After-dark inquiry: Four Tet

The brilliant producer loves his '90s U.K. garage.

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The musical shape-shifter otherwise known as Kieran Hebden—currently on sabbatical from his native London and living in Brooklyn—will FabricLive 59, a beautiful, swirling mix that takes in everything from experimental electronics to jacking club beats.

It seems like, for the past half decade or so, your sound has been evolving ever closer to what might be called dance music, or even techno. At the same time, you've picked up the pace with your deejaying. Was it the deejaying that led you down the dance-music path, or vice versa?
I think the deejaying was coming first. I had done a few random things. Timo Maas had invited me to Ibiza to spin with him to play at this night he had there. I really enjoyed it; it was surreal and fun. Then he said, "Well, I have this residency in London. You should come and do that!" That was at the End, and I ended up doing that for a year. Then I did a year and a half at the same club with James Holden, and I think it was that residency that got me thinking about deejaying a lot more seriously. It was like six or seven hours a night, and even though I felt that I had just been tossed in the deep end, I also realized that this was something I really wanted to do. I wanted to get good at it.

And that realization affected your productions?
When I started to work on new music, I couldn't help but think how it would work at the End, how it would work for the crowd. It's a very standard way for dance producers to work, but I had never done that before with my stuff. I found it healthy and exciting, really—a whole new way to work. And it made me happy, because I always want my music to keep moving, to become something new. And doing something that was more for the clubs definitely seemed like a nice, new direction to go with.

I imagine it's brought you a whole new demographic of fans.
Yeah. I think one of the nice things is that I'm always finding myself doing new things, and my music is pretty eclectic, so people are getting into it from lots of different directions, which is always a good thing.

I guess the other side of that coin is that you might disappoint fans who don't want you to change at all.
Well, that doesn't happen too much—at least I don't think so. Every once in a while I'll have a look at my SoundCloud page or other places where people can leave messages, and you might get the occasional person going "Why don't you do something like [2003's] Rounds??" But I already did Rounds—why would I want to do it again?

Both your FabricLive mix and your recent productions can be pretty jacking at times, but they can also be somewhat pastoral and almost ritualistic. That near-mystic feel seems to be one of the few constants in your music.
I suppose that's just my style. I don't think about that when I'm making music; I don't try to engineer that in any way. Musicians have their own tone, and sometimes you can't even get away from it if you want to. I suppose there are certain kinds of melodies that I use, and certain kinds of moods that my music has, but that's true of a lot of producers.

I was surprised to read in the FabricLive press release that you are a fan of '90s-era U.K. garage, and even of hit-making outfits like the So Solid Crew.
I was in London in my late teens when all that was kicking off, and it was just very exciting. Drum 'n' bass had gotten really dark and really industrial-sounding, and I had gone off it because of that. Then the garage stuff started coming out, and it had this amazingly positive sort of vibe to it, but at the same time was kind of experimental and edgy, and more soulful as well. It was this crazy, contemporary-sounding music, but had these sweet vocals on top, and I really like those kinds of conflicts. It was very raw—just made by kids with these home setups, and they would make it very fast to get it on pirate radio. Then it would be on top of the charts two weeks later, and you'd hear it coming out of every car. That kind of energy, that kind of fast creativity, was definitely exciting.

The first third of the mix focuses on that style of music, or at least a spacey version of it.
I really wanted to start off with a lot of those '90s garage records. You find lot of things coming out at the moment that owe a lot to that moment in music, and I think there are so many lost gems from that era that are still relevant. So much music that's around today comes from that, really.

You've talked in the past about getting lost in music, and the kind of euphoria it can bring. Is that something you're aiming for with your own music?
I definitely am drawn to styles of music that aim to achieve that. You can get that in mellow, introspective music, but I also hear that in techno. I hear that in free jazz; I hear that in gamelan music; I hear that in Indian raggas; I hear it in gospel. Some of that music was created to communicate with God. The idea of music being this incredible force...when people think about music in that way, when a belief has gone into the intent of the music, it can be very, very powerful. I've always been drawn to that, and it's brought me lots of magical moments. That's one of the things that I'm always trying to reference.

FabricLive 59: Four Tet (Fabric) is out September 19.

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