SBTRKT: does not photograph like a white dude.
SBTRKT

Wednesday, Ocbtober 26th

the Neptune Theatre

Dubstep is ascendant (possibly even peaked) in America right now--more

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SBTRKT Brings High-Gloss Dubstep to the Neptune Theatre's High Energy Crowd

SBTRKT: does not photograph like a white dude.
SBTRKT

Wednesday, Ocbtober 26th

the Neptune Theatre

Dubstep is ascendant (possibly even peaked) in America right now--more so than any strain of electronic music has been since the great "big beat" crossover effort of the mid-late '90s. There's Skrillex making the cover of Spin and playing the several thousand-seating WaMu Theater (the same venue Portishead played Sunday for their first Seattle show in 13 years if that means anything to you) the night before last. There's "bro-step," the sort of derisive tag that can only come about once genre has become established enough to generate lesser iterations and greater numbers of obnoxious fans (and which Skrillex would seem to be the poster boy for). And there's the fact that a mid-sized, outlying city like Seattle can draw multiple international-level practitioners of the form in a single week--the aforementioned Skrillex, of course, and also last night's Seattle debut by London producer SBTRKT.

Next to Skrillex, SBTRKT is thinking man's dubstep, bass music for asethetes--but, again, that kind of hair-splitting distinction only hints at how (over-)developed the genre has become. SBTRKT makes pretty high-gloss, pop-adjacent tracks; only in so mainsreamed a genre could this stuff pass for chin-stroking or excessively artful. Certainly the crowd last night at the U-District's Neptune Theatre didn't come for academics; they came to party--and SBTRKT proved plenty suitable for that.

Live, SBTRKT and vocalist Sampha faced each other across a pair of tables set up with laptops and samplers and various other keyboards and controllers, but SBTRKT spent much of the show behind a drum kit, leaning hard into big drum rolls and crescendos, while Sampha mostly just stuck to his microphone, occasionally dipping down to the foot of the stage or leading the extremely game crowd in a clap-along. (If Lightning Bolt had a less crazy talented drummer, a murmuring Chicago house vocalist instead of a monster bass guitar rig, and more expensive masks, they'd look a little like SBTRKT.) It has to be said, it was kind of great seeing a crowd of unruly college kids vibing so hard to such soft male diva vocals (although, I suppose the odd Drake verse has primed them for that register).

Have I mentioned it was an enthusiastic crowd? It's entirely possible that before last night, no one in that audience had seen a cowbell played live in an acoustic space before, so energetic was their reaction. And it was, if such demographing matters to you, a pretty even split, gender-wise, often a long-shot at electronic music shows, but not entirely surprising given how, well, pretty and (with the help of Little Dragon's Yukimi Nagano among others) feminine SBTRKT makes the typically, increasingly masculinist genre. (If profiling further interests you, you might be surprised, like some folks I talked to, that behind SBTRKT's quasi-tribal masks, is a pasty white dude.)

So, yeah, they played everything nicely, although the sound was less than impressive in the back and even occasionally muddy up front. Sampha's looping vocals and those aggressive drum rolls made for some nice climaxes as well as some nice little jammy moments. Overall, though, SBTRKT's slighty glitzy take on dubsteb: not my thing. For the obligatory encore of "Wildfire"--all cameraphones in the place suddenly out and lit up--Shabazz Palaces' Ishmael Butler came out in purple and shades to snap off his sharp-tongued guest verse--but as he did so, some bozo hopped up on the other side of the stage and spent half the verse hand jiving with his sweatshirt tied around his waist before security escorted him offstage. Maybe this is another side effect of dubstep's worldwide reach into the mainstream, of its geographically untethered popularity: SBTRKT can fill a big room in Seattle, but the crowd might not even recognize their own hometown talent. Dubstep, college, my lawn, etc. I'm so very old and tired.

 
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