Pop: The rebirth of the cool

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The Independent Culture
DESPITE THE scorching weather, there wasn't any need for air-conditioning in the Bloomsbury Theatre, for here was a cool gig, attended by chilled- out folk, glowing in a "we're-so-hip" aura. They'd flocked to see an underground duo propelled overground by their Mercury Prize nomination. 4 hero had the limelight. Now everyone could hear just how cool they were.

After years of tantalising titbits and rousing remixes, their peculiarly orchestrated sound could be found on Two Pages, a two-CD set that came complete with a swanky interactive disc that played on your computer. Very cutting edge. Just like their music. They described their sound as "organic drum `n' bass". Indeed, if Two Pages were a loaf of bread, it'd be a wholesome, nutty little nimble. Mark and Dego have an appetite for Seventies soul and jazz, which is why they don't solely rely on a box of electronics to cook up tunes. At a 4 hero gig, a string octet, horn quartet, three singers, drummer, percussionist and double bassist strum away in the background.

The sound of the ensemble reflected a near-anal attention to detail, an obsessive blend of pitter-patter rhythms, lush strings and tightly measured vocals. In their typically clinical fashion, these musos gave dance music the kind of respect reserved for classical performances. High- brow drum `n' bass some would say.

And this trendy lot liked what they saw. Plonked in their comfy chairs, blokes violently rocked back and forth in a dying-for-a-pee sort of manner, eager to shake a leg. But they couldn't bop down the aisles because they were in a packed theatre. And that's the attractive anomaly about 4 hero. They're trying to redefine what dance music is - it's not just for dancing to any more. You can listen to it. Properly.

You have to listen to 4 hero's work properly if you've got a performer talking all over it. On "Loveless", Ursula Rucker, soon-to-be mother judging from her protruding tummy, spoke of "mother nature" in a rhythmic, narrative style that fell somewhere between rap and poetry. It worked well, like most of 4 hero's ideas. Projected onto an on-stage backdrop were trippy collages of skyscrapers, sharks and fish along with Star Treky images that flickered like flames. Within this "organic" context, it all somehow made sense.

But if you had to quibble, if you really wanted to nit-pick, then 4 hero's insistence of sticking so closely to what's already on their CD irked. Where was the extended, supped-up 12" dub versions that you've come to expect from live gigs? In fact, when 4 hero did let rip, as on "Star Chaser", everything breathed a little.

That aside, the gig's sell-out status was justified. Blair's devout embrace of Cool Britannia may have signalled the phenomenon's death, but if 4 hero has anything to do with it, the rebirth of cool is just around the corner.

Ray Douglas