Many confused music fans squabble over the differences between a ‘live set’ and a ‘DJ set’. Sometimes its hard to tell exactly what these artists are doing up on stage, which knobs they are playing with and what exactly is going on live. No one inside the jam-packed and completely sold out Webster Hall had any questions when SBTRKT took the stage, sitting behind a drum set and in between a laptop and an array of electronic musical tools. Next to him, and accompanied by a keyboard, is frequent collaborator Sampha, who is responsible for the vocals atop SBTRKT’s bass heavy beats. Sepalcure warmed up the crowd with their unique blend of house music and jungle beats, sampling sing a long hooks and generally having a great time on stage. Unfortunately, at times early in the set, there was that awkward feeling in the air of the guys on stage having way more fun than the crowd, who generally used the this time to socialize at the bar and explore the venue. However, credit must be given to the duo who eventually had the crowd bouncing in the moments before SBTRKT took the stage. They are an interesting duo to watch and definitely put a lot of work and energy into their live show.

It should be noted that this show was webcast live on, a new web offshoot of MTV promising to focus more on actual music than reality shows. This medium seemed very appropriate for SBTRKT, who performs donning a mask in order to take the focus away from the person behind the music, and place it on the sounds themselves. This auditory experiences began right away, as a huge curtain was draped down from the rafters in front of the stage, blocking the view as the artists took the stage, continuing to block the audience from the action until midway through the opening number.


SBTRKT’s live set up includes a drum set, synthesizers, sequencers, and drum pads all stationed essentially in a circle around the producer, whose real name is Aaron Jerome. He is constantly changing directions, moving around, and frantically changing loops in order to fully recreate the sounds of his albums. To say ‘recreate’ may not do SBTRKT justice, as the songs are more re-imagined than simply reproduced on a large stage. The live drumming really brings a new dimension to many of the songs, bringing a much needed boost of energy. While SBTRKT does hail from the UK and his music is full of bass, it lacks lots of wobble – trading it for more jungle infused tribal beats that end up sounding like a cross between sultry R&B and jamtronica. The beats are perfect for Sampha’s smooth vocals, which are laid down both as hooks through a sample machine that is loops the vocals while Sampha plays the keys.

The beauty in the use of live instruments is the ability to improvise past the standard compositions. While over an hour of constant house and jungle bass may get repetitive for some, the constant top notch drum solos and use of samples and looping make sure that there isn’t a moment of repetition. Throughout the set, SBTRKT mixed some extremely fun jungle dance beats with some crowd pleasers like ‘Never, Never’ and ‘Trials of the Past’, before turning it up a notch to close the set with ‘Wildfire’, which caused a literal frenzy when Drake’s vocals from his remix was dropped on top of the drums, keys, and samples. Making up for the fact that Drake and Little Dragon, who perform’s the hook on ‘Wildfire’, could not be in attendance, was a large improvised jam between the two men on stage in the middle of the song which almost mesmerized the crowd.

While many in the crowd began to head for the exit, the band returned for a brief encore to a huge ovation. They eased slowly into Soundboy Shift, which sounds like a cross between an old school Dirty Vegas track and progressive hip hop. The duo closed the night with Sampha taking over vocal duties on ‘Right Thing To Do’, bringing a new flavor to the lyrics usually performed by Jessie Ware.

While the concept of anonymity may be an important aspect of SBTRKT’s music – using both the alias and his tribal masks to conceal his identity and bring the focus to the music – there was no question who the star was at Webster Hall on Tuesday night. After packing the Music Hall of Williamsburg the night before for a DJ set, SBTRKT sold out yet another important New York City venue, cementing his status as one of the the next breakout stars in electronic music. The national buzz emanating from the live webcast was almost entirely positive, with many requesting that MTV Hive release some On Demand videos of the show – which they promise to do in the near future. Most of the other talk is about SBTRKT’s upcoming shows, which after making tons of noise with an energetic showing at Ultra, makes stops at major festivals like Bonaroo, Coachella, Hideout, Reading, and Leeds.

Learn more about SBTRKT at his website,

-Justin Charles