André Doehring

Meaning and Alternating Form and Groove in Four Tet’s Electronic Dance Music

The rather vague term electronic dance music (EDM) includes tracks that do not employ electronic devices for the creation or manipulation of sound. It also incorporates tracks that are not made for the purpose of dancing. It is therefore an appropriate description for the musical approach of British musician Four Tet (Kieran Hebden) with influences from house music, but also free jazz, post-rock and experimental music. Yet, his music is widely credited as EDM. In my paper I want to show how musical practices like the build-up of groove (Danielsen), its maintenance and constant variation in Four Tet’s tracks support such a reading. By these means, form is being developed as a continuous process of change that structures the reception of the music.

If (at all) popular music researchers turn to the analysis of EDM there is a widespread belief that you will have to leave behind the comparatively safe ground of termini technici that were developed for the analysis of popular songs: common instruments and instrumentation; aesthetic ideas; formal design; harmony and voice leading aspects or the prevalent interpretation of lyrics. Most of what guides our analyses seems of little use for the analysis of electronic dance tracks. But pursuing the idea of meaningfulness (Moore – see below) as well as the inevitable subjectivity of an analysis, Four Tet’s tracks are meaningful – at least to me as analyst. Hence, I will describe the specifically realised possibilities of meaning triggered by the tracks’ sounding structure using and thereby adjusting the specialist terms of musicological discourse simply because these are part of our technical jargon. Their reflexive usage is unavoidable if we want to communicate with each other and thereby prepare the ground for further knowledge – and terms.