On Four Tet and Caribou’s Accidental Dance Music
ATP Nightmare Before Christmas 2011 - Day 3

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Every week or thereabouts, Mutant Dance Moves takes you to the shadowy corners of the dancefloor and the fringes of contemporary electronic music, where new strains and dance moves are evolving.

In the wake of Radiohead’s Kid A, the indie world finally began to embrace its inner-electronica, so that by 2003, artists as diverse as Ellen Alien, Junior Senior, and the Postal Service began to crop up on year-end lists. But three producers that year made fine album statements that hinted at where indie electronic music might go next. Former Fridge drummer Kieran Hebden released his third solo album as Four Tet, the jazz-inflected idyllictronica Rounds. Producer Scott Herren released a spliced’n’diced take on downtempo hip-hop called One World Extinguisher under his Prefuse 73 moniker. And another drummer, Canada’s Dan Snaith, released the psychedelic powerbook pop of Up in Flames under the name of Manitoba. (Soon after, he’d be forced to change his name to Caribou.) At Pitchfork, these albums ranked respectively at #15, #6, and #5, while over at website Brainwashed, their readers’ poll ranked them similarly, with Four Tet at #13, Prefuse 73 at #11, and Caribou at #6.

A few years on, while Herren’s profile has greatly diminished in value (at the time, Extinguisher felt vastly overrated, which time has proved to be correct), Four Tet and Caribou remain vital electronic music makers into this new decade, even making inroads into the dance world. When the highly-influential Resident Advisor website listed their top electronic albums of 2010, Four Tet’s There is Love in You slotted in at #7 while Caribou’s Swim ranked at #1.

Four Tet and Caribou are mentioned here because, rather than simply rest on their laurels and take a break, they continued to heighten and broaden their dance music profiles in the past year (and more), far beyond the PR push of their indie world album releases. Kieran Hebden was especially busy in 2011 and into the new year. While his own label Text had intermittently released singles since 2001, they dropped a black label single “Ego/ Mirror” which was a much-hyped collaboration between Hebden, mysterious dubstep producer Burial and Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke. Selling out within a day, it was soon followed by another Hebden single, “Locked/Pyramid.” And just this past week, he gave us a taste of “Nova,” his next collaborative single with Burial. All of these tracks revealed a much harder Four Tet sound, streamlined yet powerful, perfect for an adventurous DJ set.

Speaking of adventurous DJ set, both of these tracks figured into Four Tet’s highly-regarded Fabriclive mix CD, which itself topped Resident Advisor’s Top Compilation/ Mix for 2011 . Rather than simply cobble together the latest tracks that captured his fancy, Hebden set about making a singular home-listening experience. We start outside of the famed London club Fabric rather than inside it, with the sound of passing cars and crowdgoers conversing and having a smoke break. From there, we detour into old French electroacoustic gurgling before Hebden drops a vintage twitching U.K. Garage track and throughout the mix, he blends droney modern classical minimalism, Burial’s massive dubstep track “Street Halo,” deep house or Ricardo Villalobos in such a way that never feels willfully eclectic, only adept at moving a dancefloor.

When asked about Swim for RA, Dan Snaith recalled how important an influence Theo Parrish was on the process: “The idea of making stuff that was accidentally dance music was very appealing to me.” Accidental or no, Snaith made some fine dance music in his own right in 2011, reverting to his Daphni alias to do so. On a split with Four Tet, Daphni’s “Ye Ye” was a blistering tech house track built on a loopy African synth sample. And for the Resista imprint, he dropped two singles of dancefloor edits that veered from late ’70s African funk to a spacy reworking of recent outfit Orchestra of Spheres. He also remixed Carl Craig and Chicago’s acid house legends Virgo Four, and in the past month, he dropped a remix for Yeasayer-affiliated act Sinkane that amalgamates Snaith’s love for Lagos groove and massive acid squelch into one tidy package.

But by far my favorite track under Snaith’s Daphni moniker is “Ne Noya.” It begins like just another one of his African dance edits, this time deploying an obscure track off of the Afro-Beat Airways West African Shock Waves: Ghana & Togo 1972-1979 compilation. A hi-hat and snare chug along, but about a minute and a half in, a menacing electronic bass ripples through the track like an electromagnetic pulse and otherworldly synth sounds shoot this mesmeric chant up into the stratosphere. Not a bad feat for someone the indie world lays claim to just “accidentally” making dance music.

Four Tet plays Le Poisson Rouge in New York City tomorrow night, March 10.

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