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Best Of British 2010: Best Producer - Four Tet

A Man For All Seasons - Kieran Hebden comes in from the margins

2010 was the year that things changed for Kieran Hebden. Once the undisputed poster boy for the leftfield electronic scene, he flipped expectations in January with the release of his album ‘There Is Love In You’, and quickly a whole new audience opened up to him. Rooted in the underground dancefloors (he trialled many tracks at London's Plastic People, honing them week after week until they were just right), it found him playing places he'd never have considered before. But brilliantly, while things might have changed around him, he remained resolute to his musical instincts, in spite of his newly embraced passion for dance music, and its newly established curiosity in him.

“It's just been quite an epic year. I've been playing in Ibiza, things like that, places I wouldn't normally have been asked,” he says, sounding slightly baffled, perhaps, as to why. “I played at Space, We Love Sundays... It was totally weird, really, but I got good feedback from people, they seemed to enjoy it. I played some African records that didn't seem to go down very well! I was playing the main room, and I just did my thing. I wanted to throw some curveballs in there. Some things worked out. It's a very strange sound system, it's such a big room, and it's ideally suited to sparse, pounding, big room techno. So if you play an African record from the early ‘70s, it's going to sound a bit strange.

“It was quite surreal. I was playing to a massive audience of people, a lot of people on holiday on a night out, who had probably never heard of my music, and suddenly I'm their entertainment in the middle of the night. So I've been getting to play for different audiences. Playing more dance tents. A few years ago, I was being booked for more folk festivals than I was for techno festivals.”

It's not just the bookings that have changed either. “I get feedback from DJs that they're playing my tracks as well,” he says. “To hear that Sasha is playing the stuff all the time definitely makes me realise that different people are playing it.”

Indeed, tracks like the hypnotic, shuffling ‘Love Cry’ has gained universal appeal, not least because of the solid original groove but also thanks to remixes from Joy Orbison and Roska, joining the dots between his polyrhythmic electronica and dubstep. ‘Circling’ too — a shimmering, arpeggiating, trance-inducing five minutes of machine-made beauty — recalls the halcyon days of The Orb, System 7, Orbital and the Drum Club, when trance was trance. Meanwhile, he's been offering his insight to others, remixing the likes of Vampire Weekend, Manic Street Preachers, The xx, LindstrØm and Matthew Dear.

In November, he curated his own night at Manchester's Warehouse Project, pretty much a snapshot of what is turning him on musically, cherry-picking the likes of Caribou, Theo Parrish, James Holden, Mount Kimbie, Zomby, James Blake, Actress and Nathan Fake to play alongside him.

So while 2010 has been quite the pivotal year for Kieran Hebden, it's sadly not always been for the right reasons. While on the one hand he welcomed into his family a new baby girl, in April this year he lost Steve Reid, the celebrated jazz drummer with whom he wrote four albums, to cancer. Hebden first hooked up with Reid, who played for everyone from Miles Davis, James Brown and Fela Kuti to Sun Ra, in 2005, writing ‘The Exchange Session’ records, ‘Tongues’ in 2007 and ‘NYC’ in 2008. In turn, Reid described Hebden as his “musical soul mate”.

“I feel there's a hole in my musical life since Steve passed away,” he says. “Normally, what I'd be doing now is talking with him about what we'd be doing next. We were only doing shows at the end of last year. It all happened surprisingly quickly. He wasn't that old, just in his mid 60s. I've been talking about the new album coming out, but it's also a year that I've experienced death and birth and all the big things like that. It's been a huge year for me, one of the biggest years of my life really.

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