One of the downsides of live electronica is its centerpiece: the ever-fickle laptop. It’s the showpiece around which the experience operates, the anchor, the constant. We tend to see laptops so much at these types of gigs that we’ve come to take them for granted. Consider the early portion of SBTRKT’s set last night at Terminal 5 as a sort of lesson, then: if there’s any type of technical difficulties, the show will come to a screeching halt.
Five minutes into the masked man’s set, things were shaping up to be epic: frequent contributor Sampha’s scratched tenor filled the space, mixing perfectly with the relentless bass pulses. And then, in what initially seemed to be a strikingly abrupt segway, the whole thing stopped. For about 25 minutes, the stage became as frantic as an emergency room, with a horde of techies trying to resuscitate the fallen computer. SBTRKT tried to re-start, only to get shorted out, to the audience’s audible dismay.
After what seemed like an eternity, the kinks got fixed. A very apologetic Aaron Jerome—usually quiet in concentration—took the time to thank the crowd at every possible break. Better yet, he and Sampha made up for the lost time by playing with twice as much intensity, whaling on drums and cowbells with reckless abandon and even enlisting the help of a four-person string quartet. Tracks like “Pharaohs” and “Wildfire” received the extended treatment, infusing the dubstep with a little bit of a jam band sensibility.
The best moments came towards the end, with the one-two punch of “Go Bang” and “Right Thing to Do,” the latter of which taking the form of a euphoric, 10-minute-plus dance party, complete with audience participation (despite the early gaffes, the crowd remained wholly enthusiastic). Ultimately, SBTRKT was able to skirt the curfew slightly, playing their entire set as intended. And with their mixture of experimentalism, intensity, and energy, the duo proved that it was determined not to let technical difficulties stand in their way.