Despite his residency at London’s Plastic People, his championing of the current crop of young UK bass artists, and an obvious love for good dance music of all types, Four Tet (aka Kieran Hebden) isn’t really known for being a DJ. It’s probably fair to say that general conception of Four Tet’s sound stems from his Rounds era productions, but his career trajectory over the last few years has seen has material become gradually more dancefloor friendly, and anyone who has had the fortune to see him DJ will know that he just gets it. His Fabriclive mix is arguably up there with the most interesting in the series, and it’s clearly a statement of artistic intent from Hebden in the way that previous mixes certainly haven’t been.
The mix takes a strongly conceptual approach; moving between Fabric’s “rooms”, each half of the mix is joined by field recordings of the club itself. However, the mix’s joy lies not in its approach, but the sheer quality of the tracklisting. Anyone who has seen Hebden DJ will probably know that he has a love for UK garage, (that he has been known to unironically play the Shanks & Bigfoot hit “Sweet Like Chocolate” at Plastic People is proof of this) and garage makes up the majority of the mix. But there’s no dayglo chart hits here: instead the first half of the mix is devoted to dusty underground UK garage tunes lost in a pre-YouTube black hole.
There’s no real lead in as such, aside from the electro-acoustic tones of Michel Redolfi’s “Immersion Partielle”, and the mix begins in earnest with garage, and Crazy Bald Heads’ “First Born”. Surprisingly for a man whose productions are so steeped in melody, the first half is monochrome; even the inclusions from contemporaries Floating Points and Caribou, usually known for their own colourful excesses, are distinctly bass driven. In this sense the mix owes as much to techno as it does garage; the basslines are kept simple, beats are often clipped and glitchy, especially on KH’s “101112” and Genius’s “Waiting”, and offers a fascinating insight into the obvious influence of techno in early garage music.
The second half of the mix sees techno come to the fore, with selections from WK7, C++ and Ricardo Villalobos keeping things distinctly straighter. But the centrepiece to this section is undoubtedly Hebden’s own “Pyramid”, a straight up techno track which is possibly one of his most balanced productions to date. It also functions as a microcosm of the mix as a whole; being primarily steeped in murky bass tones, it mangles and clips its vocals in a similar fashion to the rest of the mix, whilst offering only a hint of melody – it’s undeniably one of the mix’s most exhilarating moments, and its scale perhaps conveys better than anything else on the mix the feeling of being in Fabric’s room one. Finishing with another Hebden original, “Locked”, it offers a particularly effective end to the mix; its melancholy, sun-drenched tones capturing the moment of stepping out into the unexpected light of a Farringdon dawn.
This mix has come at just the right time – the revival and re-appraisal of older UK garage sounds among younger producers has never been so popular, but its dark, mature tone shows that there’s more to this sound than saccharine vocals and neon synths. More importantly however, there’s no fetishisation of the music; quite simply Hebden has lived it, and it’s a mix that offers a love letter to his most treasured memories and influences.