Four Tet (real name Kieran Hebden) is a genius. How do I know that?
Well, for one, I’ve heard his music. From his early down-tempo “folktronica” jams to the house-clangers he makes now, he has always been one for reinvention and progression. He doesn’t stick to the rules—he hasn’t had his music mastered since 2010—and he doesn’t play genre games. Four Tet always seems to be striving to mix something perfectly accessible and melodic into the weird world of electronic music.
Two, the whole “Four Tet is Burial” thing is itself a massive compliment, even as a joke. For those who need some background here, Burial is a highly revered British producer who was formerly anonymous. Some people thought he was Four Tet, and the joke came back last year via Twitter.
And three, I’ve now gotten to see him work his magic live, and it certainly lived up to the hype.
The March 7 show at Los Angeles’ Echoplex began with an energetic warmup set from Nobody, a disc jockey who is part of the Alpha Pup roster and member of the usual Low End Theory crew. While I only got to hear the last half of his set, choice cuts from DJ Rashad and crowd-pleaser Jai Paul got the crowd moving, preparing them for the (almost) relentless four-to-the-floor pounding.
Next up was Anthony Naples, whose vinyl-only set absolutely blew me away. The Brooklyn DJ has been on the house scene’s radar for about two years now, having released incredible cuts of dusty “outsider house” (an extremely contested term, but at this point practically synonymous with Naples) on highly respected labels like Mister Saturday Night and The Trilogy Tapes.
Fortunately, he didn’t change his sound much to fit with the higher-profile nature of this tour, dropping jam after jam of that analogue, messy house that’s defined the New York scene for the past few years. Keeping the energy level high, his set was certainly not one for subtlety, but it made sense given the specifically “concert” vibe of the whole night. No one, especially Naples, was about to mistake the Echoplex for a club where nuanced vibes can be explored.
My personal highlight was getting to hear the breathy vocals of Galcher Lustwerk’s “Put On” on a properly massive sound system, as his “100% Lustwerk” tape was a defining 2013 release for me (and a free essential listen for any of you house fans).
Finally, Four Tet hit the stage with his sparse setup, consisting of a table with two laptops, a mixer, and a small controller for triggering one-shot samples. Being at the front of the crowd, I got to appreciate Hebden’s adorably teddy-bear-like visage as he prepared to take the extremely responsive crowd on a journey.
He began with an overtly teasing version of “Jupiters” from his 2012 album Pink, eventually dropping the kick drum and driving the crowd wild. From then on, he would pull back only enough to let us regain our breath before pummeling us again with his signature brand of lovingly crafted, sample-heavy house (that occasionally veers into proper techno territory).
The way he does a live set was itself fun to watch. While most DJs using Ableton might be tempted just to launch clip after clip, he manually blended them using a mixer, supplementing the tracks by using the second computer as a sample launcher and weird glitch machine. He made a live electronic set feel organic and human, just like he does with his music.
His set managed to cover a wide range of his tunes, even dropping “For These Times,” an extremely disorienting techno banger that was released on Nonplus’ Records compilation Think and Change last year. The highlight, though, was the one-two punch of Beautiful Rewind’s “Parallel Jalebi” and There Is Love In You’s “Love Cry,” a clear crowd favorite.
“Jalebi” had the crowd uneasily shifting and spazzing, and as Hebden slowed it down into glitch oblivion, you could tell something big was coming. As the massive kick drum started building back up in tempo, the hissing opening samples of “Love Cry” whipped the large mass of people into a frenzy.
When the set “ended,” some unceasing screams of “Kieran we love you!” managed to get him back out for an encore, a beautiful rendition of Pink’s “Locked.”
Hebden, being the gracious guy that he is, seemed genuinely surprised and unprepared for it, which made it feel at least a little special, even if it might be typical for tour-y concerts like this. The crowd would have been ready and willing for a second encore, but one felt good enough from someone so generous with his talent.
Gage Taylor PO ’16 is majoring in media studies and philosophy. He is the electronic music director for the 5C radio station KSPC.