Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden on Tracking with Legendary Drummer Steve Reid and Keeping His Mixes in the Box

 For Kieran Hebden, better known as Four Tet, his side project with veteran jazz drummer Steve Reid (appropriately dubbed Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid) is a welcomed break from the “Folktronica” he’s so well known for.

“It’s the fourth record we’ve done together,” Hebden clarifies when asked about the duo’s as-of-yet-untitled upcoming release. “Steve grew up in New York and he wanted to do something that captured the feel of the city as he knows it. The music I make on my own is rigidly sequencer-based and produced at home, so we tried something different and went to Avatar studios. Steve’s stuff is based around capturing moments of live performance, so we needed a room where we could set his kit up in and jam.”

So how does such an unlikely collaboration work in the studio? “Steve is one of the greatest drummers in the world—so it’s easy,” Hebden laughs. “I wanted to do something that was aggressively electronic, but didn’t use any sequencing or looping. For me, it was all about letting Steve do his thing while I triggered these impossible sounds—heavily processed, reversed, and slowed down samples that were performed manually in real time on my Roland SP-555 and SP-303s.”

303s? We would have assumed he was an MPC fanatic. “I prefer [303s],” Hebden replies. “The rubber pads are decently sized and just close enough together that I can play them comfortably. Some people swear by the [Akai] MPC 5000, but I think the buttons are too spread out for quick performance.”

Running his two SP-303s and his SP-555 through a Pioneer DJM600 DJ mixer and into his PC, Hebden creates what he calls “washes of sound” in Pro Tools. “I mainly work with stereo files of drones, bits of ambient noise, and random percussion samples,” Hebden explains.

For somebody as hell-bent on staying out of the box for his performance, doesn’t Hebden find it a bit weird that, when it comes time to mix, he stays completely in the box and doesn’t even use a control surface? “It’s not the most tactile way to work, but I’ve been doing it this way since Cakewalk Pro Audio 9. I need buttons and knobs and faders live, but when I’m mixing I like to just type in values. It’s how my brain is wired. Mixing is math to me.”