SBTRKT: "I'm not wearing the mask around the house."

"In music — and culture in general — these days, there's a real trend towards selling yourself," says SBTRKT.

“You have to put as much effort into your promo as you do into your music. The internet era has created a culture where people pre-judge something before they've even listened to it. That's how things work these days: people discover new music not by hearing it, but by reading someone else's impression of it, first. That seems backwards to me. I've always had the belief that people should respond to the music foremost, based on whether it's good or not, not based on the story of the person who made it.”

SBTRKT is a real person. He's a Londoner named Aaron Jerome, a former nu-jazz/broken-beat DJ who cut an album for BBE and worked with, among others, Nitin Sawhney. On the telephone, he's friendly and conversational. But, as SBTRKT, his biography is kept artfully out of the narrative: his name is not on any of his records; his face, on stage, is hidden behind a mask. In an era of over-disclosure and Twitter-feed tedium, Jerome draws a line between the personal and performative.

"I don't enjoy having to talk at length about my personal background, or trying to create some storyline about myself," Jerome says. "I like the freedom of being able to make music without having to conform to what it is people think about me. I like being able to change directions without having to justify it; being able to just do what I want without having to send out a press-release citing my own decisions for doing so."

SBTRKT - 'Wildfire'

Jerome stumbled into these feelings promoting his 2007 album, Time To Rearrange. With his name and face on the front, he grew uncomfortable with the narrative being so about him. So, inspired by the anonymity (and music) of dubstep producers such as Burial and Zomby, he started making music as SBTRKT, divorced from the identity of his "solo" career.

So, Jerome started sending out productions, in 2009, via channels old-fashioned (white label 12-inches sent to English DJs) and new (files uploaded to Soundcloud). Though he thinks of the music as "weirdly personal" ("I wanted the album to take strands of all the music that I'd loved —soul, dubstep, hip-hop, garage, house, pop— and weave them together into my own thing"), Jerome wanted the music to not be about him. So he came up with the mask.

"I created the mask as its own creative, artistic identity; not so much as a way of creating mystery, but presenting a singular image. Giving the world something to sell that wasn't just my own face and name," explains Jerome.

Jerome wasn't seeking anonymity — "acting like no one knows who you are or where you're from, that's asking for it; do that and people are going to want to find out more" — but, moreso, a kind of performative persona. "I was inspired by tribal societies where they use masks in rituals to take on a character, to be able to be someone else in that moment when you're wearing it," he says. "That works to keep this division between who I am on a daily basis and then the public performance as SBTRKT. Like, obviously, I'm not wearing the mask around the house."

Anthony Carew



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2 comments so far..

  • BOOOST's avatar
    Date and time
    Friday 21 Oct 2011 - 11:33 AM
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  • LoTide's avatar
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    Monday 24 Oct 2011 - 3:12 PM
    Nice interview, good piece. Just listened to a new mix of his the other day and he definately has some mad skills.
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