> | | | | > Bass Bin Nostalgia: Four Tet - Beautiful Rewind

Bass Bin Nostalgia: Four Tet - Beautiful Rewind

Posted on Tuesday, 8 October 2013 | No Comments

Kieran Hebden's gradual repositioning of his Four Tet project away from the headphones to the dancefloor has been one that has walked step by step alongside dance music's own re-evaulation. His debut album as Four Tet, Dialogue, came out in 1999, a point where the Warp Records/IDM movement had peaked and Simon Reynolds introduced his notion of a 'hardcore continuum' to readers of The Wire magazine as an academic justification of less overtly intellectual electronic genres. The music that Hebden made - full of organic touches, floating melodies and nods to modern jazz, an abstraction of dance music but one far more approachable than the rhythmic concussions acts like Autechre were producing - inadvertently became one of the final components in the critical acceptance of dance and electronic music in critical and cultural circles where sub-cultural snobbery had previous seen it denied access. Subsequent releases like the sublime Rounds just saw this soft, subtle approach blossom, with that record's delicate assemblage of samples gain the kind of across-the-board acclaim previously only seen for the likes of Endtroducing.
From that point onwards though, Four Tet's music has slowly become sharper, more direct, more directly rhythmic, finally embracing rather than hiding its roots under assembled subterfuge. So releases like the Ringer EP and There Is Love In You, as well as his Fabriclive 59 mix, without abandoning his sonic trademarks, placed a far greater emphasis on wired techno beats and dubstep inflections interlocations than had been there before, while Hebden started shunning traditional touring patterns for all-nighters at the Brixton Academy and the material on the Pink compilation saw release as limited 12" singles long before any full-length release. The egghead tag he had been lumbered with previously became increasingly inaccurate with the more utilitarian, DJ-friendly material and club-focused schedule he now adopted. In short, he actually started to act like a dance producer rather than an electronic producer.
The latest step in this career realignment comes with the stealth release of Beautiful Rewind, a record that seems as much (if not more) a socio-cultural statement than just another Four Tet album. There's the punning of the title, referring not just to the act of live rewinding but to seminal London night FWD>>, the place where 2-step garage morphed into grime, then into funky and dubstep, significant twenty-first century evolutions in (to use Reynolds' term) the dance continuum that, in dubstep's case, broke out of the underground so thoroughly as to have sired its own bastardised mainstream variants like brostep and EDM. It's also his first album of new material on his own Text Records label, released with minimum promotion and slowly filtered to stores across the first weekend of October just like any other hot off the presses white label issue, albiet with grander packagaing and a dedicated fanbase of course. Having reached a similar point to that which  rock and indie music hit in the nineties, where concepts of retro and revivalism became not only accepted but increasingly the norm, Beautiful Rewind is emblematic of a moment in which dance music is looking back and seeking to reclaim its roots, but is inevitably vulnerable to the rockist impulse of forever looking backwards and denying future possibility. When young acts like Disclosure or Rudimental are making mainstream pop out of  classic garage sounds, is the nostalgic eye of Four Tet now seeking to turn the clock back a decade ago to a time when the continuum was still moving purposefully on below the radar?
A significant portion of the tracks on Beautiful Rewind subsequently play out as Hebden's re-appropriations and tributes to these strands that were playing out in the dance community as he slowly rose to prominence. As opposed to the more pop-orientated side of things, Hebden's interest in the sound is in the murkier, truly sub-cultural depths. Throughout garage orientated pieces like Kool FM , Buchla and Aerial run muffled vocal samples, an imitation of toasting that sees Hebden tilt the proverbial cap towards the garage MC scene, the latter track in particular breaking up the vocal like the transmissions of a pirate radio station. There's also the surprising opener Gong, which takes the kind of polyrhythmic fascinations of previous Four Tet and marries it to a harder, faster rush - the album starting, in effect, with the listener turning the corner into some cramped DJ night already in full bloom as this dizzying percussive storm crashes into the techno pulse of Parallel Jalebi. These are tracks with faster tempos and weightier bass than the Four Tet of old, ones designed for bass bins rigged outside the suburbs by promoters still engaged in the old cat-and-mouse games with the authorities. The melodic lines flowing through these tracks still twinkle as Hebden's production so often do, but it's by far the furthest he's ever gone in this direction.

Even the calmer, less frantic pieces bear a heavy dance floor imprint. Crush might be a mid-album breathing point, but there's still a dubstep shuffle weaving between the female vocal sample, and Our Navigation seems to go out of its way to reignite those Four Tet is Burial rumours. It's why, in the context of the record, Unicorn comes as such a surprise: an ambient lullaby for clubbers to drift off to after the night bus, as the sun rises (in this reading, the whirring thuds that smother the similarly gentle synth lines of Your Body Feels must surely be the hearing damage of the night before making itself felt?). As such, even the lull of the album's closing section is still tied in with the club focus of the previous half-hour, a chill out zone or after party for those who don't want to walk home just yet.

This lunge towards referencing dance's recent past isn't without precedent in the Four Tet discography: Four Tet's approach has always been multi-disciplinary, mixing up motifs and samples from across the genres to conjure up a cohesive whole. It's the much more exclusive nature of this focus upon this hardcore continuum that makes Beautiful Rewind distinct amongst Hebden's work though, a turn towards a more utilitarian purpose to remember some of dance music's rebellious past. He's not the most obvious rebel, but the more I listen to Beautiful Rewind, it's this that really lifts the album above weren't-things-better-back-then rose-tinting. In the way that doo-wop, skiffle and old-time rock'n'roll are now almost one and the same as 'the fifties', the garage, two-step, techno and dubstep strains that run through Beautiful Rewind could have become a generic pastiche of clubbing ten to fifteen years ago in less careful hands. Hebden's compositional ingenuity and evident belief that this music still has something incomplete to it, something that relates directly to a now where dance culture is more accepted but also more commercialised and less ideological than ever, shines through the material. It's not so much that he wants things to return to the way they were, but that he wants us to rewind the track, dance to it one more time, and then use that as a fresh starting point. Through digging in the roots, Beautiful Rewind suggests, the next strain might just rear its head.

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