surrounded in a circle of synths, drum machines and a theremin; and flanked each side by two equally anonymous percussionists and Sampha, his occasional singer and primary collaborator.
In fact, if it weren’t for the tribal mask that he’s known to wear, it would be difficult to determine exactly who SBTRKT is. And this is the downside of the masked maestro – without the live element of his singers he looks and sounds like he’s just playing a backing track, which shows in songs like Higher and Look Away.
But when things get experimental and the lighting and lasers hit all the right points, the Wizard truly shines. During Wildfire, he opens with an acapella of Yukimi Nagano’s verse — “I could bet all of the riches that I ever had” — at which point the crowd goes wild, the girl with the backless top gets hoisted on someone’s shoulders, and SBTRKT starts furiously hitting that drum machine, turning Yukimi’s vocals into a broken beat and a stomping dance floor.
After the high, he immediately leaves, before coming back for a five song encore — Lantern, New Dorp, New York, Something Goes Right featuring Sampha, a Radiohead remix, and finishing off with a crowd sing along to Hurricane. Then, before we know it the Wizard sails off in the way he came on – clouded in darkness and departing from the kingdom, to perform his musical magic tricks another day.