SBTRKT and Jamie xx at the iTunes Festival

September 20, 2014

The Roundhouse is so orgasmically beautiful.

This is my first time at Camden’s eponymous host to the mainstay that has now become the iTunes Festival and I can’t help but feel enamored with the perfect setting it provides. I almost feel myself wanting to take up Tai Chi and meditation as I marvel at its perfectly rounded beauty. It evokes questions of why I can’t achieve such precise definition with its high ceilings and intimate, yet awe-inspiring atmosphere…

… Meanwhile, everyone is probably doing normal things like taking selfie. Fuckin’ bellends.

Anyway, Jamie xx provides support tonight to SBTRKT, who absolutely delights from the first second to the last. He immediately sets the tone for the evening with his brand of utterly unique house music that is both engaging and impressive in equal measures. Whilst there is a tendency to overlook the nuances and colourful splurts within house music (often drowned in overcrowded composition), Jamie Smith, the DJ, producer and member of The xx commits no such errors. Throughout, he effortlessly creates lush soundscapes that leave nothing to chance; his subtle yet wildly fascinating ventures into harp and steel drum instrumentation are executed with the utmost purpose. Unfortunately however, I leave his set feeling embarrassed for his many criminally irritating and vulgar counterparts posing as DJ’s, who ultimately give an awful representation of a marvelous art and indeed, genre of music. It is, to the contrary, something executed with the utmost verve and skill by Jamie xx.

On to SBTRKT – who barring my exasperation at some 13 year olds posing as urban freewheelers begging for filters next to me – enter in with excitement levels reaching maximum. Playing a set comprised of both new and old material, the London-based outfit boast extremely strong moments, but also at times fall short in providing something visually engaging throughout (masks aside, obviously).

With the sporadic appearances of frequent collaborator, Sampha, the band have their most success, both visually and musically. When Sampha is not on stage however, there is at times a sense that we lack a focal point and a point of reference between artist and audience. Tonally, Sampha alludes to soul and R&B which adds a rich, warm quality to the electronics of SBTRKT, and quite frankly, this synergy is a real masterstroke from both sides. Despite the sometimes lacking on-stage visuals, this is not to say that musically SBTRKT fall short. They are quite the opposite. A particular highlight within SBTRKTs new material is the euphoric Highs and Lows for which has all the making of the next Wildfire or Right Thing To Do. With its fusion of bouncing, 80s inspired synth pads and the more atypically SBTRKT textures, mass euphoria ensues and ultimately, this bodes well for the upcoming release of Wonder Where We Land.

Roaring through the gargantuan hits of Hold On, Wildfire and Pharaohs – as well as playing their recent collaboration with Warpaint, War Drums -the SBTRKT carnival atmosphere is rife with frequent excursions into samba-influenced instrumentation and cowbell galore befitting of a night surrounded in a party atmosphere.

Ending on Right Thing To Do, there is a real sense that both Jerome and his fellow musicians are taking in something spectacular in front of their eyes. Indeed, the normally composed and almost aloof performance of the rhythm sections of SBTRKT follows the crowd in raucous jumping, letting all previous mask-aided control go. With their first London show in around two years, tonight SBTRKT provide a timely reminder of their extremely deserving place among the best electronic artists in what is an increasingly competitive and innovative genre of music.

Matt Taylor

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