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Four Tet Induced a Light-Drenched Fever Dream at Sydney Opera House

A live report from an architectural icon.
January 12, 2016, 12:20am
Photo credit: Mark Metcalfe

The show is running late. Half the audience is still clustered around the bar ordering glasses of champagne and red wine, taking their time to shuffle into rows and box seats at Sydney Opera House. It's kind of a weird scene, to be honest. Three nights ago, Four Tet was rammed into a DJ booth at Melbourne's Brown Alley, dropping bombs on a heaving little sweatbox club. Tonight, we're in the belly of this architectural icon, gathered with a crowd of two thousand to watch a dance music producer play in a field of pretty lights. Is dance music now a form of high art? If it is, we have Four Tet to blame.

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Designed by tech innovators Squid Soup, the lighting rig at the back of the stage hangs in icicle curtains, strings of LEDs running the full width of the stage and a dozen rows deep. A deck sits in front of the rig, filled with laptops and mixers. When Four Tet first performed this show at the ICA London, he was positioned in the middle of the lights, in-the-round with the audience, who also stood amongst the LEDs. In the Opera House, we lose the intimacy but we get the spectacle on a massive scale.

Photo credit: Mark Metcalfe

Four Tet (aka Kieran Hebden) walks on stage with his usual display of humility, giving the crowd an awkward wave before settling behind his computer. He's extraordinarily good at making himself small, even on the concert hall stage, but the sound is epic, right out of the gate. The LEDs flicker to life, white light running down the length of the strings, launching a sea of sparkling electronic glitch and wounded bass samples. Vocals begin, light and sweet, evoking the Hindi records that inspired "Morning Side", and the lights become gentle-breaking waves of colour.

Read: Evolution Is Alright: Charting The Stylistic Growth of Four Tet

For the first fifteen minutes of the show, we are walking on clouds. The music is pretty, rich, drifting. Then he drops the bass. This passive, dignify crowd leaps to its feet and the Opera House becomes a festival crowd, hollering for the peaks. The PA isn't up to this performance - it lacks the bottom end and crystal highs of a proper club system – but Four Tet pushes it with everything he's got and he triumphs despite tech limitations.

With lights exploding in three dimensions, creating small planets, patterns and golden fields, Four Tet leads a stomping crowd through a beautiful, banging set. The dirtier grime and dubstep influences on "Pink" and "Beautiful Rewind" are gone, and the deep house spiritualism is left: "Jupiters", "Ba Teaches Yoga", "Sing", a running fever dream of sweet, steady beats. He closes with "Morning Side" from his recent Morning/Evening LP, Lata Mangeshkar's voice billowing out around hall, a glowing heart in the curtain of light, pulsing slowly with the music.

The crowd roars as he winds to an end. Four Tet stands briefly in front of the audience, grinning from ear to ear, but he doesn't stick around to bask in the applause. The house lights are up and we are still cheering, but Four Tet is long gone.