At Coachella 2023, Four Tet fully embraced his chaos era - but what is COUNTRY RIDDIM?

 (Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Coachella)
(Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Coachella)

If you thought Four Tet was a very mild-mannered man with a reputation for crafting beautifully atmospheric ambient dance music, you’d technically be correct – except now, it’s time to get on board with his new Agent of Chaos persona.

Now a fully-fledged member of the jokingly-named Pangbourne House Mafia – a supertrio that also includes EDM veteran Skrillex and rising name Fred Again.. – Kieran Hebden has emerged as something of a dark horse when it comes to cultivating mayhem at their joint live shows. Though he often gives the impression of taking a back seat during performances, chuckling away like a proud dad as his two feral children wreak havoc, Four Tet is actually the secret mastermind behind many of the trio’s most memorable moments.

Case in point: the trio’s surprise headline show at Coachella on April 23, where Kieran and the gang found themselves suddenly occupying top of the bill. Frank Ocean was originally supposed to close things out, but cancelled his second headline show after a divisive first appearance the previous weekend – leaving an absent top-slot and a half-melted ice-rink worth millions of wasted dollars in his wake.

Fortunately, Ocean’s now-cursed structure – still helplessly stranded in the middle of the festival like a beached walrus – happened to be the perfect makeshift stage for Four Tet, Skrillex and Fred Again.. as they brought their curiously eclectic blend of genres together in typically ramshackle fashion.

The slightly haphazard nature of the very ground on which they stood seemed to set the tone. Then, mid-way through the set, Four Tet prompted a full-scale frenzy when he seamlessly transitioned from Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit into the juggernaut bass-wobbles of the now-notorious COUNTRY RIDDIM. In total, he played the song a ridiculous four times, later interspersing it with Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus.

Over the last few months, COUNTRY RIDDIM has become Four Tet’s joker card, first making an appearance when the trio played a pop-up at New York’s Times Square.

The 2022 release by French producer HOL! takes its cues from the heavier, reggae-influenced dubstep sub genre of riddim. It’s also entirely fair to say that COUNTRY RIDDIM isn’t really Four Tet’s usual fare, and feels a long way away from the producer’s experimental, indie-influenced back catalogue.

No surprise, then, that the first time Four Tet ever played it – suddenly dropping it into the mix during a rainy surprise set for New York’s Times Square – Fred Again… reacted by doing the messiest rewind imaginable. You sense it’s about the best that he can manage with the whole set thrown into such immediate disarray. For context, the whole thing was a little like Ed Sheeran playing a noise-rock cover while headlining Glastonbury, or Harry Styles branching off into happy hardcore.

As it turns out, Four Tet has growing form in this niche arena – as well as debuting a surprise slice of riddim for Times Square and then Coachella, he also pranked his own bandmates at a rammed-to-the-rafters Madison Square Gardens by secretly hiring out and deploying a massive confetti cannon right over the top of the decks.

And back at Coachella, the greatest moment of all came from Four Tet calmly stepping back into the shadows again after four repeats of this summer’s most unlikely festival theme song, his meddling now complete.

Soon enough it was back to business as Skrillex resumed hopping all over the decks like the human embodiment of a Duracell bunny. Hebden, meanwhile, quietly returned to his usual practice of patiently twiddling various gain knobs to ensure the speakers don’t accidentally blow up. Frank Ocean’s ice rink? It’s now the site of a historic moment in trolling.

Truly, this is Four Tet’s world, and we’re all just living in it.