For a city considering itself the hub of DIY culture, it follows that San Francisco is home to one of the most obscure independent music festivals in America: Noise Pop. Among this year's selection of on-the-cusp indie bands hoping to follow in the footsteps of Modest Mouse or The White Stripes, one name stood out as neither noise nor pop: Four Tet.
On a cold Friday night, a line stretching two city blocks grew outside The Independent, a wooden box of a club with an unremarkable sound system nestled in the Western Addition. The opening line-up was an awkward split between UK minimalist Nathan Fake and two experimental indie bands, Newvillager and Radio Arabia, who were probably the result of a last-minute attempt to sort out the festival leftovers.
The Independent, which normally reserves its stage for would-be famous alternative rock bands, past their prime hip-hop acts and the occasional jazz ensemble, wasn't well outfitted for Fake and Four Tet who had to make do with a folding table draped in a black cloth propped up by a few cement blocks in lieu of a DJ booth.
Despite this shabby setup, and an impatient crowd eager to see the headliner, Nathan Fake delivered an impressive set. He started with the techno spiritual "Basic Mountain," a churchy mix of fuzzy, sustained synth backed by a mild four-on-the-floor beat. "You Are Here," a track owing much of its popularity to Four Tet's own splashy remix, followed. Without salvaging the mood completely from the indie-world music wreckage, Fake succeeded in steering the sound in an uplifting, if not very danceable, direction as Four Tet looked on gratefully.
With an eye on each of his two laptops, Four Tet opened with a slow build of "Angel Echoes," the first cut off his recently released There Is Love in You. After nine minutes of hypnotic, reverberating vocals and Four Tet's signature reliance on jazzy drum beats instead of bass, the sound glided into the percussion-entrenched soundscape "Sing," allowing the crowd to finally do what they came to do: dance. The track is about as close to club music as Four Tet may ever get, not surprising as they were crafted during a residency at London's Plastic People.
For a man who's complained several times about the IDM community's reliance on visuals at live shows, Four Tet didn't seem to mind the cascading neon beams, moody red spotlights or swirls of smoke whirling above his head as he focused on getting the right slices of finely-tweaked samples from his electronics. In return, the crowd seemed willing to overlook the many starts and stops that brought the room to a standstill just long enough for everyone to catch a breath. As the dark-eyed machinist finished his encore and the lights came up, the crowd were left longing for more love to go around.