Earlier this month, Kieran Hebden aka Four Tet teamed up with lighting artists Squidsoup to transform Alexander Palace (Ally Pally) into a one-of-a-kind LED jungle, embellished with multi-coloured, flashing lights dangling from the sky. He’s taken the immersive gig to a whole new level, morphing the audio and the visual into one.
Kieran Hebden appeared on the scene in 1998 on Trevor Jackson’s Output Recording label with his 36-minute mix Thirtysixtwentyfive. His first album Dialogue which he mixed in his living room on cheap hi-fi speakers, is packed with ominous jazz echoes and hip-hop drum lines.
He followed that with a fluid 2001 album Pause, with a structure and mellowness better associated with Four Tet’s music today. Rounds, his 2003 work, contains the most experimental thus far, taking risks with a rougher artistic form.
During his set, he uses a blend of old and new: working in his early ambient style and subversive techniques, to pitching sonic dips and slides, perpetuating his renowned lo-fi electro and garage beat, which has surely taken his musical career to new heights.
Sometimes Ally Pally can be a bit hit and miss. The last show there proved disappointing: shy speakers and watered down drinks isn’t a far cry from the usual. Not to mention getting the murderous bus excursion; rumour has it, if you ask the 182 bus driver for a noose, he doesn’t hesitate. But this time I couldn’t fault the venue, for the sure-fire reason that the artist that took over it was genius.
One encapsulating moment that eclipsed the rest was during a track that Kieran sampled from a song by Nelly Furtado, called “Only Human”. The track devised by Four Tet’s alius KH, repeats the lyrics, “You’re so afraid of what people might say / But that’s okay ’cause you’re only human / You’re so afraid of what people might say / But that’s okay ’cause you’ll soon be strong enough”.
The garage beat behind the hypnotic, tribal chant, that plays like its caroled from a school playground, is massively enticing to anyone immersed in the brilliant whips of red and green light that dominated the great hall.
On songs like “Mechanics Of Machines” (not a Tet track), sheets of purple light, transcending to red, moved up to the ceiling and back down towards the floor, at the pitch of the melody. SW9 was adorned with white laminator flashes and geared to whispering chimes that breezed through the crowd in turquoise and blue, then splitting off into pulsating columns of pink and yellow.
One of the first experimental mixes began slow and smooth, welding soft harp chords with a rainforest soundscape, clicks and beeps, and the slow but anticipating rhythm of an all-encompassing instrumental: pouring mounting zooms and incremental beeps into a repertoire of perplexity, following flashes in pitch and tempo.
Mixing and mastering wild instrumentals and then throwing in new releases like “Teenage Birdsong”, followed by classics like “Daughter”, proves why he sells out 10,000 capacity venues like Ally Pally. Then having to book in for a second consecutive night due to high demand.
The 41 year old from Putney played four sold-out gigs last year at Village Underground, with a similar set-up, performing his 2017 release New Energy to crowds in their thousands. MixMag even called it “The best live show in the world”.
On both nights at Ally Pally, the organisation and sequencing of his shows proved to be remarkable. His sets were arranged identically, but in-between songs, or whenever he really liked, he’d improvise on recorded tracks with immense possibilities.
Although both nights were structured the same, both were completely different, which is to say there probably isn’t two shows he has ever done that are completely the same; difficult to imagine considering they are consecutive. Regardless, both were charged with a killer energy, one most artists would find difficult to replicate on the trot.
So far this year, the musician has performed at festivals like Coachella, and you can catch him next at Boomtown, Lovebox, Sonar, Green Man, and , to mention a few, keep up with his latest here. Credit to you, Four Tet.
Words by Mike Griffiths