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Dollars to Pounds: SBTRKT

Dollars to Pounds is a bi-weekly column with a look at the best of what's happening in the UK. This week we introduce D2P's new writer, Kim Taylor-Bennett.

SBTRKT writes his best music in the isolation of night. “In daylight things don’t seem to quite have the same quality. My ideas in the daytime seem to be too clean and predictable,” he says. Well it’s working. SBTRKT suits the darkness. Swirled with full-bodied synth thwomps, dubby, sub-bass tremors and fluid, minimal arrangements, his music is thoroughly immersive. The term future garage has been bandied about. For me it’s the soundtrack to a kick ass intergalactic party.

SBTRKT's eponymous album is far from a clinical electronic endeavor. Choice contributions from Jessie Ware, Roses Gabor and Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon and regular and live cohort Sampha, give it a cushy human core. Based in south London, SBTRKT’s been releasing a steady stream of spot on 12”s—"Look At Stars", "Midnight Marauder” " (with Sinden) and remixes (Tinie Tempah, Modeselektor, M.I.A.) since 2009—and spinning up a storm while remaining anonymous behind a range of tribal masks courtesy of Hidden Place. Check out our interview with SBTRKT and listen to "Wildfire" below.

Download: SBTRKT f. Little Dragon, "Wildfire"

It’s awesome that for your live show you and Sampha are actually performing as opposed to just vigorously head-nodding and flexing your fingers. I hate feeling like there’s no real interaction with what you’re doing. The way I DJ is how a lot of people perform live. It’s triggering sounds and there’s no dynamism there. When you’re pressing something you don’t feel that energy, you’re just pressing a button whereas with a drum kit or a keyboard you’ve got that expressive quality.

Are the lyrics important to you? I can’t write lyrics. I’d come up with the most generic stuff ever! The way I write music is in a much more pictorial way. I try to build pictures through my melodies versus lyrical writing, but the great thing about Sampha is he really does compliment the way I write songs. It’s kind of amazing the stuff that comes out on the spot, or how the titles that I make up before Sampha’s involvement end up being the theme in the end.

What did you think of Drake’s rework of "Wildfire"? It was really interesting because I have no contact with him. It’s amazing that my music is crossing into people like that hearing it. I still don’t know Drake. I see a few people preempting that I’m trying to make moves into certain worlds, but it happened quite naturally. He seemed to be feeling what I was up to and to want to be a part of it. I’m interested in when things expand to different worlds and that place where people meet in the middle. We’ve been on tour with Friendly Fires, and that’s a very different world. But Ed [McFarlane, Friendly Fires singer] is really into what we’re doing and vice versa. It’s amazing that there’s a whole thing where everyone is feeling what everyone else is doing.

Which is at least in part courtesy of the internet. Is that something that you relish? Definitely. It gives me the freedom to not have to go out and network or be someone who has to promote my music through social means. You can do it through the actual musicality and whether people like a song or not.

You’ve been pretty vocal about not really wanting to be the face of your music. Is that because you had a bad experience working under your own name? [He released an album under his name Aaron Jerome in ’08.] I just don’t think talking about who you are as a person is relevant to the music you create, especially in the world I’m in. The way I write is more about making a picture or story than it is about having to sell your name, date of birth and everything else. And my name, SBTRKT is an extension of that—subtracting myself from the music.

Were you annoyed when people found out who you were? Well I still don’t really talk about it. I guess it’s only natural that people will find out but it’s not something I’m too fussed about.

Would you agree there’s more of a bleed between genres these days? There seems to be. As we were saying, the internet has broken down those barriers in terms of people listening to more and more stuff because it’s easier to come across. There are those big moments in music, like the dubstep thing happening and the excitement that brought and the genres that came after that, which still don’t have names.

What are you into at the moment? Exciting things coming out of New York are FaltyDL and Machinedrum. They’ve taken what essentially sounded like summer UK garage and mixed it with hip-hop and there’s this amazing fusion between them. They have this skip and groove which is unique.

You’ve got some great guest vocalists on the record. Do you have your sights set on collaborating with anyone else soon? Not really. The thing I’d like to do most is work on someone’s album project, as opposed to doing singles with someone who wants a replay of what I’ve already done. I’m always trying to look ahead, writing fresh music and keeping myself interested. It’s about finding someone I really gel with. There’s a few things I’m up to but nothing I can talk about just yet!

Dollars to Pounds: SBTRKT