Four Tet and the London Underground

Posted February 26, 2010 in Music Features

DDF apr-may-24 – Desktop

‘No guest list, no press people, nothing.’ Kieran Hebden is talking about his recent residency at London club Plastic People, but his words are multipurpose – he’s been chewed on so much by the PR and word-writing caste that his escape from the cavernous journalist gob alive and unmasticated is remarkable. After 13 years releasing music under the Four Tet moniker, however, he’s finally outrun all-purpose labels – no longer the folktronic acolyte, the IDM wunderkind, the post-rockist, the jazz dilettante, but the creator of some of electronic music’s warmest, most eloquent moments in recent times – none more so than his newest album, There Is Love In You, a searing, energized record that rolls every recorded branch of music into one ball of bastardized brilliance. I mean, what sane person DOESN’T like Four Tet?


I’ve got a copy of the Wire magazine in front of me right now with the review of your new album open. So question one – what did you do to piss off the Wire?

I think I made something vaguely coherent and not late-80’s industrial. They have certain things on a pedestal, and the funny thing is that review goes on about how great the stuff I do with Steve Reid [jazz drummer of Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, and Fela Kuti extraction] is, but they absolutely panned that at the time too.

The review pans you as retro-effective, which isn’t very nice. I’d say this is your most forward-looking album, it seems to explore the forefront of current electronic music. Is collaborating with Burial and having Joy Orbison remix your single a way of revitalizing the Four Tet sound?

I don’t know, I didn’t see it so much as revitalization – I hear exciting new electronic musicians and reach out to them, it’s sort of what I’ve always done. I do feel like it’s a good time for electronic music, in London in particular. There’s a lot of young producers around with distinctive production sounds, it’s a healthy thing. – Joy Orbison’s only released one single properly and he’s already got a perfectly defined sound, it’s a real sign of quality.

I think there’s a formalization of the rules of bass music going on at the moment, and equally this kneejerk reaction to any solidification of what dubstep should actually be, and that tension’s giving birth to new hybrids. The line that most critics (like, erm, me) will toe with this album is the perceived dubstep and garage influence, which doesn’t dominate the record, but is definitely present – but that it’s within the Four Tet framework is that kind of hybrid I mean.

I think I’ve got no choice in the matter – I’ve got my own sound which I can’t get away from, so it’s better to apply the best parts of it. The melodies and the drum sounds I use are the identity that I would apply across anything I do, remixes, stuff with Steve Reid and so on, but yeah, I guess dubstep is an influence, it has to be. I hear it around so often in London, but this wasn’t meant to be, you know, my dubstep record or anything.

Would you still participate in the clubbing scene in London, or do you experience new electronic music more through radio and record hunting?

Oh I do go and hear acts in clubs a lot. If someone’s put out a record a like and I see they’re DJing I’ll go and check it out – coming up this Friday at Fabric there’s Untold, Joy Orbison and Deadboy which will be fantastic. Hearing this music in a club gives it a totally different perspective. Joy Orbison might sound quite mellow at home, but with the big soundsystem there’s this pounding sub-bass and it’s a totally different experience.

Is the hallmark of that dubstep influence on your album that it’s made for a club context more so than before then?

Yeah, definitely. As I was making the album I was DJing a lot. I had a residency at this club, Plastic People [after which a song on the album is titled], in London, trying out tracks I was working on as I was doing it, so they evolved from there.

From a sitting-at-home-with-a-pair-of-headphones standpoint there’s a conciseness to There Is Love In You, do you make ‘statement’ albums?

I’ve very traditional views of what an album should be, you know, like I still sort of write for something to fit on both sides of a cassette. It’s important to me for there to be a logical beginning and end, that’s quite retro and stuck in the past. This is hopefully coherent, and a complete listen.

Are you still a record-collecting nerd?

Oh yeah, totally. This record’s method hasn’t changed or anything. The root of what I do is still very much hip-hop.

What sort of hip-hop is it that influences you – I can see the 90s stuff, but is there any newer hip-hop that’s impressed you?

Yeah, the stuff I keep going back to is the mid-90s stuff like Large Professor and DJ Premier and all those guys. Then after that Timbaland and the Neptunes had an impact on me, like everyone else, but in recent years there just hasn’t been a fresh new direction for hip-hop, other than Madlib and all that 5 years ago – there’ve been great records, but nothing fresh.

Which is where the ‘hip-hop is dead’ line currently doing the rounds comes from – it’s not that it’s not still throwing up great records, it’s just not the innovator anymore.

Yes, I think there aren’t enough young people dying to get involved with it on either side anymore. When I used to DJ a hip-hop record would make the room go off, you don’t hear a hip-hop record playing in a bar anymore. There’s a lot more new electronic music that fills that void. A few years ago it was still all the Warp guys seen as the innovators – now it’s Burial, and that whole new generation.

It does feel like it could be the most exciting year for electronic music in a long time – I suppose it comes off the back of minimal techno dying out and the popularity of the Hyperdub compilation last year I think precipitates how open DJs are to more challenging stuff now.

Totally. There’s a really big opening for electronic music.

Good time to release a Four Tet album.

Haha, hopefully! Just don’t listen to the Wire.

Yeah actually, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to listen to some Throbbing Gristle.



As duly noted by Kieran, the London underground electronic scene is healthier than a buck-rabbit’s libido right now. As dubstep devolves back to its garage roots and factors new DNA strands into its identity, 2010’s movers, shakers, and breakbeat-makers will be:


The Don Corleone of depressed dubstep, Burial’s first full release since the game-changing Untrue is expected this year – with the heart-jittering Wolf Cub/Moth collaboration with Four Tet and Hyperdub exclusive Fostercare as opening salvos, you wouldn’t bet your left blender against his being the album of the decade (already).
Joy Orbison

Have there ever been so many words about so few songs? Or so few songs made of so few pieces to warrant so many words? Off the back of last year’s Hyph Mngo single, an expertly remix of Four Tet’s Love Cry, and the new tracks emerging across internet hype (hyph) outlets, Pete O’Grady’s already established himself as the dubbo-du-jour to the point of BBC recognition. And we all know the BBC are arbiters of cool. Right, Owl City?


This guy. This guy right here. You don’t know what Deadboy has done to us. Sticking on the radiator to melt the icy dubstep down to liquid 2-step and R&B, Deadboy’s souled-out, irresistible U Cheated, and its accompanying Fact Magazine mix has pushed the sound to a new watershed – as emotionally expressive as Ableton-made music has ever been.


Needs more house! Having been a label boss throughout the advent of jungle, drum n’ bass, and 2-step, Jack Dunning’s been there, done that, bought the breakbeat – his forays into bass-inflected dance have pointed at one of the most progressive minds in London dubstep. His is a heady cross-pollination of dubstep’s dark intensity with the wider dance spectrum, to seriously stomach-wobbling results.


At the yellow end of the dubstep spectrum, Zomby’s music is more a retread of 90’s hardcore – but its vitality is undeniable. With fans from Kode9 to Animal Collective (who’ve stuck the elusive chap on the cover of last month’s Fader), and enemies from anyone who’s ever tried to book him for a gig to followers of his Twitter, Zomby’s polarizing in the way that only a somebody who spends their days with a sampler and top drawer of spliffs can be.

Words: Daniel Gray


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