Remembering the Roots

Aaron Jerome, an electronic musician who is better known by his stage name, SBTRKT (pronounced as “Subtract”), produces all of his music digitally, relying primarily on the program Logic for most of his compositions. However, when he plays live shows and makes public appearances, he dons a tribal African mask as part of his whole gimmick. While in this interview, he states that he uses the mask as a means of having a performance identity, reading Ron Eglash’s work “African Influences in Cybernetics” reminded me of SBTRKT in how he blends together a symbol of Africa which is commonly disassociated with digitalization into his performances which are completely based around that premise.

In this article by NPR, it brings up the question regarding whether SBTRKT’s African mask is racist or not due to the person under the mask not being ethnically black. While some may argue that his decision to use a tribal mask as his stage persona despite it not reflecting his ethnic background as being racist to some degree, I would side more along with the idea that the identity serves as a tribute to tribal African cultures, who used masks as a means to signify taking on a certain character to rituals. Jerome uses the mask as a means to assume his stage character in the same vein that tribal societies would. In how Eglash states that “the focus of this essay on African contributions to cybernetics is not an attempt to overlook the brutal tragedies enacted by that science, but rather to underscore the multifaceted aspects of its history, and thus possibilities for resistance and reconfigurations” (Eglash 1).

                By comparing the aspect of assuming character present in tribal African rituals with live performance and by using digitally composed drum beats similar to those used in African rituals, I feel that Jerome’s music helps reestablish the connection between the analog/traditional concepts developed in early Africa and their contributions towards modern day cybernetic systems, while honoring their importance in the music that he produces today.

Image(Photo Source: NPR cites Dan Wilton/courtesy of the artist)

I feel that it is too easy now that we are so immersed in our digital devices to produce sound to forget about the importance of early analog systems and influences. However, I feel that analog is making more and more of a comeback as artists try to incorporate it into their music alongside digital recordings.

A recent and well known example is Daft Punk, who recorded their latest album “Random Access Memories” using both digital and analog formats and determined which specific recording formats would work better with what they were trying to create.

Similarly, a band I saw recently, Mount Kimbie, performs and creates their tracks using both analog and digital devices, to create an entirely different sound that comes across from sticking to a single format. Mount Kimbie often brings out live brass players to accompany them on certain songs while simultaneously playing guitar/bass guitar while also using drum pads and laptops.

The usage and importance of both formats is also noted by Eglash when he notes the importance of the record scratch sound used commonly in rap music, a primarily digitally driven genre which “signifies cultural identity” (Eglash 5). While rap primarily relies on digital communication, the emblematic record scratch sound which Eglash talks about is actually conceived through an analog device. Despite the importance of both, if we fail to acknowledge all of the influences and components necessary in producing what we have today, we lose an appreciation for each forgotten idea, and how it may still affect what we strive to produce in the future.

-Derek Kaneko


Carew, Anthony. “TheVine.” SBTRKT: “I’m Not Wearing the Mask around the House.” The Vine, Oct. 2011. Web. <;.
Eglash, Ron. “African Influences in Cybernetics.” Haussite. N.p., 1995. Web. <;.
Matson, Andrew. “Musicians And Their Masks.” NPR. NPR, Feb. 2012. Web. <;.

~ by detoka on October 15, 2013.

One Response to “Remembering the Roots”

  1. Great blogpost, it reminds me of the Fauvism/Cubism/Impressionist movements in France, a big inspiration for these particular artistic movements were a direct result of Europe’s fascination with Primitivism because of colonialism. Without influential artists like Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso, Braque, Modigliani….etc. art would be very different today. The same can be said for SBTRKT in this context.

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