Aaron Jerome’s SBTRKT moniker is more than just clever, vowel-less text speak, it’s also a working ethos. Pushing against the notion that image and backstory are integral to music, the London producer has pursued a path of anonymity in order to remove himself from the equation altogether. It’s hardly unprecedented, but Jerome, who plays in a mask, is intent on letting his music speak for itself. And by the strength of his eponymous debut, it’s in little need of trimmings. ACCLAIM caught up with the masked man who’s turned out one of the year’s finest electronic albums.
For me, there’s a real coherence to the album, when you set out to record it, was that an important consideration for you?
Yeah, definitely. It was kind of my main ambition in creating an album, even though I’ve used a few different vocalists and go between quite a few different genres of music as well. It doesn’t really blend in your traditional album way I suppose, in that all the tracks sound of a similar vein and similar tempo, but I think there’s a certain atmospheric kind of vibe or something; or something to do with the build up or melodics of the tunes, which sort of blends between them. But yeah, I definitely spent a long time on the ordering of the album as well, to try and make sure the sequencing would work from the beginning to end.
A lot of the genres you traverse and meld together on the album are singles-led for the most part. What’s the appeal of the album format?
I dunno, for me it’s about what excites me in creating songs. I don’t really ever pre-think about the type of genre or the style of track I’m going to make.
A lot of that is made on the fly – one day I wanna make this, another day I wanna make that. By the end it was just picking out my strongest tunes, or the ones that’d work together in terms of a record, versus just having lots of massive songs in a row. All of the genres on there are inspired by contemporary music I guess, the dance/electronic stuff going around at the moment, all infused with influences from the past.
I was gonna say, sound-wise the album is a great snapshot of the range of influences prominent in UK bass music at the moment. But by the sound of things that wasn’t a conscious effort for you to try and bring all those influences together, it was just a result of you being immersed in London’s music scene.
Yeah, exactly. I didn’t really ever set out with a certain goal to make something that is going to be the definition of what that kind of dance music is right now. I think that essentially I’m someone that doesn’t really like to sit still in terms of what I write, I always just want to make bigger and better tunes in whatever style that is. So that’s kind of why I go between genres all the time and flip between ideas. I’d get so bored if I had to repeat the same synth line at the same tempo for my next tune, just like the previous one. For me it’s more exciting to do what I want.
In a more general sense, do you feel in there’s a genuine period of experimentation and originality in dance music in the UK at the moment?
Definitely. The music industry, I guess, has helped that. The fact that the Internet is strong and people don’t have to rely on big labels. So I think in that way, you can get away with different ideas and doing what you like. For me I think it’s an exciting time, there’s lots of sub-genres and weird things going on with different people appreciative of very different styles of music.
From my research you’ve been producing for around ten years, but it seems this last 18 months has been incredibly fruitful for you. Do you feel that’s the case and what do you put that down to?
I don’t know, I guess it’s just continually putting out records… and improvement maybe (laughs). For me I always feel that my next record is better than my previous one – that’s my aim anyway: development as an artist and not putting out more of the same really. I think since a few of my early releases, which were more instrumental stuff, collaborating with other artists [has helped] and I think there’s been a lot of response from other peers in the scene which helps things; early on with DJs like Sinden and Mary-Anne Hobbs in the UK, who were scene champions, then that moves on to the more worldwide thing like Modeselector and people that have been championing it. Now, with people like Drake who did a rap version of Wildfire, it’s kind of a continual stream of different people that seem to be feeling what I’m doing.
Even acknowledging all that global recognition, is it still an honour for you to play big nights in the UK like FWD or maybe play a DJ set on Rinse?
Oh yeah totally, it’s really nice to be able to do different scales of things anyway. To be honest, FWD was never the biggest influence for me, I guess, because I oversaw what was going on in the scene, but I was never really hanging out in that club or listening to every set that was going on in that kind of world. But to be able to play on [Rinse FM] and have the freedom to play what I want with my own angle on what goes on in that scene is great.
There are so many influences in UK bass music or post-dubstep, but everyone normally has a way in – whether that’s drum and bass, dubstep or garage – what was your way in?
I guess UK garage, in terms of tempo and the melodics and the skipping grooves of it all really. I was buying loads of records and experimenting production-wise as well. I was trying to copy people I respected a lot. From that I kind delved into everything from that kind of scene, there was a lot going on in sporadic genres which I was appreciative of, but that was my central focal point.
You’d already had a few releases under your own name prior to your success with SBTRKT, but it seems you’ve gone to some lengths to distance yourself from that. Is that in an effort for people to judge SBTRKT simply on the music and not anything else? Almost de-contextualise it in a way?
Well that’s the essential idea; SBTRKT is about removing myself from it all really. I’ve never really felt that side was important to making music or creating it, and I don’t think any producer sits there writing music in the vein that they’re themselves creating songs, generally you imagine some otherworldly place or some kind of crazy atmospheric thing or a different mood that makes you create what you do I think. That for me has become part and parcel of what putting records out is; apparently telling your whole life story with it, which I don’t think is ever really relevant to the kind of music I create or other people in electronic genre’s either. I think it’s more of an imaginary world in a way.
So that obviously ties into the anonymity associated with wearing a tribal mask?
Yeah. And kind of just giving another face to it all really, which is just as creative as the music I suppose.
What have you got planned musically for the immediate future?
Mainly at the moment I’m doing quite a lot of live shows, you know. It’s kind of steadily developing, it’s basically myself on drums and most of the synth parts then Sampha on vocals. We’re essentially taking the album out and playing it in a very different way while we do live shows, experimenting within it and sometimes it works really well, sometimes it doesn’t (laughs). But we’re just really enjoying playing it out live. Other than that, a couple of remixes. I’ve just done one for Radiohead, which is one of the few production things I’m doing at the moment and that’s about it really. Touring seems to take up a lot of my time at the moment.
SBTRKT’s debut album is out now. For more, follow the link here.