Down grimy Curtain Road, there's a massive queue leading up to a dingy little door bookended by two huge bouncers. This is Plastic People, the favourite London club of Kieran Hebden, AKA Four Tet. Once a resident, Hebden is returning for a one-off live performance.
The queue's already noisy and riled up. Pints of Red Stripe litter the side walk, while one Frenchman sings Michael Jackson and another kicks him in the groin. A display that's made all the more gruesome by the fact they are both wearing skinny jeans.
Inside, the club's at capacity — give or take the swarms of hand-stamped smokers who streamed out of the door constantly. Inside, downstairs, the vibe's more relaxed and much less borderline-hostile. Most of the audience consists of lads with beanpole builds, scruffy facial hair and the odd beanie hat, the kind of guys who wear backpacks to gigs. Everyone was palpably excited to see Hebden.
I played my roommate Four Tet’s critically-acclaimed 2010 release There Is Love in You. The album is full of the kind of abstract, experimental, genre-bending electronica that previously scared her. She was afraid that she was in for hours of ambient technical wankery. But instead, as we enter the red-lit bar area, we hear a Justin Timberlake/Timbaland sample bumping out of the soundsystem — the instrumental from 'Senorita' — and it's infectious. Hebden is unleashing a DJ set, of course — after all, he's spun dance mixes for years at this club, which, he's often said, felt like a second home to him.
He even dedicated a track on There Is Love in You to the club. 'Plastic People,' a spooky, Burial-influenced track with rhythmic chimes and beats that sound like hand claps, conveys the sense of what it’s like to dance in a dark basement.
The 200-capacity club is a perfect venue for Four Tet. The box-like dancefloor packed, bursting at the seams with hipsters: hairy guys in white v-necks and chicks with bangs and tangles of chunky gold necklaces, each and everyone shaking their skinny limbs with abandon. From afar, the crowd looked like a many-legged animal with flailing arms and countless thrashing heads.
Headfirst into the complete darkness, we make our way around the tiny space, through a thicket of sweaty blokes, dodging drinks in plastic cups, ducking slightly under low-hanging speakers. With everyone congregating in the middle away from the light and inside a vortex of moving bodies, it's relatively easy to get to the front row. Absence of any visual stimuli, Plastic's sonics are heightened, the music an immersive sensory experience, the vibrations throttling us from head to toe as if in an airplane about to take off.
At the front, Hebden is slouched over his turntables behind a rusty partition ripped straight from for an abandoned Starship Enterprise, staring with concentration over the digital mechanics before him. Wearing a nondescript beige t-shirt, his meek figure seems to evade the prying eyes of the floor as if, by his own volition, he is shrinking into the background of his own show. To no avail; audience members lean over the partition to speak to him. While he engages them with the odd nod, Hebden is more focused on the work at hand, determined not to be disturbed as he performs his artistry. Perhaps they're his friends.
Throughout the night, Hebden spins joyous remixes of hip-hop, pop, and Latin-y music. Transitioning seamlessly into insane-in-the-membrane techno and some of his own original material. By the time he'd played a version of Prince’s 'Kiss,' it's difficult to escape the notion that we are part of something special — after all, not every club DJ names Steve Reich as an inspiration. Artfully layering tracks and taking disparate elements from various genres, he weaves them into something new and different, shape-shifting sounds that twist and writhe down our ear canals only to fizz majestically within our cerebral nodes.
By no means constrained to highbrow chin-stroking, this DJ also seems to have a fondness for American hip-hop. 'Fuck the police' by the late Detroit genius J. Dilla has everyone shouting along in unison, "Fuck the po-lice, fuck the po-lice" — fitting for a club that was recently in danger of losing its license for — according to the Met police — failure to prevent crime, disorder, and nuisance.
Puff Daddy’s 'Bad Boys For Life' practically brings the house down.
Tonight is proof, if proof is needed, that Hebden is still dedicated to his beloved Plastic People. Last year, he gave club-goers the first listen to his album when he distributed the free mix 'Much Love to the Plastic People' and, in turn, Plastic People is still dedicated to him. Drunk girls waiting an hour to use the bathroom. Smokers waiting an hour for a cig break. Fans queueing up all night for a party that doesn't spill out until 5 a.m.
"I dreamt about it,'" says my roommate the next day. "'I’m still thinking about it."
Much love, indeed.
Words: Maura McGowan
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