SBTRKT? STDNT more like... Freshers’ Week has passed and Bristol is overflowing with hundreds of them. Hey, white guy with the dreads and goatee! Don't do that... Oi, girl in the top hat! You know that's a really obnoxious thing to wear at a gig...
Enough! This is Aaron Jerome's night. It’s been an extraordinary year-and-a-bit for SBTRKT since the self-titled debut album dropped. And from the huge number of people in the O2 Academy, Bristol, he’s only getting bigger.
Jerome and his compadre, Sampha, first emerge behind a huge red veil. It’s only when Sampha starts to sing on show opener, ‘Never Never’, that it drops, revealing them properly. They’re both wearing silly hats. Hmm. I disapprove, but the song makes for a decent, if unshowy, start to the gig. 'Hold On' is better, with Sampha's vocals just as rich and honey-sweet as on the album.
Less successful are the instrumentals that intersperse the set. ‘Heatwave’, with its arpeggiated synths, builds and builds to… nothing. And ‘Ready Set Loop’ – which inexplicably raises a cheer from the crowd – is every bit as dull as the studio version.
Happily, when they pull out the big guns, the show becomes something else entirely. 'Something Goes Right' is swooningly lovely, of course, but it’s 'Pharaohs' that makes the room erupt. Forget all the tedious genre chatter about “future bass” or whatever - this is just a really, really great pop song. Even the absence of singer Roses Gabor – here just a vocal track – can't take away from the song’s visceral impact.
After a slightly meandering, beat-heavy instrumental it’s 'Wildfire'. Little Dragon's Yukimi Nagano is also absent (and hey, Yukimi, on the vague chance you ever read this – you're amazing, call me yeah?), but the crowd knows all the words and that’s enough. 'Trials of the Past' closes the set as it began, in swirling, smoky, post-midnight ambience.
The encore, however, is less impressive, with two dance numbers that no one seems particularly fussed about. It's a bewildering choice that would be irritatingly indulgent, if SBTRKT didn't have one last trick: the deep, deep bass of 'Right Thing to Do'. It’s seismic, easily eclipsing the rest of the set, and reminding you that this music is best heard in a club, not a “venue”. Whatever, that doesn’t matter to the delighted students here. Oh poor, foolish, doomed youth, what bitter treats life has in store for you... But not tonight.
Words by Will Salmon