Aaron Jerome, aka SBTRKT, the London-based UK electronic musician sits in a special place in the confluence of UK and US popular music. As electronic music began to recover during it’s sort of 2010-2011 dubstep hangover, SBTRKT reached out from the melting-pot of highly experimental UK electronic acts like Mount Kimbie, Ramadanman and Joy Orbison and created a sound that was much more accessible to a wider-audience. Then Drake jumped on a track and everybody lost their collective minds. Once the Toronto-rapper hopped on a remix of “Wildfire”, possibly Jerome’s catchiest track at the time, US audiences finally began to reacquaint themselves with UK dance culture – with SBTRKT being at the forefront.
Although he suddenly found himself at a position of power and prestige, Jerome wanted little to do with being a someone who stagnates creatively.
“I could’ve easily stepped out and done another “Wildfire””, he said in a 2014 interview with DAZED, “I probably had about 15, 20 requests from big major label artists all want a copycat track. But the thing is, even the ones I was into it was like, ‘if you want what I do, I’ll come to the studio. We Cans tart something unique between us, but I’m not gonna just give you the same beat.'”
Although this sentiment may sound a little big-headed, it really isn’t. While artists like Deadmau5 use masks and get-ups to confine a giant ego, Jerome uses his mask to add to the music he’s creating. The mask, now synonymous with his image and music, grew out of a love of cryptozoology, “mythical animals like the Loch Ness monster and the yeti […] I just like the analogy,” he said in the same piece. “This idea of something that’s known to exist, but there’s nothing tangible that you really know about it. But I was trying to bring new context to the SBTRKT identity. Initially, the idea behind the mask was to give freedom to the music. I don’t want people to fixate on the ‘return of the masked man’, and all those other mystery phrases that tend to get wheeled out. Cos that was never really the point.”
Coincidentally, even as he balked at recreating something he had already accomplished, he continued to recreate this cross-over success by collaborating with the likes of Disclosure, AlunaGeorge and Jessie Ware.
In 2014, he released what is probably his most successful LP to date, Wonder Where We Land. Taking himself away from the distractions by setting up a makeshift studio on Osea Island, an estuary plot in Essex connected to the mainland by a causeway which can only be crossed at low-tide, which is inhabited mainly by a treatment centre for wealthy alcoholics.
The introspective nature of this record came through loud and clear in the final product as tragedy struck Jerome right before he even began the project – his brother Daniel had passed away after a five-year struggle with cancer about a month before he began work on the LP.
“We were just kind of foraging in the dark”, Jerome said of the experience, “but for me that song (“Sampha”) in particular is about the impermanence of everything – relationships, life – and this idea of entering into the unknown.”
Last week, and two years removed from Wonder Where We Land, Jerome surprised his fans with a new project dedicated directly to them called, Save Yourself. Although he claims it is NOT an album, in statement he says that it is about, “being able to the share music with you more frequently than I have done in the past, and not long after its been created.”
He continues, “Though perhaps more importantly than how, why Save Yourself is coming now has to do with the current cultural and sociopolitical climate. Culturally, albums now feel like a means to prove you are a “real” artist. To release and album, you turn yourself over to traditional label cycles and the end of the increasing sales, leaving behind the creative spirit that brought the music to life in the first place.”
Jerome said about artistic vision for this new record, “Save Yourself and the visuals reflect my personal mood on what’s happening in the world and society on a macro and micro level. Whether that be racism, xenophobia, the environment or irresponsible greedy politicians. All this while thinking about how incredible it will be when humans actually reach and settle on another planet. As an artist it feels strange to me to create simply happy music without being effected by current world affairs. Through the music too, I’m reflecting my constant state of nostalgia for the future. A dark optimism, for one that seems ever far reaching. So the title and artwork reflect this. Where we got next but also where we are now.”