A Sit Down With DJ Sbtrkt

13:46 Mar/05/2018

As free and open as Aaron Jerome has talked about his life and music over the past two hours, one may wonder what the masquerade is all about. Well, apart from his general preference for the anonymity of the producer, as was common in the early technotages, and the aesthetic component that brings the mask into the SBTRKT universe, the decision has a lot in common with Jerome's artistic life SBTRKT to do. At that time he published under his real name even more Nu-Jazz / Broken-Beats oriented music.


"In a musical world I create what I want to do under a musical identity, as essentially I do in the real world."


Who invented the image of a mask?

The masks were decided upon to create an artistic identity that isn’t my face or my back-story. It's like creating a new identity and biography for SBTRKT. The music you create or your artist persona isn't necessarily who you’re born as, especially with electronic music. Most artists are writing something in a make-believe world, created with a new vision which has nothing to do with their real name or who they’ve grown up with. I don’t like the idea of having to describe or sell my music by telling people who I was or trying to tell why it's relevant, because I don’t feel that anything is relevant beyond the point of when you're making the song. You're trying to create something totally different and describing that physical process of it doesn’t matter. People should be more imaginative about the artistic side of it than trying to fill in gaps about my age, and where I grew up or where I live. The whole idea behind the design of the masks was to represent the spirit of tribal masks, and the idea that people behind the mask would become the persona of something else when they put it on. Wearing a mask means you have to outperform how people perceive you to be.

Why you chose to keep yourself rather anonymous in the press. Is that strategy or a natural inclination?

It’s something that I felt was the right thing to do, in terms of making music. It’s just about letting people hear it and then deciding for themselves whether they want to find out more and discover it for themselves. Everything stems from that.

What kind of places are you playing in?

A majority of our live shows have been in very small venues. I remember one of the keyboards fell off the stand and hit someone on the head, because the stage and the crowed were so close. And that’s really nice, when people can get close and see absolutely everything. It’s harder to play on a bigger stage with the kind of sound we have, to be honest. It doesn’t feel as interactive—you have to have that closeness to the band to feel that. But we try different things—when we play on big stages, we tend to beef off the dance side of things and keep up the tempo.

Tell us about your influences.

I love Timbaland's stuff. N.E.R.D was a really big influence. They were artists that were able to establish their own sound and also produce for other people. The ambitiousness of their songs really inspired me. It's something soulful, but it trips up and does something original and unique every time. Growing up, I was into everything from Michael Jackson to New Jack Swing and Bobby Brown to Public Enemy. Then I really got into electronic music. House music like Masters At Work was a really big influence on me early on. Stuff like 'The Nervous Track' by Nuyorican Soul. Then I got into the new UK genres like drum-n-bass, trip-hop, and UK garage. I’ve always been inspired by a lot of music.

How do you work with other artists?

If I work with anyone, it’s got to be someone who I feel comfortable with – and it’s got to be a relationship. It’s got to be building and invigorating and fresh so that something special can happen. I don’t ever want to go, ‘because I’m bigger now and this person likes my record, I want to collab with them.’ That is the death of any artist to be honest – when they think two big people makes a bigger record. I hate that kind of attitude.

Did you always work with only one guest at the same time?

There were overlapping moments where two were present at the same time; in the end, Sampha, Raury, Koreless, Jessie Ware and Caroline Polachek stopped by five. This led, for example, to the "problem solved", which was actually planned as an instrumental track, was suddenly supplemented by Caroline to a piano track, before six months later, Jessie Ware contributed their singing. Or take "Voices In My Head", the play with Asap Ferg. For this I used in the studio in New York some of the island session with other people and also from my jams with Wartime in Los Angeles.

Do you collaborate with the singers in the creative process, or do you just let them do what they do?

All of the songs have been written in my living room while I’m there—none of them have been done outside the studio, so everything is a constant collaboration through weeks and months of working. With Sampha, we’ll generally jam out tracks with synthesizers and drums and stuff, and he’ll vocalize little ideas on top of them. And I think we always agree where things should go, even lyrically.

Do you feel your collaborators as part of the SBTRKT family?

It's about living out your own vision in a larger community. Take acts like Massive Attack and the Gorillaz, they did it very well. It's like a temporary family. One who understands you. If you look at the classic pop music operation, so there are often external songwriters brought to production to increase the hit factor. There's nothing wrong with that, but there's always a risk that your own identity will be lost if the wavelengths are too different. My goal is to find people who tick like me but who are unique. This does not always make docking their style easy, but if it succeeds, it's so much more satisfying. If I jam with Sampha, then that is the search for the magical moment that, when it comes in, we often can not remember. "Wonder Where We Land" was created at about three o'clock in the morning, while an animated film was projected onto the wall. I love music when I can not physically remember how it came about.


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