Under The Bridge With Four Tet & Friends

Under The Bridge With Four Tet & Friends

In 2023, Four Tet unexpectedly transcended. The 40-something IDM veteran born Kieran Hebden kicked off the year appearing on Skrillex’s Quest For Fire, which found the superstar bass lord attempting a “serious” rebrand. Shortly after, the pair became publicly chummy with nerdy English DJ Fred again.., and the crew quickly headlined Times Square, Madison Square Garden, and Coachella in rapid succession. Hot on the heels of those packed dates, Hebden used his label Text to back Secret Life — a collaboration between Fred again.. and ambient innovator Brian Eno. After two decades spent crafting lullaby-like electronic music, Hebden was liaising with the mainstream elite.

Yet there were flickers of bookishness peppered throughout a period that suddenly saw Hebden pandering to the Spotify Pollen demographic. In April, he released the single “Three Drums,” which morphed from shuffling downtempo to freewheeling shoegaze over the course of eight minutes. In June, under the name Kieran Hebden rather than Four Tet, he shared an earthy partnership with Nashville cosmic country staple and former Silver Jews/Lambchop member William Tyler. If 2023’s heavily-saturated — and admittedly somewhat chaotic — onslaught of Four Tet content asserted anything, it’s that Hebden is going to do whatever the hell he wants without worrying about perceptions of convention.

A few months into 2024, Hebden is already back in a big way. This past March, he put out his 12th Four Tet album, Three. The record leans into both old and new aspects of his burbling sound. Across eight tracks, harpy keys and deep arpeggiations harken to 2000s masterpieces Rounds and There Is Love In You. Laidback hip-hop grooves and filtered vocal chops provide a decidedly contemporary chassis for the more familiar elements at hand. “So Blue” is jazzy and sultry, while the plucky “Daydream Repeat” perfectly caters to sunlit DJ mixes. “31 Bloom” is the peppiest cut, zen-inducing synths swelling atop a forward-bound beat. Three’s highlight is “Skater,” which is built around delicate percussion and silvery fret harmonics. It brings to mind the score to a hypothetical ‘80s cop show. While Hebden doesn’t stray far from his blueprint on Three, it teems with spry imagination.

Around the same time he began teasing Three, Hebden announced a new festival called Four Tet & Friends. When first learning the news, I was admittedly a touch skeptical. I cynically assumed, in the shadow of his breakthrough, Hebden would platform the sort of algorithm-pandering artists who spin at Coachella’s bustling Sahara Tent. To my pleasant surprise, I was wrong. The Four Tet & Friends lineup read like a who’s who of DJs that grace the most noteworthy bills at beloved New York City nightlife hub Nowadays. As a person who has devoted my youthful prime to making and championing esoteric electronic music, I couldn’t pass up the chance to attend.

Four Tet & Friends was held at Under The K Bridge Park, an outdoor space on the edge of Greenpoint. It’s becoming an increasingly prominent destination for Brooklyn ravers, with upcoming bookings from Björk, Jlin, and Ricardo Villalobos. Four Tet & Friends featured two spaces: a main area called Zone 1, and the more understated Creekside stage. Sequestered by concrete pillars, Zone 1 was lit by a jumbo disco ball that reflected on the ceiling of the underpass. Creekside was outlined by glowing rectangular pillars, and sat directly in front of Newtown Creek. Both areas were modestly decorated, compared to the colorful forest of hanging bulbs that Four Tet incorporates into his solo live shows. But the design had enough flair to breathe warmth into the otherwise industrial zone.

It should come as no surprise that there was a lot of Four Tet to be experienced at Four Tet & Friends — it was almost like Four Tet Disneyland. Hebden played four times over the course of the weekend, opening and closing Zone 1 both days. His selections skewed propulsive, and I would have liked it if he had used the ample performance time to emphasize his range. However, he successfully catered to an audience that collectively seemed fairly new to the Four Tet universe. 2-step rhythms, digitized kotos, and radio-ready samples cultivated a glittery, utopian atmosphere. A sea of Online Ceramics-clad young professionals smiled.

On Saturday, Zone 1 hummed with energy. Once Four Tet wrapped up, London DJ Chloé Robinson dropped 75 minutes of choppy, invigorating tech house. Then, UKG up-and-comer Sammy Virji took control. While I walked in unfamiliar with the English artist’s work, he was clearly the non-Four Tet favorite amongst the crowd at large. Virji was followed by Hessle Audio co-founder Ben UFO, who challenged attendees with his fearless dubstep. I had the privilege of seeing Ben UFO at a private party earlier in the week, and, after catching him in a room of 10, it was a welcome reminder that he still keeps things left-of-center in the big tent. Revved-up low end and crunchy percussion reverberated off firm surfaces as cars whizzed above.

The most interesting sounds on day one emanated from Creekside. Hosted by Anthony Naples and Jenny Slattery’s Incienso imprint, it enforced the inventiveness of their sphere. The night unfolded with a B2B from Slattery (DJ’J) and breakbeat master Beta Librae. They genuinely seemed to have fun, playing a mix of vocal-driven pop and dubby trance. The duo was followed by Portuguese producer Nídia, who runs adjacent to the scrappy, inventive Príncipe crew. She was the most unique performer of the whole festival, and many were outspokenly perplexed by her boisterous Afrobeats. Restless shapeshifter Huerco S. graced the decks next. His gauzy, shifting techno affirmed his feistiness, as a musician who has vocally disavowed his ethereal roots. Naples then hopped on the CDJs, grinning shyly as he laid down the zippiest set I’ve heard from him to date. Avant-garde institution Laurel Halo closed things out, cueing motorik Detroit techno as drivers did donuts on a vacant lot behind her. A light drizzle began to fall, suggesting the comfort of a cozy bed. Wiped from a day of work, live music, and stadium-priced Narragansetts, I trudged through a corridor of trash bags and warehouses to catch my Uber.

In classic New York City fashion, I woke up frazzled and dehydrated on Sunday. The G train was also down, so making my way to a remote corner of Greenpoint suddenly became a complicated task. Due to this confluence of disgruntling factors, I arrived a bit late — right in the middle of a Daphni and Floating Points B2B at Zone 1. Across three hours, the bass pioneers took turns selecting wiry techno and dubstep tracks. Hook-heavy Manchester DJ Salute followed, and his fresh-faced accessibility offset the headiness of the pair that played before him.

Sunday at Creekside was also impressively executed. Avalon Emerson was the most prominent name, and it was nearly impossible to view her through a sprawl of bodies. Despite pivoting to dream pop on last year’s & The Charm, it offered proof that she’s still clued into four-on-the-floor heat. She was followed by Priori, a trancey French-Canadian producer with a knack for textured sonic design. While most people in the throng seemed unfamiliar with his music, seeing Priori’s name on the flier is actually what pushed me to secure a ticket. I’ve been heavily rinsing his music for the last year but hadn’t caught him live before. He has an enviable command over bassy tracks that are discordant and mesmerizing. Creekside wrapped with a B4B from Priori and Emerson, as well as earlier performers Rose Kourts and Elissa Suckdog.

My eyelids were drooping as I grabbed an empanada from a food truck and called a car back to my apartment. Back home, I sat motionless on the couch, exhausted and mildly buzzed, but happy to have inaugurated festival season in as sophisticated a way as possible. Hebden might be the biggest DJ in the world, but his integrity as a tastemaker remains strong.

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