Four Tet aka Kieran Hebden will easily be remembered as one of the finest electronic musicians of the last 20 years. What started off as a side project for a post-rocker in 1998 has since culminated into large-scale live shows, ambitious collaborations and the establishment of his own Text Records imprint, making a name for himself as one of the UK’s finest and eclectic DJs along the way. Not many can boast playing Rhythym & Gash, Bill Withers, Digital Mystikz, Denis Sulta, Herbie Hancock and Steven Be Calm effectively over the space of an hour, but that’s exactly what he did at Glastonbury in 2016.
His output is prolific, but he still has to continued to make fresh, thought-provoking music with every one of his nine albums. However, many can rightfully have confusion as to how the man who made playful, sample heavy, and folk-infused electronica such as “She Moves She” is also the same guy who remixed Eric Prydz’s “Opus” into a 10-minute tech house epic. Ahead of his main stage performance at Forbidden Fruit Festival next month, here are the 10 Four Tet tracks that showcase his musical progression from then to now.
As Serious As Your Life, Rounds, 2003
Hebden started off the Four Tet project in 1998 as an outlet for his solo work as he found success as part of a three-piece post-rock band called Fridge. The first two albums he released under the moniker, Dialogue and Pause are amongst the most experimental work in Hebden’s discography, but it was 2003’s Rounds that really became the breakout release for the producer. Unfortunately labelled by the indie music press as “folktronica”, Rounds was differentiated from the other artists under the label at the time such as Animal Collective and Tuung by having a distinct hip hop and jazz influence as one of the central themes of the album. “As Serious As Your Life” is a track that perfectly encapsulates this theme. Like most of Four Tet’s music at the time, the music is composed almost entirely of samples, most notably the guitar riff lifted from an obscure 70s French folk band. A classic Four Tet track “As Serious As Your Life” certainly is, no less solidified by the legendary J Dilla remixing the track featuring rapper Guilty Simpson shortly after the release of Rounds.
Sun, Drums and Soil, Everything Ecstatic, 2005
Rounds was the introduction of many to Four Tet, and both fans and critics were eagerly awaiting Hebden’s follow up. Rather than sticking to the light and folky aesthetic brought forward by his last album, Everything Ecstatic – released in 2005 – is perhaps the noisiest record Four Tet has ever released. Wearing his free jazz influences most visibly on his sleeve on this album over others, Everything Ecstatic surprised many, but still received widespread praise from the press and Tet aficionados alike. Sun, Drums and Soil features samples from experimental jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman (the man who coined the term “free jazz”) and cosmic jazz legend Sun Ra. On first listen, the loud drum breaks fused with the dissonant brass sounds jarring, but on repeat listens one starts to realise the complexities and hidden melodies found within the heaps of samples playing all at once.
Money Folder (Four Tet Remix), Madvillan (Four Tet Remixes), 2005
Four Tet is perhaps as well known for his remix commissions as he is for his productions. According to Discogs, Four Tet has remixed 259 tracks in his career, although Hebden has reiterated in interviews that he’s very careful with the tracks he chooses to rework. Four Tet definitely does not confine himself within the genres he operates in for his solo output in regards to the artists he remixes. Everyone from Coldplay to Sia to Steve Reich to Explosions in The Sky to Justin Timberlake to Bicep have all received the Four Tet remix treatment. His name as one of the best remixers in the business was largely legitimised through his remix EP of MF DOOM and Madlib’s Madvilliany album, seen as many as one of the best hip hop albums of all time. He ambitiously takes DOOM’s flows and puts them under hip hop beats that absorb all of his previous influences before. Can you imagine Madvillany under a noisy free jazz, folk and synth hodgepodge that somehow effectively stitches all of the genres together? Well you probably can’t – but have a listen to Four Tet’s remix of Money Folder and see for yourself.
Moth with Burial, Moth/Wolf Cub, 2009
During the five-year break between Four Tet albums that occurred after Everything Ecstatic, Four Tet started going outside of his comfort zone to collaborate with other musicians who inspired him. Four albums with the late jazz drummer Steve Reid were met with lukewarm response from critics – but were seen as some of the most fulfilling work Hebden has done for himself personally. But it is probably his work with anonymous future garage producer and schoolmate Burial that is his most well-known and impactful collaborative work. Their first 12” released together – Moth / Wolf Cub – is an absolute beauty of a record that successfully marries the two producer’s styles to form what is perhaps the most emotive work both musicians have ever released. Moth in particular is a gorgeous 9-minute house tear-jerker that possibly resembles more so towards the melodic chord progressions and arpeggios typically found on European labels like Kompakt, however through injecting shuffling, garage infused percussion and pitch-shifted vocal samples commonly found in Burial’s work he and Four Tet crafted a masterpiece of modern dance music. The following tunes afterwards worked on between the duo, Nova, Ego/Mirror, a 12” featuring Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, and an unreleased, Mariah Carey-sampling, garage ID Hebden played on Rinse FM also stand out as some of the greatest music the two legendary producers have ever crafted.
Sing, There Is Love In You, 2010
It may be hard to think, but ten years ago Four Tet was not considered a DJ by many. He mainly toured the world through his formidable live setup, and it wasn’t until 2006 when Timo Maas, a cheesy progressive house producer, invited Hebden to DJ as part of his residency in The End in London that he started to become seriously inspired by the club. In 2007 he, along with Floating Points and Theo Parrish, started a monthly residency at Shoreditch club Plastic People that lasted for 8 years. Hebden’s residency was particularly eye-opening and inspiring for many young London producers at the time, most notably Jamie xx. Four Tet finally started to wane towards dancefloor-ready music with the long-awaited release of There Is Love In You in 2010. Hebden still retained the organic, sample heavy air from his previous albums but bonded it with his newfound love for house and techno beats. Many consider There Is Love In You to be Four Tet’s best album, and with tracks like “Love Cry” and “Sing” – the latter being a triumph in production – with chaotic, bleepy samples feeling like a slow-burning chord progressions under a house beat composed from real drum samples and Hebden’s signature vocal chops – it’s easy to see why. To get a better glimpse into Four Tet’s mind pertaining to production, he did a walkthrough of how he made “Sing” a few years ago for Future Music.
Pyramid, Pink, 2012
Four Tet released his masterful Fabriclive mix CD in 2011, and was mostly composed of old garage and grime instrumentals that he lay alongside the introduction of his even more club-ready side aliases KH and Percussions. However, towards the end of the mix, Hebden teases us with a couple of his own Four Tet tracks that would later be found on 2012’s Pink. Pink was Four Tet’s complete embrace of the club world we saw him toying with on There Is Love in You, with 8 expansive house and techno tracks that found their way into the record bags of many of the world’s best DJs after it’s release. Pyramid, one of those tracks he showcased on the fabric mix, is without a doubt the best track that can be found on the album. A banging garage-influenced house beat and bassline are nestled alongside masterful vocal cuts from a J-Lo track, but eventually progresses into a beautiful chord progression and marimba-led breakdown that sounds straight out of a Steve Reich suite halfway through.
Kool FM, Beautiful Rewind, 2013
2013’s Beautiful Rewind was Four Tet’s first album to be released completely independently on his own Text Records label, with Hebden relying solely on promotion through his own social media accounts. (A skill he since has become one of the best in the game in, especially seen with him spawning last year’s This Is Where I Recorded and Mixed The Album and All The Gear I Used meme). As such, whatever route he was going to take on his next full-length LP was decided was entirely up to him. He chose to enter the now commonly used trope of 90s UK pirate radio nostalgia, and the end result was an album that brought together the old worlds of jungle, grime and breakbeat with Hebden’s newly embraced love for house and ambient music. Kool FM, named after the famous London pirate station, exemplifies this by Four Tet masterfully placing grime samples and jungle breaks with a minimal, melodic beat. A mistake many DJs find when playing this song out is to transition out of it before the track descends into full jungle madness towards the end, as this is one of the most impactful and surprising moments to be found across Four Tet’s discography.
Evening Side, Morning/Evening, 2015
Having fully entered the UK clubbing world as both a DJ and producer, Four Tet took a step back from making club ready bangers under the Four Tet name for his next album, and instead delegate club-faring productions to his sideprojects Percussions and KH, as well as collaborating with Champion, Martyn and Terror Danjah on 12” releases. The next chapter in the Four Tet story was to be an experimental one, and 2015’s Morning / Evening certainly delivered. The brainchild of Hebden discovering the music collection of his late Indian grandfather, Four Tet brings forth the influences from his heritage with two ambient tracks that both spanned over 20 minutes each, structured in a “raga” traditional fashion seen in Indian music. “Evening Side” features Eno-esque ambient textures under what sounds like improvisational modular synth playing. Towards the climax, a driving four/four beat enters with some expressive Indian vocal samples providing the high point of the album. If you don’t have 20 minutes to spare, the condensed, DJ-friendly edit released by Oneothrix Point Never suitably summarises the track in a quarter of the time.
Question, 12” Single, 2017
Leave it to none other than Kieran Hebden to be the darling of indie publications like Pitchfork but also release dancefloor shaking material played by everyone – from Denis Sulta to Gerd Janson to Eli Escobar to Annie Mac. Released under his KH alias, Question is a remarkably simple track in the grand scheme of Four Tet’s discography, yet packs enough impact through the said simplicity to make crowds go wild. Based mostly on a break found on the obscure 1971 funk single “Question” by Bobby Powell, many tipped “Question” as one of the best club tracks of last year, with the test pressing currently reaching a stupidly astronomical price of €500 on Discogs, and the mass-produced copy going for an equally silly €50. Four Tet uploaded a free .wav download of the track on twitter a few months back, so don’t feed the sharks and get the tune from the man himself.
Two Thousand and Seventeen, New Energy, 2017
Four Tet’s most recent album, 2017’s New Energy, has material that seems like a culmination of all the previous avenues he has taken over the 20 years he has been active for. There’s the moody house found on Pink in “SW9 9SL”, similar ambient vibes to Morning/Evening on “You Are Loved”, but perhaps the song that includes influences from all of his albums was the first single “Two Thousand and Seventeen”. A slow, 75 BPM drum loop taken from an obscure 70s French gospel track brings in an introspective chord progression with whispering distant vocal samples playing alongside introduces the main melody – a zither sample from an old traditional Indian religious song. While retaining the elements that has made Four Tet one of the biggest name’s in electronic music today, “Two Thousand and Seventeen” appears to be also a return to the origins of the early days of the project, and as such is a perfect track to culminate Hebden’s musical journey over the last two decades.
Four Tet plays Forbidden Fruit’s original stage on Sunday the 3rd of June.