Four Tet: Plastic People, 21/07/12

Plastic People is a venue that has a special resonance for Kieran Hebden. During the run up to his sublime 2010 release There is Love in You he had a residency at the urbane London club, using the monthly shows to test-out new material, the crowds’ reactions helping to craft the feel and mood of what would become the completed album. The importance of this interaction between him and his audience, and the club that allowed it to happen, was immortalised on album highlight ‘Plastic People’, a song that perfectly encapsulated the more dance-orientated direction the album represented for him.

Regularly DJing obviously had a great effect on Hebden as ever since his musical endeavours have been focused on making music for raves as opposed to headphones. 2011 saw him revamp his little-used label TEXT Records for a series of limited 12” singles that culminated in this year’s compilation Pink, whilst also curate the 59th edition of the esteemed mix series Fabriclive. Both of these releases displayed his deep knowledge and appreciation of dance music culture, without ever compromising his own unique style or feeling like pastiches. Pink in particular is a singular work, highlighting just how adept Hebden is at constructing club-ready music. He is equally at home making languid, hypnotic techno such as ‘Lion’ and ‘Locked’ as he his making exigent bangers such as ‘Pinnacles’ and ‘128 Harps’. This newfound affinity for club-culture can arguably be traced back to those performances at Plastic People, so an opportunity to see Four Tet play a six-hour, all-vinyl set at the club was too good to miss.

When stepping into the venue for the first time, you instantly understand why it is held in such reverence. Eschewing the Fabric model of cavernous industrial settings with obnoxious light shows, the Shoreditch club is an exercise in aesthetic minimalism and sonic maximalism. The only light in the one room illuminating the DJ booth whilst the low ceilings and three walls of speakers provide a unique, inclusive sound. The overall effect is very intimate, as if Four Tet were playing in someone’s front room, not a world-renowned venue. This setting is befitting of Hebden’s approach and he begins the evening in typical esoteric style, playing a series of melodic jazz, disco and funk records.

As the night progresses, the more obscure early tracks swiftly morph into a suite of songs displaying his awareness of the current UK Bass scene as the sounds of Joy Orbison, Objekt and the prodigious Happa reverberate around. It is next to these contemporary classics that his recent output (both as a musician and label boss) really shines, each proving themselves to be worthy of mammoth sound systems and the faceless, metronomic adoration of ravers. His collaboration with Burial, ‘Nova’, is truly anthemic, opening up the tiny room and providing light and space to the dark dance music cloister of East London. Meanwhile, the epic funk and frantic yelps of Daphni’s ‘YeYe’ fizzle around menacingly.

Choosing to play for 6 hours equipped with only one record bag meant that many songs were played two or three times, creating a warm sense of familiarity and giving the set a true personality. The night thus became an extension of Hebden’s character, an opportunity for the crowd to exist in his headspace; all oddities and repetitions fully welcome. It is interesting to note that he was listed as ‘Kieran Hebden AKA Four Tet’, betraying the fact that the night was more about an exploration of his true self rather than a polished performance under a guise. The personal (and physical) nature of the event was obviously just as overwhelming for Kieran as it was for the audience, afterwards in the bar he admitted to being ‘fucked’. It was a worthwhile sacrifice however; dance music can be so unnecessarily cold and abrasive, but this was bristling with warmth and vitality, qualities that make his outsider approach such a crucial part of the current dance music scene.

Alex Beazley-Long