Staging an after-hours concert series in New York’s American Museum of Natural History was a good idea; getting Four Tet to headline the most recent even was downright brilliant.
Kieran Hebden’s mathematically informed laptronica couldn’t ask for a better venue than the Rose Center for Earth and Space, an enormous glass-paneled cube dominated by a hovering orb-shaped planetarium, it evokes the same quiet wonderment as Hebden’s music without overshadowing the performance. (Okay, the aquarium globe next to the stage was kind of distracting. Were those sea monkeys in there?)
Hebden sidelined his mellow, folky material for more aggressively danceable, trance-infused tracks, and the audience responded accordingly. Before his set, the scene looked more like a professional meet-and-greet mixer than an electronic show, although it’s entirely possible that the uptown location was as responsible for that as anything else. And of course every show-goer had to check out the space-rock exhibits and climb the corkscrewing Cosmic Pathway before settling down to watch the music, a venue-related hazard that made for a somewhat scattered first few sets.
Sceney and scientific distractions aside, though, the earlier music was just as hypnotic as Four Tet’s. Hebden’s second opener, Jon Hopkins, is a British composer with some serious chops—he’s worked with the likes of Herbie Hancock and Brian Eno, and has crafted a sound that lands somewhere between Squarepusher and Debussy. (If you’re in possession of any maps that help chart that territory, let us know.) More atmospheric than Hebden’s set, Hopkins’s performance provided the evening’s cosmic flavor. There were also some frenzied moments, especially during songs like “Wire” and “Small Memory,” both tracks from his upcoming album Insides.
But Hopkins’ biggest hit was definitely “Vessel,” also from Insides. A sneaky little number, it alternates between slamming, fuzz-backed drum breakdowns and an elegant piano melody that could have been lifted straight from Amadeus. Tricky to dance to, but ultimately rewarding—at least, for those who could break away from guessing their lunar weight on the specialized digital scales for long enough to get some footwork in.