At its heart, dance music is about transcendence. Drug induced or otherwise, it’s a means of escape and a closed-off safe space from the stresses of the outside world; somewhere to breathe out and let loose. At the first night of his Brixton Academy residency last night (October 10), Four Tet brought it back to that core ideal of mental release.
It’s fair to say that, in a wider context, modern dance music has lost its way. Overly complex light shows and endless flamethrowers, dry ice cannons and showers of confetti are a mainstay of big stage dance music these days – visual spectacles that offer a similar brand of distraction to a kids’ TV show. Sure, the endless explosions of a big name EDM headliner’s live show might batter your senses into submission, but true transcendence it is not.
By contrast, when the arguable master of electronic music took to the Brixton Academy stage last night, his set up was as modest as they come – two desk lamps, quite possibly from IKEA. The rest of the room was cloaked in darkness.
Four Tet’s Brixton Academy residencies have become legend. Initiated by a scramble for tickets that could rival a Glastonbury sale (and exacerbated by the fact they cost just five English pounds), this year saw Kieran Hebden book out four nights at the iconic venue – two of which would host live sets, before a two-night, Friday and Saturday run of all-nighter DJ sets, accompanied by a who’s who of electronic music’s greats. That Sunday hangover is going to be brutal.
Read more: NME Investigates – the rise of illegal raves
At the first of those live sets in the cavernous hall, Four Tet’s subtle stage set-up meant the focus stayed purely on one thing – the music. Peppered with bass so loud and clear it wobbled the nostrils, his set was a slowly mutating masterclass in electronic music, enhanced by the dulling of all other senses. With professional cameras banned, the occasional, accidental phone camera flash was the only thing that broke the curtain of blackness.
It was a show that was infinitely improved by that lack of lighting. Phones were largely consigned to pockets, the crowd united in their sensory deprivation, quite literally dancing like no-one was watching – because even if they were, they couldn’t see a damn thing.
Many could do with following Four Tet’s lead. The visual excess of these enormo-shows has hit saturation point – while a total blackout might be an extreme solution, the increasing interest in underground, illegal raves is evidence that overloaded, flashy shows are growing stale. It’s time we dragged dance music’s image back from the blockbuster-worthy explosions and electricity bill melting light shows of the EDM generation, and recalibrated on what really matters – that incomparable feeling of escape.