Kieran Hebden, aka Four Tet, is currently making some of the most accessibly innovative, strikingly beautiful electronic pop music in the world, from the comfort of his north-London flat. Composed in an improvisatory spirit late at night on his computer, his third Four Tet LP, Rounds, is so melodically and rhythmically rich, so organic-sounding and yet so electronic in origin, that it refreshes your idea of pop's potential. But the question of how to play this new music, made from bits of old records and tape inside a computer chip, so that it entertains a crowd, is not one that Hebden has quite found the answer to yet, it transpires.
The winningly naive love with which he approaches all music-making is, though, evident before he even officially appears. Adem, Hebden's partner in the band Fridge, begins the night by filling the stage with 30 friends, who play odd instruments according to a computer's randomly shuffled instruc- tions. "Sing high 'aah's like angels," is a typical request, as this machine-conducted orchestra act like playful children, not professional musicians. Hebden and his musical ally Dan Snaith, aka Manitoba, squat anonymously on the stage with the rest, egoless elements in another's experiment. Somewhere between an infant-school band and a Sixties "happening", it goes on too long but charmingly disrupts expectations.
When Hebden returns to headline, few such ideas, sadly, are in evidence. A spindly figure in a T-shirt, with a bush of dark hair and thick eyebrows, he has nothing more than two laptops and an antique-looking switchboard to show us. He swiftly tweaks out frequencies so fierce that they flutter my trouser-legs and then vibrate my face, while not neglecting warm fragments of melody from his albums. Watching two fingers clawed over a mouse, stabbing down with the virtuosity of a manic Morse code operative, while Hebden's other hand twists screams from his switchboard, and his body leans into beats much harder than on record, you are seeing this music being made, as much as at a rock gig. But stagecraft and ego are so absent with Hebden, as he bashfully grins and ducks his head at every burst of applause, that it's hard to feel the communal bond offered by a band or by clubbing. Four Tet's bedroom-created music is not yet enough to fill a stage. But by the end of the show, it does start to fill my head.
"Slow Jam", with its harpsichord off-beats and machine-tooled funkiness, finds a balance between dissonance and melody, stuttering drums and drilling shrieks, that finally makes people move, as well as hear. Hebden, mic-less, remains mute as he leaves, having only half-communicated what he's about. The future hasn't got here yet.Reuse content