Live: Four Tet Take Control At (Le) Poisson Rouge


Four Tet
(le) Poisson Rouge
Saturday, March 10

Better than: Sleeping through the Daylight Savings Time switch.

Over the course of 13 years and five albums, Kieran Hebden—a.k.a. Four Tet—has established himself as a leading figure in experimental and electronic music. With a balance of organic and programmed elements in his arsenal, as well as a slew of hip-hop and jazz influences, he bucks stereotypes and paints electronic music as a humanistic genre.

A production by Four Tet might contain re-pitched vocals, mallet percussion, harps, analog synthesizers, and syncopated slip-n-slide patterns programmed from vintage drum kit samples. An arrangement like this sounds like it could be overstuffed, but Hebden’s production style instead tends toward the skeletal and simplistic.

Hebden’s taste for rawer sounds has allowed him to cross over to a more mainstream audience; Four Tet is signed to Domino, home to the likes of Animal Collective and Franz Ferdinand. Perhaps the most similar act to Four Tet making music write now is Caribou, whose psychedelic sounds lend themselves to the style of progressive dance music that Four Tet’s work lives in. But being a relative veteran, Hebdan has been cited as an influence to groundbreaking artists who have emerged more recently, like Flying Lotus.

Following a set by Mike Slott, Hebden took the stage and began his 80-minute set tactfully, with a pattern of metallic synth swells. He patiently built the cluster of tones before dissolving them into silence, leading to Hebden’s first beat drop of the night. A drippy, subsonic beat propelled the set forward. Hebden paid homage to the sounds of Detroit and Berlin techno with an unexpectedly aggressive four-on-the-floor grind. While Four Tet’s records are made primarily for the headphone experience, Hebden demonstrated his ability to fill the room with hard-hitting grooves and hypnotic loops.

Midway through the set Hebden introduced some beautfully unexpected combinations, such as a music box melody over a breakbeat. A dense maze of percussion shuffled out of the speakers as Hebden swiftly introduced spliced-up vocal shouts in between the rhythmic gaps.

For the climax of the night, Hebden strung together two of his best and most celebrated tracks, “Angel Echoes” and “Love Cry”. With uncompromising patience, Hebden built his set methodically, eschewing the easy tricks of gratuitous low end and all-too-frequent “drop the bass” maneuvers—and that allowed him to control the audience from start to finish.

Critical bias: “Should be a great show,” I wrote in my pitch letter for this review.

Overheard: “Where can I find some molly?”

Random notebook dump: Four Tet doesn’t feel pressured to be a thrill a minute; he delivers at his own pace.