I first encountered SBTRKT through “2011 Top Albums” lists created by my friends, which was also how I learned about James Blake and the phenomenon known as “post-dubstep.” Without having a good background in two-step, UK dubstep, or garage electronica, I cannot really identify what elements and combinations in post-dubstep are new or old; but, to me, the songs that these artists are making are not like anything I’ve heard, and I can enjoy their sound a million times more than that other emerging genre of music that has filled America with the sounds of Michael Bay’s Transformers – the Skrillex flavor of brostep. I’m not even sure that sort of American dubstep should be called dubstep. But don’t take my word for it; I’m no expert on the subject.
SBTRKT didn’t have the greatest set time at Coachella, considering their conflict with Godspeed You! Black Emperor and how their set ended exactly when Radiohead’s set was scheduled to begin; however, I decided to go for their performance since I caught Radiohead’s Glendale concert and Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s magnificent set at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle on St. Patrick’s Day of last year. Of course, other determining factors included my love for the self-titled album, and that SBTRKT’s great collaborator, Sampha, was confirmed to join the act’s mastermind, Aaron Jerome. And so that is how I ended up inside of the Gobi Tent on Saturday night, packed to the rafters with many dancing and jubilant folk, enjoying one of the festival’s greatest performances.
The performance reminded me of an argument that a friend of mine once raised, when she, more or less, said something like this: “Why are you so insistent on seeing bands perform live? It costs a lot of money and you can get just as much enjoyment by listening to the album.” I still disagree with that statement for many reasons, which include these: (1) The live performance provides a visual element lacking from the album; (2) the venue and audience grant a pleasure of their own accord; and (3) the “I was there” mentality, while only being a boast after the fact, does give you a nice buzz simply for being in attendance during the event. As for the money: There are performances with ridiculous price tags, but I think that many shows – Coachella included – hold a reasonable cost, all things considered.
SBTRKT’s Coachella performance reminded me of another major reason to attend live performances: The music during the live show can – and probably should – differ from the music on the album. When one of SBTRKT’s masked crusaders – it was a bit hard to see the stage in that crowd – announced, “This next song is called ‘Never Never,’” I almost thought they were mistaken; because, despite the track being one of my favorites, I could not recognize it during the first minute or so. And even when the song gradually turned into the familiar track – more than familiar enough to please fans of the record – the whole of it remained new. All of their songs seemed upgraded for their live show, augmented with heavier beats and sounds that could allow everybody to dance like lunatics. After the set ended, I thought to myself, This is why I love to go to concerts and festivals.