Sensory Overload: Four-Tet

Samantha Jonscher was treated to an audiovisual feast.


Sydney Opera House Concert Hall

January 8, 2016

It’s always fun to spend the minutes before a gig taking stock of the other attendees. In the case of Four Tet in the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall, the audience arrived in green duffle coats, white t-shirts and expensive denim jackets (Incu shoppers).

The audience screamed “industry event”, something reaffirmed by a VIP line as long as the general collections queue, and the evening’s support act: Squidsoup. Installation artists and a multimedia collective, Squidsoup rigged a 3D light field that served as the backdrop for the evening’s performance. This would be the duo’s third collaborative performance together and another joint partnership in a growing list of projects marrying new technology visual arts to electronica (the recent Seekae/Vice/Lynx collaboration comes to mind).

The crowd spoke to two things: the enduring legacy of Four Tet (A.K.A. Kieran Hebden) as an electronic musician’s musician (making the high art setting of the concert hall less revelatory than Disclosure the night before), and his commitment to old school club culture–physically accessible but intellectually rigorous. His music is smart, pleasurable and current.

But what would win out on the night, sit/listen/clap or full body appreciation? The first 15 minutes of his performance implied the former: sophisticated fragmentation, small builds, glancing unity and subsequent disruption. Behind him, the light field—rows of vertically strung light globes that could offer up the whole rainbow—traced vertical and then horizontal lines, laying out a two dimensional space. It was pleasant and interesting, but also chaotic and almost clumsy. Where was this going?

Then everything changed.

Hebden pulled out total unity.  The lights found a third dimension. Those fragmented channels fell into one. The woman next to me let out a quiet, “Jesus, fuck”. And then the bass kicked in. What had been a night at the opera became a full body party, a sea of heads throbbing and looking around for affirmation they weren’t alone. A person stage right was the first to get out of their seat and started grooving in the aisle, then a group stage left, then a person in the third row, and within two minutes everyone had lost their shit.

The contemporary music line-up at the Opera House has long confused me (a seated venue for music designed for dance?), but with a sea of people pumping their arms, the additional personal space that seating made possible created a better experience than that of the forecourt (or maybe I’m just getting old?).

Four Tet spent the rest of the evening plucking away at the subtle transitions and shifts that define his music while pushing into a space of deep house. Hebden moved through his career, but kept his most recent Morning/Evening close by.

Squidsoup’s light field was an excellent addition—not just as an aesthetic set piece. It fluttered with the same delicacy and trill that Hebden brought, meaning that even in the frenzy of the live moment, the lights anchored and reflected the technicality of his music. The lights mapped the music into a 3D space with no “watering down” of Hebden’s detailed flourishes and made his prowess and delicacy all the more palpable.

Hebden played out to a victory lap of Morning as the lights regressed to their two dimensional axis. Those close enough to see Hebden’s face could see the smile of an artist who knew in his heart of hearts that that he had pulled it off.

5/5, 10/10, two thumbs up or whatever, I would 100% recommend.