C’est en 2011 que le monde a découvert un mystérieux producteur britannique masqué sous le nom de SBTRKT, avec son premier album éponyme marqué par un style hybride, entre Uk garage et post-dubstep, et qui fut un véritable succès critique autant que commercial, participant aux beaux jours du label Young Turks.
Alors que les années suivantes furent faites de collaborations marquantes, de remixes et de tournées auprès d’une fan base devenue mondiale, il aura fallu qu’Aaron Jerome prenne un peu de recul par rapport à son personnage de SBTRKT, dont le masque rappelait ses racines familiales qui remontent à l’Afrique de l’Est, à l’Inde ainsi qu’à l’Ecosse.
À l’heure où le monde digital démultiplie les libertés artistiques tout en imposant les contraintes toujours plus fortes des algorithmes, incitant à toujours plus de collaborations et de stratégies de performances sur les plateformes, SBTRKT a choisi de se relancer avec une démarche consciente à l’opposé et bien à lui, en recherchant de nouveaux talents au Royaume-Uni et aux Etats-Unis.
Avec son nouvel album ‘’The Rat Road’’, le premier depuis six ans, SBTRKT nous emmène avec lui pour une nouvelle aventure créative faite d’euphorie et de mélancolie, où le footwork se fond dans la techno 4-step, tandis que l’électro stridente et les synthés des origines côtoient une musique garage mutante et des productions future-synth à tendance pop, ajoutant de nouvelles couleurs à la palette de SBTRKT.
SBTRKT is readying a new creative endeavour with the release of a brand new album, his first in six years, ‘The Rat Road’. With a family ancestry that traces itself through East Africa and India, specifically Goa, as well as Scotland and England, Aaron Jerome “grew up on a farm in rural England.” Moving to London at 18, he distributed tracks on a smattering of labels. Releases across Good Looking Records and BBE sat alongside “a stack of remixes” before the world was introduced to SBTRKT.
Releasing his first album, ‘SBTRKT’, in 2011, it grew to be a seminal project which garnered global critical acclaim and commercial success. Alongside two further prominent releases in 2014’s ‘Wonder Where We Land’ followed by his first independent release in 2016’s ‘Save Yourself’, there were many remixes and collaborations with record industry heavyweights. Throughout these five years, SBTRKT connected with a global fanbase multiple times over by touring the world continuously.
This is now a new era for the British producer though, and it cannot begin without acknowledging the masked identity.
“A lot of my prior press coverage was as a masked, elusive character,” he says, words tumbling out of his mouth as he races to catch up with them. “My storyline became attached to the mask. A lot has been projected onto or written for me, diluting what I actually created and then, that being attributed to others around me.”
After the tightly-packed first five years of SBTRKT and its many successes, SBTRKT retracted while Aaron Jerome stepped in to observe the landscape.
“I realised it was time to re-evaluate who I worked with or what I was wanting to achieve or create,” he admits. “Compared to a decade ago, there is an element of there being more freedom now to do this, but it is also juxtaposed with the control that social media algorithms and DSPs have in the way music is being consumed.”
‘The Rat Road’ takes these frustrations and underpins them with optimism. It’s a sonic ride reflecting on the societal changes in the six years SBTRKT has been creating it, and also a personal reflection of his journey through his life. “As humans, our moods are changeable,” he says. “We are still able to laugh amidst this collective anxiety. I’m tapping into how we feel about our role in climate change and the future, the politics of Britain, but also the music industry. You need all your wits about you to not get screwed over.”
Instead of focusing on “bigger streaming and stat-building collaborations”, SBTRKT has looked for interesting and new talents from across the UK and U.S. in a way that can only make sense through a SBTRKT lens.
The album wears its emotions openly as SBTRKT takes the listener on a journey through euphoria and melancholia. In the same minute, footwork is melded into four-to-floor techno while screeching electronics and synth-heavy production are reminiscent of his early work. Mutant garage lives alongside pop-leaning future-synth production adding new colours to SBTRKT’S palette while taut, wiry slices pop and fizz with menacing energy in his distinct mode of expression. At other times, it’s reminiscent of the Los Angeles 2000s beat-tape scene. ‘The Rat Road’ is a true marriage of genres with SBTRKT’s febrile presence felt throughout, prioritising intention and purpose over spectacle.
Drake gave a glimpse into the sound as he unexpectedly used one of the album’s tracks “FORWARD” as the emotive soundtrack for his ‘Her Loss’ album announcement video.
“When I create music from its start point, I’m trying to depict how I feel in that moment,” he explains. “I start everything from a blank page. What I create first has to be free of boundaries.”