SBTRKT @ Shepherds Bush Empire

Last night Shepherds Bush Empire felt like there was an electrical fizz passing from body to cramped body, from the floor up to the gods of the theatre. Before SBTRKT even graced the stage. Feet seemed itching to dance, those in seats refusing to park their derrières.

Considering this album was released a year ago it speaks volumes the level of excitement has remained at a constant level of enthusiasm considering newer albums have graced our ears. SBTRKT remain as fresh as the day they came to our attention.

SBTRKT live in London

On stage regular collaborator Sampha joined SBTRKT and occasionally violinists decked out in Badger masks, like Beatrix Potter let wild in the city. Female vocalists Roses Gabor, Little Dragon and Jessie Ware all noticeably absent (and all noticeably busier as solo artists now than when this album was released, especially Jessie Ware). However, what was presented was so captivating that your eyes never left the stage.

The pair loop over one another, vocals being looped, mixing desk tripping samples and the man himself jumping onto drums as Sampha’s smooth vocals glide over the many layers that seem impossibly created by so few people.

Hold On peaked early in the set yet somehow calmed the frenzy down for the duration, perhaps a well needed deep breathe from the crowd. That felt like the only respite. It’s hard to pick out one stand out moment. Feet didn’t stop, eyes didn’t turn away from the stage. Pharaoh’s, Trials Of The Past and Right Thing To Do being especially well received.

However, it was a track I’d previously never particularly connected with that won my heart in West London. The version of Wildfire was stretched out, teasing, rising and feeling like a musical equivalent of foreplay. One exhausted writer at the end of it, puffing out my cheeks and wondering if I had enough energy to get through the encore.

I’ve always thought tagging SBTRKT as dub-step is an incredibly lazy way of simplifying something that is so intricate and detailed. Seeing them live cements this for me. Brain is the new sexy and this is beautifully captivating and intelligent live.

Aaron Jerome, the man behind the mask, seemed genuinely over-awed at the frenzied reaction and broke his usual silence on a few occasions to say how much playing in London meant to him, giving heartfelt thanks to the captivated audience. But the mask remained firmly on, just the hint of a well-chiselled jaw jutting out from below.

The man himself is still a mystery, the music doing the talking. Loudly. Without missing a beat.

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