Across the last two decades, Four Tet has unarguably broadened the parameters of electronic music. In all honesty, there is no formula to Kieran Hebden’s success apart from sheer talent, consistently uplifted by instinct and experimentation. Rebellion plays its part too – when Hebden was limited to the labels of ‘folktronica’ across his early 2000s material, he shrugged off all comparisons with jazz-infused, hip-hop leaning samples. When crowds became accustomed to a more subdued, slow-burning production style, he snapped back with last year’s super-producer collaboration between himself, Skrillex and Fred Again... Equally attentive to those bubbling on the horizon yet indifferent to what’s expected of him as a DJ and all-round artist, Four Tet has maintained himself as an unconventional, moving target.
This perhaps offers context to the artist’s three-night-stint at Alexandra Palace, a collaborative effort between himself and Squidsoup, a collective specialised in immersive experiences using digital technologies. The evening sets out to re-define the ways in which dance music is consumed, stepping outside of the club, and into a 10,250 capacity, grandiose hall in which 42,000 glowing bulbs hang from the ceiling.
Upon entrance, one quickly identifies the crowd as one of all ages and walks of life, summoned for all different types of reasons. On the one hand, there’s the all-time Four Tet fan, keen to relive the artist’s breakthrough album ‘Rounds’, which just recently creeped up to its 20 Year Anniversary. On the other, there’s the starry-eyed Gen-Z, chasing for a glimpse of virality, something to align with the recent likes of ‘Baby again..’ or ‘Butterflies’. Despite the distant cries of purists, there is no right or wrong, and although Hebden leans further into his more mature audience, the evening certainly hosts a moment for everyone.
It’s hard to dismiss the buzz of excitement that spills across the room. Yet, as Squidsoup’s art installation drifts overhead, things feel oddly cold and skeletal within a dim, ominously soundtracked Alexandra Palace – that is until Hebden rises from his operating table, illuminated by a dinky desklamp to his right. Performing in the round, the crowds are tightly packed from all angles, forcing attendees to focus on two things: the lights, and the music. For those trying to whittle their way to the front, it’s frustrating to not be able to see the producer in action, but generally there’s an accepting and observant attitude shared by all. This carries across the duration of Hebden’s two-hour set, where fans remain surprisingly still, in awe.
As the pulsing ‘School’ marches its way through, the amber lights trickle into the audience. Accelerating in their rise and fall, the track’s chimes become more intricate and the installation follows, breaking away from its lunging, collective force. There is a warm quality to the performance, leading into a more downtempo, ambient first hour that celebrates the bucolic likes of ‘Green’ and ‘Romantics,’ a gorgeous highlight of the evening. Filling the room with fluttering harps, bells and woodland samples, the powerful sonics within the space truly take you aback – accentuated further by a 360 sound engineering. ‘Two Thousand And Seventeen’ is yet another glorious moment that unites all crowds: disorientating, atmospheric and contrasting in its whooshing noise and sonorous, pure dulcimer. It’s an experience that falls nothing short of spiritual, followed by ‘Baby’ which assuredly marks a turning point.
Embracing more movement and faster tempos, the crowds mirror Hebden’s energy as he inches towards the crescendo of the evening with tracks like ‘Mango Feedback’ and ‘Lush’. Racing with its intermittent drum-breaks and glitching vocal samples, ‘Kool FM’ throws a spanner in the works, readily equipped with impulsive, frantic lighting that makes for yet another, highlight moment of the evening.
Winding down his audience with the cinematic ‘Three Drums’, Hebden studiously looks into the crowd and tightens his grip one final time with the career-defining ‘Teenage Birdsong’ and ‘Parallel Jalebi’, the closing track. The installation settles from its dizzying, circular motions and draws everything to a close with more delicate, striking twinkles. Taking a step away from his equipment, the artist unleashes a grin and waves, disappearing into the crowds with yet another, game-changing performance.
To be enjoyed from all angles, by all fans of music – Four Tet continues to reach outside of what feels tangibly possible, pushing his legacy further, on his own accord. The true definition of a tastemaker.
Make sure to catch Squidsoup’s immersive exhibition ‘Beyond Submergence’ at Propyard in Bristol this summer.
Words: Ana Lamond