I couldn’t admit to any undying infatuations for your conventional night out – it would be to profess the wholly phoney, were I even to feign even the faintest intrigue in submerging myself in the night to get leathered and lollop about the place with an utmost ungainliness. Which does, distressingly, make for something of a catch-22 when you’ve an abiding penchant for what Corona may call the rhythms of the night. And I’ve always seen Kieran Hebden to be of a similar opinion, mistaken though I may be in assuming so but to see him headline the slightly insalubrious surrounds of Heaven, when there’s a strict curfew of eleven, is equal parts phwoar and phew to my mind.
To reinforce the opinion, Hebden appears always to go against the grain: he’s composed when others are crocked on God knows what; studious and sober when they may be sordid. His laptop’s an Acer; not Apple, and his dad is not only his nearest and dearest, but also his most devoted acolyte. Though at that same time, he is an electronica kingpin and the closest the genre has perhaps ever come to a self-made man, and Four Tet is the ever endearing guise tonight again assumed by a genuine aficionado of the avant-garde; a perennial envelope pusher and a conflagrant trailblazer. Thus when he plays, London knows.
Without doubt it takes an exemplary practitioner of this inherently esoteric music to sell out a venue of this size and stature. Its subterraneous nature fits with Hebden’s durably underground ethos and though by the time the walls later start sweating like a dead-black del Toro horror this may as well be anywhere, that deep sense of perhaps misguided pride instilled upon entrance prevails. There’s no merch or anything in the cavern it usually consumes on nights like these – no such nonsense. And Heaven is, and one suspects always will be, something of a misnomer in this instance though just as he’s able to do even to the supremely inhospitable O2 Academy Brixton with his revered takeovers, he’s able to make it feel at least homely. For not only is there a familiar gleam to all that he touches, but he promotes camaraderie to an authentically inspiring extent. Though it may be symptomatic of the plight of the lone performer (or the Lone Raver to “quote/ unquote” frequent collaborators RocketNumberNine), he watches every single support act. When we’re talking, or rather tuned into Berlin-based trio Fiium Shaarrk, and they just so happen to comprise two of the finest percussionists I’ve seen here or indeed anywhere, you’d undoubtedly expect him to. They’re wholly worth watching, and Kieran’s glued side of stage – backpack jiggling about all the while. He’s as though the sagacious turtle of our immoderately electronic times. A Tortoise, even – the lionised Illinois post-rock ensemble from whom Fridge took so much inspiration.
Though seeing the anticipation build and the crowd mill, safe in the knowledge that it’s all his doing, provides a strangely heartwarming comfort – a reminder that from time to time, the alright ones do win out and triumph supreme. The glaring ‘SOLD OUT’ signs on each and every doorway again attest to this achievement. And though on a night like this it would be conceivable were he to flounce things up, there’s not one iota of bravado; just ninety minutes of reticent brilliance.
Illumined only by a desk lamp for the most part, he cuts an imperious figure as he lurches over a gargantuan desk of unfathomable tangles of gadgetry – his deep-set and somewhat demonic, all-seeing peepers presiding over it as does the Lidless Eye over Middle-earth. It makes for a stark display, and one which is somewhat at odds with the intricacy of the music he tonight so effortlessly cultivates and reproduces. And though his are tones and techniques I’d always assumed to essentially be early morning music, it works startlingly convincingly of an earlier evening as well. Similarly in that it so too surprises, Heaven itself transpires to be a quite alright setting for this sort of show.
And it’s one to above all dispel that tried and testing preconception of the archetypal electronic artist doing little else, other than twiddling about on a MacBook, or “checking emails.” For Four Tet is relentlessly engaging, as every gaze is locked frontwards and the multitudes cram forward as though an unabating tide of foaming enthusiasm. And, for better or worse, there are very few skulls resembling those bulging eye stress balls. For the sake of Friday it’s for the best, though there’s a supremely cerebral quality to much of Kieran’s production which would surely be lost on uppers as he continues to position himself right at the forefront of experimental electronic music, and so too of the legions of fellow proctors to uphold it so.
Dance music will of course always be a corporeal, and impulsive entity though why not allow it to challenge and coerce a more profound contemplation? Works such as Rounds, which is to be afforded a long overdue reissue May 13th to celebrate a decade in existence, elucidate Kieran’s unrelenting attempts to develop and evolve well ahead of the curve, where others may be content to devolve those more electronically energised genres as they manipulate slapdash minimalism for maximum financial gain.
There’ll be no shortage of that for Four Tet tonight, though it’s nothing if not categorically deserved. For he is the undisputed king of layers, and that much is made patent within moments once the pointlessly shushed inquisitions as to his eligibility subside. Though despite my aforementioned distaste for nocturnal hedonism, is it maybe staged that tad too early? I mean this is the sort of immaculately considered, softened euphoria innately associated with the day’s deepest recesses and having it on at half nine discombobulates as much as it is evidently adored right from the off. Though we find ourselves disorientated in that same temporal void which is typical of an afternoon whiled away in the Boiler Room. And the reaction is, similarly, that bit static, especially when there is so little to observe onstage. Though it’s what goes on off of it once he deigns to drop The Track I’ve Been Playing That People Keep Asking About and That Joy Used in His RA Mix, as both we and he are plunged into an impenetrable darkness, its violently primordial tub thumping absolutely invigorating live. Wondrously hefty on the bass, it’s the first time I’ve heard it thundered through a worthy sound system and it’s utterly dumbfounding.
And yet despite its maundering title, it’s over all too soon – a common, and longstanding trope of Four Tet sets – as we’re left grasping at strands of songs past. Though it’s too late – it’s like trying to snatch at the brilliant flickers of strobe lighting to later plague the place, and before you know it the Malian yodels have been intermingled predictably masterfully (if entirely unpredictably) with the menacing undulations of Jupiters. With its glistering melancholy breakdown, it clearly elucidates another of our mortal inabilities in that not only are we incapable of grabbing and protracting these affecting tracks so that they rattle on for as long as we’d want them to, but such is the strength even of, say, Pink – last summer’s self-released offcut collection – that mental associations begin to make themselves. We’ve had Jupiters, so where’s Ocoras? Or Lion? Pyramid and Pinnacles so too lamentably go neglected.
Yet whenever such thoughts start to inundate and overwhelm as you drift off a little, there’s always another crashing drop to bring you right back in and none is more effectual than that muffled one to usher in the tubular resonances and muggy atmospherics of Plastic People – a venue with which Hebden is that bit more inextricably affiliated. There’s a dexterous symbiosis at play within – an efficient synergy between its steamrolling, almost locomotive bottom end and a gleaming, first-class top. So too 128 Harps, with its insistent and again primal yip yip yip sampling and clipped kalimba refrain, smothers an insouciant mellifluousness all over a romping bass pulsation that’s almost glandular in potency. It’s the night’s one and only to so comprehensively illustrate Hebden’s predilection for the twinkly, ornate melodies the instrument is so capable of producing though again, it’s been rattled off before the rumination has reached its natural conclusion.
It’s a fidgety set he tonight bestows upon us, with bits of mix only broken up by breaks for applause and the like. It’s a scrunched up space and we’re crammed in too tightly to allow for much movement – my hands remain in my pockets out of design rather than desire, for the most part – though there’s a sense of collective reverence to pervade the venue that is overtly palpable. And it’s indeed rare that a live show so entrenched in the grooves of dance music should be so motionless not only out of this incapacity to move, but also out of a stupefying admiration. A surging techno breakdown then ensues, sweeping we, the bobbing profusion along with it before submerging us in an abrasive blur of breakbeat akin to Aphex at his most reluctantly melodic.
Forget Soul Clap, for it’s a slow clap which gradually cajoles a dulcet Love Cry from the ravaged ducts of Kieran’s Acer, its considerably more organic and with that conventional rhythms making that more human of connections. Its skiffling hi-hat and rimmed snares transfer potential energy into a fervently kinetic motion, with even Hebden himself nearly breaking out of his insatiable birdie nod. Almost, but never quite. Though played out at a ruinous decibel level – the sort to perforate eardrums, perhaps – that bit more space unlocks and the place loosens right up for what is a rhythm of the night worth going all in on and all out for.
Though as this happens and eleven bells toll just down the river, it’s all over. And with no microphone of which to speak, he’s off without a word and instead only to the rampant ovation he so thoroughly deserves. It’s unadulterated adulation, and it’s still ever so worthily afforded him. For though a puritanical, and thereby unlikely type to be so embroiled in the fibres of electronica, he is a musician in that most pure of respects – one capable not only of faithful reproductions of his scintillating, boundary-obliterating works but so too of whimsically improvisational flutters. A DJ may not be a musician, but Four Tet is a talent as supernal as anything ever found in Heaven.