SBTRKT @ The Bakery, Northbridge (20/10/11)

The mysterious SBTRKT played to a sold-out crowd at The Artrage Bakery, saying nothing and letting his music do the talking. This was a DJ set to remember as he traversed the globe without ever leaving his mixer/laptop setup, then disappearing as quietly as he had entered.

Paper Chain record label founder Kit Pop warmed up the crowd with a solid blend of treble-heavy future beats, chiptune and the weighty basslines of electro-inspired hip hop. He left punters simmering before giving the stage over to Ben M of {Move} fame. Settling the night into cruise control, the RTR FM DJ opened with old school sounds ranging from the smooth, dub jazz of the last decade to horn sections from the 70s, moving towards the restrained electronica of 2010’s Gold Panda and the ambient post-dubstep movement characterised by Mount Kimbie and James Blake.

Now the crowd was ready, and starting to get restless. But before the mysterious headliner would appear, an unmasked roadie would check the equipment, later proving to wear the same clothes, have the same skin tone and look suspiciously similar to the man in the mask.

Whatever the case, tribal warrior and powerful musical shaman, SBTRKT, walked on without the usual “fashionably late” antics that most musicians subscribe to (thank God), wordlessly launching into his 1.5 hour-long DJ set. Starting off with his remix of Radiohead’s Lotus Flower and showing off his capacity to produce the perfect bass, he transitioned smoothly from one song to the next, maintaining a steady crescendo in the energy of the room.

Though it was a surprise for most of the attendees – that had come after hearing a varied and sensitive album – to hear a house-oriented set from his less-known house repertoire, it was just as pleasant to hear the excellent sense of pacing as songs seamlessly built on top of one another. It was like hearing a mash-up of Joy Orbison, Modeselektor and Synkro all in the same artist, bringing up the energy with more bass, more snares and wilder melodies until there was nowhere else to go but back down for oxygen with the emotive Hold On.

He slowly pushed back up again with Living Like I Do and went on a trip through the UK house scene, South America’s samba and reggaetton, to Germany’s thumping trance all infused with top end production values and flawless arrangement. Halfway through there were a few missteps in track selection with generic, repetitive filler more suited to a Tiesto gig than someone of this calibre, but those were quickly rescued by Theophillus London’s remix of The XX’s cover of You’ve Got the Love by Florence and the Machine (whew). And, of course, hits like Wildfire garnered cheers as did Something Goes Right to cap off the gig with an acidic upper that smacks you on the back of the head with its progressive rhythms while nostalgia-filled vocals fill you like morphine.

When the trip had finished, Clunk stepped in with some mellow dub and good mixing to comfortably wean attendees off their high .

It was certainly hard to find faults in the night’s performance, though perhaps there may have been qualms with the expectations wrought by the varied and soulful performances on the album, only to be denied by a strobe-filled, electro wonderland that kept you jumping and shaking for a full hour or more. Maybe it was the fact that SBTRKT’s DJ set had him dramatically twisting knobs on his mixer with a total dependence on a Macintosh laptop, nodding wordlessly, never interacting with his admirers. But that would be to miss the point.

The night was about letting the music wash over you and forgetting about who was playing what instrument and turning what knobs; about falling into the dream that SBTRKT had constructed and letting yourself defy gravity for an hour or two. With a live set planned for Laneway Festival in February, there is plenty of space for both his production and musicianship to come through.