On the one hand, it seems overdue; on the other, now is better than ever. Kieran Hebden has found a new lease on artistic life by incorporating the lessons of Fridge, “folktronica” and his Steve Reid collaborations with a head-first plunge into the U.K.’s modern bass scenes, culminating in a fantastic split with Burial and last year’s There is Love in You full-length. Given his long history and formidable back catalog (not to mention present obsessions), it seems natural that he would contribute a mix for London’s famous Fabric nightclub in one form or another.
It’s also an obvious choice that he would be selected for the loose, freeform FabricLive series rather than the more rigid, overtly club-oriented Fabric line. Hebden’s background and continually shifting musical mentality are a better fit for a series that includes names like Diplo, Cut Copy, Spank Rock and Drop the Lime than one featuring Audion, Ricardo Villalobos and Magda. After a two-part podcast last year, Four Tet officially hits the books as the 59th edition of FabricLive.
“This mix is not about my DJing,” he says. “It’s about London and Fabric and nights out and my take on all that. The memories and the influences.” The syntax here is interesting. All parties involved are at great pains to point out the meticulous care Hebden took in curating these 27 songs, i.e. “meeting specialist record dealers, months of email exchanges with old friends and acquaintances, Twittering, nights on Discogs, dead ends and confusing leads.” Nevermind the familiar shuffle of some of these beats or the fact that he constructed this whole playlist on a computer in a way that makes you feel like you’re moving from room to room, right down to idle chatter reworded as “field recordings.” He’s playing with memories he never had and making them his own by blending them with actual experiences.
So which is it? Is FabricLive 59 not about Four Tet, or is it all about Four Tet? Unlike actually listening to this thing, the conclusion is unsatisfying (sorry): It’s a little bit of both. I almost prefer this mix, replete with grin-inducing transitions like Big Bird’s “Flav (Urban Myths Remix)” slide into Genius cut “Waiting” or Villalobos’s “Sieso” into Four Tet’s own “Pyramid,” to his own LP last year; I definitely prefer it to the live set I saw last October on an early date of his fall U.S. tour.
The freshest Four Tet jams appearing here — “Pyramid” is one, eight-plus-minute closer “Locked” the other — fit in seamlessly, but “Locked” in particular seems to have absorbed the lessons of Hebden’s Plastic People nights better than almost anything else he’s put out in the last two years. It’s more readily identifiable as a Four Tet work than “Pyramid,” which is brilliant, but clearly meant for somebody else’s set. A 12” ought to be short in coming if it doesn’t make it to an EP or a new album first.
It’s been a real pleasure to hear Hebden focus on the electronic underground from whence he came as the London scene continues to generate fresh artists and exciting, forward-thinking music. FabricLive 59 is a graphic display of Hebden as keen-eared ringleader, eyeing the clock and the room in equal measure, judging when it’s just right to wrap up the night. At the moment, it’s hard to imagine another DJ I’d rather hear take a stab at London or Fabric or nights out and all that.