It was a grand time yesterday at Webster Hall as Four Tet shattered our ears with his outlandish synths and powerful beats. His performance was part of the Red Bull Music Academy festival currently taking place across New York, but the vibe was of a typical show from Kieran Hebden, who took the stage around 11 p.m. and kept the party going till around midnight. Instead of delivering a blitzkrieg of a set, he toyed with the crowd and built his set slowly, patiently dolling out tracks with a telling confidence—all for a deadly pay-off.
Of course, Hebden had some help getting there. Jon Hopkins, whose humble beginning include playing guitar for Imogen Heap, started off the night brilliantly, getting the crowd moving right from the start. But disappointingly, Hopkins didn’t stay that long. His predecessor for the evening, Glaswegian producer Koreless, had lost the crowd’s excitement and attention with his repetitive beats.
But luckily Four Tet’s set saved the night. The Londoner has been around the block quite a few times, having subtly reconfigured and switched up his sound on a variety of records for over a decade. Given his music’s contemplative and brainy reputation, it should come as no surprise that Hebden displayed a calm and collected demeanor on stage. He started off with a beat that had an immense build up, and although it got a little tedious after the first four minutes, when it finally dropped it was visceral.
While he’s known for his ethereal, genre-splicing beats, Hebden shook things up yesterday, showing off his more upbeat side. He kept the chilling synths and constant rings, but he really brought the bass with him last night, making the ground and everyone on it vibrate uncontrollably. It was a physical and immediate set that showed off Hebden’s ability to control a room and pace a set. The often incomprehensible words and audio clips that are a staple of Four Tet’s tracks were a major part of his performance, leaving me feeling as if I’d been transported to another country or even another planet. Hebden shied away from playing some of his more popular songs—”Hands,” “Angel Echoes,” or “She Just Likes To Fight” didn’t make an appearance—but he didn’t have to. He stepped outside his comfort zone, and played a refreshing and surprisingly poignant set last night.
Throughout the set fans wailed about, jumping up and down, screaming “I love you” over and over. It wasn’t exactly the type of button-downed response one might expect at a Four Tet show, but the rampant, unchecked enthusiasm was infectious. As the clock struck midnight Four Tet finished off the last of his set and, seemingly content with his performance, he flashed the crowd a quick smile before exiting. We swayed and we jumped, but he conquered.