SXSW 2012: SBTRKT at the Madison, Saturday, March 17, 2012 | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Wednesday, November 25th, 2020  

SXSW 2012: SBTRKT at the Madison, Saturday, March 17, 2012

DJ Set Leaves Us Cold

Mar 21, 2012 Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern Bookmark and Share


The 2011-released self-titled debut album from the London-based dubstep producer SBTRKT was in heavy rotation in the Under the Radar offices last year and was #14 on our Top 80 albums of 2011 list. So he was high on my list of artists to see at SXSW 2012. For our last set of the festival we showed up to the venue over an hour before SBTRKT was due to go on at 1 a.m., in anticipation that he'd be a hot ticket (partly also due to a rumor that Timberland was going to show up too). This meant missing midnight sets by Matthew Dear, Kwes, Wavves, Slow Club, !!!, Craft Spells, and several others I would've loved to have seen.

SBTRKT was playing at the Madison, a venue I'd never even heard of in my eight years of attending SXSW. While suffering through more than an hour of guest appearances from such rappers as G-Side and lame DJ sets of obnoxious dance music that repeatedly featured sounds akin to a fire alarm or a vuvuzela football (or soccer) horn, I joked to Under the Radar writer Laura Studarus that were too twee for this show. It was a bad scene all around. My wife/co-Publisher Wendy was up front to take photos when a speaker almost fell on her and a drink was thrown at her, soaking part of her dress. The bathroom attendant in the men's room, an African American man in his 50s, had a sign tapped to the mirror that read "I like tips like I like pussy" and I overheard him lamenting to another bathroom-breaker that it was getting more and more expensive these days to pay for pussy. And the bouncer locked the front door when the venue got to capacity, as the crowd outside was supposedly getting rowdy. Surely barring the club's main exit is a big fire marshal violation.

We reasoned that all of this would be worth it if SBTKRT put on a great show. Alas, the vowel-phobic producer did not. In fact, he didn't put on a show at all. While it wasn't specified that he would be performing a live set, it was assumed, as the SXSW program usually differentiates when a performance is just a DJ set. And I had seen videos of him performing tracks from the album live, with Sampha, one of the album's vocalists, in tow. Instead SBTRKT went on 15 minutes later than advertised and stood behind too CD players and a mixer, one of his signature tribal masks only half obscuring his face, and spun a generic mix of dance and hip-hop tunes. In what we heard, only one of his own tracks was thrown into the mix. At 1 a.m. on the last night of a grueling SXSW we were in no mood to dance to a fucking DJ set. Had we known it would just be a lame DJ set we would have gone to see an artist who was actually willing to perform his album, not simply play other people's music. In this world of iPods and iPads, everyone's there own DJ, and SBTRKT didn't seem to be doing anything particularly exciting with the medium. If it had been advertised as a DJ set it would've been fine, so it wasn't entirely SBTRKT's fault that we simply had expectations for something different. If it had been advertised as a DJ set we wouldn't have even been there.

We left after around four songs and were forced to follow a maze of halls and go out the back alley, as the front doors were still locked. We bid good riddance to the Madison, lamented that we skipped Matthew Dear for this, and tried in vain to catch the last minutes of another band's set, so that we could end SXSW on a high. But instead it ended on a whimper, the sound of vuvuzela horns and the thought of a 50-something African American man paying a hooker with my tip money echoing in my head.



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