Four Tet

•• Four Tet + Manitoba + Dabyre + Animal Collective + Explosions In The Sky @ The Coronet, London, 30 April 2004
•• Published: Logo magazine (now defunct), April 2004

Take a look at the latest adverts for his last album and you could be forgiven for thinking that Four Tet's Kieran Hebden is singlehandedly in charge of prolonging the life of the somewhat creatively exhausted dance music scene. But you can't really argue with his pedigree when you see the inclusion of 'Rounds' on a multitude of 'best of 2003' lists and everyone from the NME to The Times keen to sing his praises. So tonight is a chance for folktronica's biggest (and only?!) star to share some of the attention with a line-up handpicked by Hebden himself.

The onus of the night is on the experimental and Explosions In The Sky seem to be keeping things far too fluffy, light and easy on the ear to start with. Their tuneful prog-rock leanings create a calm, sweet and melodic atmosphere until they unleash a frenzied session of fret-bashing midway through their set to liven up the audience. Sounding at times like Coldplay would if they had more fire in their bellies, they flit from laid back and light to fiery and intense in the blink of an eyelid.

The Explosions' set contains touches of Pink Floyd throughout but it's not anywhere near as overtly tripped-out, whacked out and cabbaged as next act the Animal Collective's performance.

Looking like Kevin and Perry and lolling around the stage like two stoned teenagers, they appear to be tripping out in their own monochord heaven. Their collection of hazy, formless musical meanderings cry for some sense of direction, both visually and musically they do very little to excite the senses and it seems like time for bed.

But then - all of a sudden - out goes the shoegazing and they seem to have miraculously woken up! We now see how they thought of the name the Animal Collective as a longer haired human version of the muppet (going by the name of Panda Bear) appears on the drums. It seems the New Yorkers realise it takes more than two chords and a few effects pedals to make an entertaining gig and in come tribal, crashing drums giving proceedings an enjoyable Adam And The Ants flavour. You half expect them to start screeching 'Aaaagh!', 'Errrrgh!' as they make the transition from navel gazing mediocrity into crazy warbled smashpop. Much more enjoyable.

Next up is Dabyre who treats us to some leftfield, Warp-type tunesmithery with its difficult stuttering beats and fractured melodies. Highlights of the set include one track that features rock gig style handclapping and fat keyboard stabs with Prince-like vocal snippets flirting with the mix. Shuffling, abrasive hip hop rhythms and rib-rattling bass combine with the occasional twinkling melody to produce music that, while never truly heading anywhere, contains enough ideas to keep the crowd largely happy until Canadian act Manitoba make their way on to the stage.

Establishing exactly who does what in the Manitoba setup is anyone's guess as we are confronted with two drummers, one of which also has an acoustic guitar on his lap, the other a keyboard perched on his knees with Dan Snaith fronting the line up on guitar and lead vocals. In spite of their initial attempts to look like a one man band convention they construct superbly grandiose arrangements that are both epic and uplifting.

Wishing to entertain through visuals as well as through their jangling, rocked out tunes, they indulge in dressing up like the three bears for a while and the screen above them shows a bizarrely amusing puppet show featuring characters that look like a cross between Bez from the Mondays and Toad of Toad Hall.

Visual stimulation obviously isn't as highly rated by the main act of the night, however, as Four Tet takes to the stage. Just one man fiddling with two laptops hardly serves to create a visual spectacular so the focus is placed entirely upon the music.

'Rounds' is a fine collection of fragile melodies, gentle hooks and, at times, calm introspection underpinned with fractured jazz-like beats and difficult jittering, jumping rhythms. But it seems that during this live performance the former falls victim to the latter and ugly discordance is often favoured over harmony and tunefulness with only occasional sweet interludes bringing some order to the chaos.

Monster basslines, crashing, stumbling beats and tempo jiggerypokery all make for a somewhat demanding listen but the crowd seem to lap up every sonic twist and turn Mr Hebden throws at them. It's always refreshing when an artist takes their music and tries to creates something new live, breathing new life into their material but it seems tonight's focus on the experimental has served largely to dull and blunt Four Tet's greatest strength: Being able to tease a beautiful tune out of a disorganised, chaotic backdrop while ensuring it avoids being too saccharine.

While deserving of the praise heaped upon him, you can't help but feel the fine balance between nastiness and niceness his music usually maintains has tipped slightly too far in one direction tonight. But it wouldn't be experimental if it wasn't challenging now, would it?

- Ian Roullier, 03/2004
Copyright © Ian Roullier 2004-2014