In his first filmed interview to date, SBTRKT speaks to NAINA for Tala Radio on Apple Music about his new album ’The Rat Road’ and his decision to finally reveal his identity after years of keeping himself behind a mask. The pair speak about the importance of representation, SBTRKT’s long running collaborative work with Sampha, his relationship with Skrillex and more.
SBTRKT on Skrillex convincing him to do a recent DJ set: ‘I have to put this down to my wife Nila, who is basically the one who encouraged us to go down in the first place because she’s like, we need to go and see what’s going on and find out what’s happening on the ground here. I didn’t know Skrillex was going to be there but I’d actually met him years before when I first started out. So it was really surprising but really cool to see him at this event hanging out. I was just chatting about it and he goes, yeah, you should just play. Why don’t you do a set? And I was just thinking about this going, I haven’t DJed in four years at all, but I’ve been thinking about this thing of getting rid of the mask anyway and being more present. Skrillex came on, he goes, yeah, well this is the perfect time to do this, you should be playing tonight. I was like, okay, right. So I literally just went home, which is 15 minutes away, and grabbed my stuff. I went home and prepped because I hadn’t DJed in ages. Skrillex had gone home by the time I went on but then he found out I’d committed to it and he came back, which is sick. And he was such a vibe and I’m still hearing from people now, who are psyched about the fact that happened. It was really nice. It was so positive’.
SBTRKT on his new album The Rat Road and how long it took to make: ‘I think the earliest tracks were probably six years ago. Obviously the pandemic happened in the middle, so it kind of cut off a lot of the progress I was making, I suppose, or the speed of what I was trying to release at that time. I was spending a lot of time in LA actually pre-pandemic and writing a lot of stuff over there with other collaborators, mainly because after my first and second album, I thought that I couldn’t really find the people I wanted to work with over here. I just felt like there was a slight gap in the voices I really was attracted to or the kind of vibe or the ability to work with people who just wanted to try different things. And I was finding that weirdly people out in the States at that point in time, were more open to the challenge of doing something slightly left. The way I work is generally I just go and sit in a studio and I’ll jam stuff out with people and I don’t really like doing the whole sending beats to someone and see what happens. My whole thing is to build rapport with someone and then though people might not see that, it’ll be going on for a few years basically of working together or kind of collaborating’.
SBTRKT on his ongoing relationship with Sampha: ‘We met in 2009 I think it was and we were collaborating for two years before my first album dropped. I first got introduced to him as someone who was trying to get into production and I was kind of trying my thing, obviously doing things in the electronic scene, DJing and putting out twelve inches on various labels and stuff, so I was kind of mentoring in a sense. And then I found out he sung because he played me some demos and things and I was like ‘oh, this is kind of crazy and amazing’. It was so early on, obviously these were very different to kind of where he’s at now. And we were just hanging out once a week for those two years, just jamming things out and trying ideas and a few of those things came out pre-first album there was a track called, Living Like I Do. We don’t work as collaborators often because there’s so much going on, I suppose, in both our lives. But the times we do connect are often quite effortless. And I’ve found that I’ve worked with a lot of different people, sometimes things can be quite hard to create, sometimes they’re quite awkward in a sense, things aren’t quite so smooth in the process and it takes a lot longer to get to an end result. Those ones generally don’t feel as rewarding. But the process working with Sampha was always something which just felt like, oh, this naturally works and we don’t have to fight to find that end result.’
SBTRKT on why now is the right time to reveal his identity and no longer wear a mask: ‘There’s a lot of layers I suppose to it. I think, that I just felt that in 2023, the time was right to have more of a voice and an opinion and a point about my own identity within my own music and not feeling like I was hiding away from that or creating a boundary between the listener and what those songs were about or meant to me personally. And I felt like, in the past I’ve spent a lot of time telling everyone that they’ll focus on the music and the music will do the storytelling. And I still believe that – the music should really be doing the work. You don’t need to be selling it for it to have a point of view. But I also felt like I was not being able to tell half of that story. And other people then got this perception that you don’t have a voice because you were hidden behind something’.
SBTRKT on the importance of his South Asian heritage: ‘I felt like within the last few years there’s been a lot of conversation about ownership of your identity, I think, and I’m mixed race South Asian, and I think one of the things I realized is when I started out part of the reason I created this persona and reason for having anonymity was that prior to that point, I couldn’t really find myself a place within the music industry or the scene at all. There was very much a feeling of not being the right person for this space. The minute I became anonymous and the minute I started sending tracks out without anyone knowing, I suddenly was able to infiltrate spaces that just wouldn’t have accepted me before. I think strangely that worked in my favour also I was just like, I don’t even know what his identity is, it could be anyone.
Whereas now with social media, with the things that have happened in the past five years from the Black Lives Matter movement to people accepting that we should not tolerate any sort of prejudice or racial discrimination in these situations, younger people especially are very much like, I’m going to talk up about this if this affects me. I think I’m in that older generation where we were just like, no, I’m going to keep my mouth shut and not really say anything because it feels like I’m only going to cut ties with other people or things, I’ll be judged on that basis. So I think there’s a point now where I’m just, it’s not a hundred percent why I do this, but it’s part of the reason is that it just enables me to be able to say more about myself, but also at the same time frees me up from being misplaced or misjudged for who I might be or might not be. I can actually say what my music is about, what I’m about, what I’m culturally from too.
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