Viewers in Canada or Europe: Visit http://sbtrkt.mtv.com to watch “Hold On.”
The song: Tribal mask-wearing London-based DJ/producer SBRTKT (or Aaron Jerome to his mum) earned notice for goosing the groove on Radiohead, Mark Ronson and M.I.A. remixes with his brand of thick beats and synth-pop bounce, and his own 2011 full-length debut was full of bassy, futuristic post-dubstep syncopation. But standout track “Hold On” is subtler, building a hypnotic melody out of delicate glockenspiels and thumb piano, and then layering an ambient thump over everything to add to the after-hours atmosphere. The lyrical longing is echoed not only in guest vocalist Sampha’s smooth, yearning tones, but also in the space between the notes that lets the sounds of loneliness and loss hang in the air.
The video: In many ways this clip is a straightforward visual representation of the song: “Hold On” is about the end of a relationship, and the video is an endless loop of a man trying to get home before his woman leaves him, suitcase in tow. But this video is also as mysterious as the artist who made it. Though its setting is conventional—a quiet British suburb—the unusual continued repetition muddies the storyline. Why does it keep playing out? Why is he unable to reach her or stop her? What is he watching unfold? (His fleeing lady is standing awfully far out in the middle of the street; does that mean the car that keeps coming around isn’t just picking her up, but perhaps running her down?) You decide.
The director: Sam Pilling graduated from famed British art school Central Saint Martins, the alma mater of musicians like Mick Jones and Jarvis Cocker and fashion designers like Paul Smith and Alexander McQueen. And though the young director only graduated in 2009, he is no novice video-maker. Pilling was nominated for Best New Director at the UK Music Video Awards last year, and has already made clips for WU LYF (“We Bros”) and Usher (“Climax”). His treatment of “Hold On,” his second video for SBTRKT, both enhances the song’s story and deepens its shadowy vibe.
SBTRKT gets lumped in with the dubsteppers who captured many of 2011’s dance music headlines. But while he may share an affinity for heavy bass, stuttering beats and an enigmatic producer persona, songs like “Hold On” show that SBTRKT has both more experimental and more sentimental impulses. The songs on his recent full-length are replete with star vocal turns (from Little Dragon’s Yumi Nagano or Roses Gabor), but there’s a reason that Sampha is featured on most of them. Unafraid of haunting high notes, Sampha adds soul and vulnerability to SBTRKT’s synthesized textures. For his part, SBTRKT must realize that his ethereal, nocturnal style is best bolstered by vocalists who can provide the warm blood to pump through his songs’ mechanical hearts.