When U.K. producer SBTRKT released his debut self-titled album last year on Young Turks, it won scores of fans for its warm, bass-heavy electronic soul. The record picked up some of the most vibrant strains of London’s underground scene, from garage to soul, but made it all relatable with heavy doses of moody R&B vocals. That techno-organic vibe even eventually reached Drake, who remixed the searing single “Wildfire,” instantly ratcheting up SBTRKT’s profile with an even wider audience of Internet-savvy music fans hungry for genre-crossing sounds.
Still, though, it felt, maybe like an album for bedroom speakers or earbuds. And then, of course, there was the issue of SBTRKT himself, who refuses to reveal his face in photographs, performs in an African mask, and has described himself as a none-too-social type. Yet both the artist himself and his music are adapting well to his frequent visits to the United States. This year has seen him, so far, do the entire run of SXSW, Ultra Music Festival, then the entire summer festival circuit before launching into yet another tour, which brings him to Grand Central on Friday for a DJ set.
“Performance is performance. I don’t necessarily feel it’s a social thing, you know? It’s just a way to showcase what I do, but in a different way, other than just making music and releasing it,” he says. “I’m able to perform in live clubs and do shows without being spotted. I can go to a show and then leave, and no one can hassle me or spot me in the crowd before or after.”
He may not want to approach DJs personally about playing his music, or get stopped on his way into the venue, but SBTRKT does wholeheartedly seek out fans’ feedback online. “My favorite thing is just putting music on Soundcloud and seeing the reaction to it,” he says. “It’s interesting to see which tracks people pick up on — it might not necessarily be the thing I think is most popular. Like I put one up a called ‘Surely,’ which was a bonus track on my album, and it had something like 106,000 hits just a couple days later.”
Make, that, actually, over 192,000 plays to date on Soundcloud alone, for a synthy, cinematic slab of atmospherics, with no instrumentals or obvious bass drops. “That’s interesting to me, to see you don’t necessarily need to package something up or give it a big campaign to see people enjoy it as it is,” he says.
Besides fan feedback, though, he says he craves more collaborations with unlikely artists of the Drake variety. The couple of productions he created for Drake’s most recent album, Take Care, didn’t make the final cut, but it was an enlightening experience for SBTRKT. “Collaborating on work is where the most exciting stuff happens. I don’t have to fit a certain mold of what a SBTRKT record would be. I have the freedom to do whatever,” he says.
His next dream team-up: Frank Ocean. Earlier this year, SBTRKT remixed the new R&B crooning sensation’s “Thinking Bout You,” but is itching to meet him in the flesh. “That’s someone I’d really like to pursue working with, if he’d offer it,” he says.
Beyond the continued collaborations, though, almost nothing else of future SBTRKT output is predictable. Though he continues to enjoy a traditional record-making deal with Young Turks, he’ll continue to release material for free and zig when people expect him to zag. “It’s nice to see that I can make the music I want and put it out without people questioning it or comparing it to my last single,” he says. “It’s nice being an artist who can do what you like.”
SBTRKT DJ set. Doors open 10 p.m. Friday, October 18 at Grand Central, 697 N. Miami Ave., Miami. Tickets cost $20 in advance; age 18 and up. Call 305-377-2277, or visit grandcentralmiami.com