Last month, Four Tet closed out one of the world’s biggest festivals alongside the punk rock king of EDM, Skrillex, and the newest prince of dance Fred Again... Their party-starting collaborative set at Coachella packed hit after hit, underlining the unifying power of electronic music, and making space for the playful, more chaotic side to Four Tet in the process.
On Tuesday night, Four Tet (real name Kieran Hebden) returned to London for a very different kind of collab. Teaming up with digital tech company SquidSoup, he ignored Alexandra Palace’s usual set-up and took to the very middle of the room, with the 10,000-strong audience surrounding him on all sides. Suspended from the ceiling were 42,000 lights that reacted to the music, while a surround sound system only added to the feeling of immersion. The wholly unique show was closer to an interactive theatre experience or a trip into the metaverse than a hedonistic festival set.
It makes sense because Four Tet has never been the most conventional of artists. In a genre dominated by superstar DJs, he cuts a more reclusive shape – even when he deploys a dubstep curveball like COUNTRY RIDDIM in the middle of his sets with Fred Again.. and Skrillex, he’s quick to retreat back into the shadows. Onstage at his solo show, he doesn’t say a word and is barely visible for a majority of the crowd. Rather than all out euphoria, his live shows inspire a range of emotions. Tonight’s surroundings allowed him to create the space to really explore those different sides.
Things started slowly last night, with the music and the scale of the production gradually unfurling over the first hour. Lights flickered to the chilled piano-driven beats of Two Thousand And Seventeen but also twinkled to samples of birdsong while the Ellie Goulding-featuring Baby was deconstructed, reworked and eventually put back together by Four Tet, as the song jostled between pretty and gnarled.
Blocks of colour chased one another to create tension while waves of light made the colossal room feel smaller, more intimate. Through it all, Four Tet toyed with ambience, beauty and chaos. He seemed far more interested in taking the room on a journey than chasing highs, and the audience was more than happy to follow.
Their trust was rewarded with a more urgent second half, as the glitzy synths of Mango Feedback, the tropical pop of Lush and the energetic blitz of Kook FM all came thick and fast. Thousands of multi-coloured lights turned the room into a majestic rave, with Four Tet tapping into the wizardry of that Coachella set.
This wasn’t your typical gig. Relentlessly engaging but wilfully disarming, the entire show felt like a giddy experiment in an illuminated wonderland. It was escapist, but confrontational; a spectacle from start to finish that won’t be forgotten in a hurry.