Perhaps the definitive indie electronic artist, Four Tet (Kieran Hebden) is a British DJ and producer whose experimental yet highly accessible recordings, which blend organic and electronic sounds, have earned widespread acclaim from critics and fans of electronic music as well as indie rock. Hebden's work as Four Tet has been influenced by a wide range of genres, including spiritual jazz, Krautrock, folk music, and hip-hop. His compositions are generally abstract yet melodically and tonally rich, and they often combine glitchy electronics with acoustic instrumentation. While most of his earlier work, including 2003's heavily praised Rounds, was generally downtempo or midtempo, he's embraced dance music more thoroughly since the late 2000s, particularly genres such as U.K. garage and house. Albums such as 2013's Beautiful Rewind reflected the influence of pirate radio culture, and some of his singles, particularly 2019's "Only Human," have become inescapable club and festival hits. Indicative of Hebden's eclectic nature, he has collaborated with artists ranging from jazz drummer Steve Reid to Radiohead's Thom Yorke, and has produced albums by improv collective Sunburned Hand of the Man and Syrian dabke singer Omar Souleyman, among others.
Hebden, a native of London's Putney district, first became known as the guitar player for Fridge, an instrumental group he co-founded with childhood friends Adem Ilhan and Sam Jeffers in 1995. Mixing rock instrumentation with electronics, the group's textural, rhythmic music earned comparisons to post-rock acts such as Tortoise and Tarwater. The band released several acclaimed albums and EPs on Trevor Jackson's Output Recordings and eventually Go! Beat. The former label also issued Hebden's debut solo release (as 4T Recordings), the 1997 single "Double Density," while the latter released "Falken's Maze," a 1998 single produced under the moniker Joshua Falken. Hebden debuted his Four Tet project with the 1998 single Thirtysixtwentyfive, a lengthy, jazzy mood piece. Four Tet's debut full-length, Dialogue, appeared in early 1999, and later in the year his remix of the opening track of Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works, Vol. II was included on Warp's Warp 10+3: Remixes compilation, giving him further exposure. Four Tet collaborated with Rothko on the Rivers Become Oceans single, released by Lo Recordings, and a split EP with Pole followed on Leaf in 2000.
Four Tet signed to Domino, which issued his second album, Pause, in 2001. The album featured more prominent usage of acoustic guitars than his previous work, leading the press to dub his sound "folktronica." During the same year, Hebden started an independent label called Text Recordings, debuting with the first EP by electro-folk songwriter Koushik, in addition to releasing Fridge's fourth album, Happiness. Following the EPs Paws, No More Mosquitoes, and The Weight of My Words (with Kings of Convenience), Four Tet released the single "I'm on Fire" in 2002. This preceded the heavily sample-based 2003 full-length Rounds, which became Hebden's breakthrough album, earning widespread critical acclaim and eventually appearing on numerous year-end (and decade-end) lists. Four Tet opened for Radiohead on their European tour, and subsequently remixed their song "Scatterbrain." Following a split single with noise rock band Hella and the May 2004 release of an EP built around Rounds highlight "My Angel Rocks Back and Forth," Four Tet compiled a volume of the LateNightTales mix series.
In 2005, Hebden began collaborating with free jazz drummer Steve Reid, eventually touring together and releasing several albums of improvised music. Four Tet's fourth full-length, the upbeat, joyous Everything Ecstatic, appeared during the same year, as did Everything Ecstatic, Pt. 2, which consisted of a DVD containing videos for all of the album's tracks, plus a CD EP of additional material. The year 2006 saw the release of the double-CD collection Remixes, which included one disc of Hebden's takes on tracks by artists ranging from Madvillain to His Name Is Alive to Sia, as well as a disc of Four Tet tracks as remixed by J Dilla, Battles, Sa-Ra Creative Partners, and others. Four Tet's volume of !K7's DJ-Kicks series appeared in 2006 as well. Hebden released albums with Reid (Tongues) and Fridge (The Sun) in 2007, resuming work as Four Tet with 2008's Ringer, a four-song EP of hypnotic minimal techno tracks. He continued in this direction with 2009's haunting Moth 12", a collaboration with elusive dubstep producer Burial. A single titled "Love Cry" appeared at the end of the year, and the full-length There Is Love in You was released by Domino in early 2010. By far the most club-friendly Four Tet full-length yet, the album was another critical and commercial success. Later in the year, Hebden released a split 12" with dubstep pioneer Mala on Soul Jazz Records, and played keyboards on Laurie Anderson's song "Only an Expert."
In 2011, Four Tet released his third mix CD, Fabriclive.59. He continued releasing low-key singles on Text, including a split release with Daphni (aka Dan Snaith, whose Caribou Vibration Ensemble featured Hebden) and Ego / Mirror, a collaboration with Burial and Thom Yorke. The 2012 release Pink compiled several of these singles. Hebden also occasionally released more stripped-down, club-focused singles as Percussions and KH. Four Tet's seventh full-length, a tribute to pirate radio culture titled Beautiful Rewind, appeared in 2013. He also released 0181, a single 38-minute piece consisting of various non-album tracks recorded between 1997 and 2001.
Following remix EPs and collaborations and split singles with Rocketnumbernine, Martyn, and Terror Danjah, Four Tet released Morning/Evening, a full-length consisting of two 20-minute tracks, in 2015. After its release, Hebden and Floating Points produced dance-pop singer Katy B's song "Calm Down," and Hebden produced a "club version" of Jamie xx's "SeeSaw." Collaborations with Designer and Champion also appeared on Text that year. In 2017, Four Tet released New Energy, a full-length that found him partially revisiting his earlier downtempo sound on tracks like "Two Thousand and Seventeen," in addition to atmospheric house numbers like "SW9 9SL" and "Planet." He issued several archival live sets in 2018 and 2019, and released a bevy of singles in 2019, including "Anna Painting" and "Only Human," a Nelly Furtado-sampling house track which had become a ubiquitous festival anthem, leading to an official release by Ministry of Sound. "Baby," featuring guest vocals by Ellie Goulding, was released in early 2020. The song was included on Four Tet's full-length Sixteen Oceans, which appeared in March. ~ Paul Simpson