The obsessive urge to find the roots of the things we love is a weird one. Yeah, you know what I'm talking about. Okay, so you probably don't: basically, there's a reason the Young James Bond books exist, and why people hunt down bootleg recordings of the Beatles playing in Hamburg, and that Muppet Babies was created, and that Four Tet released this album-long track made up of recordings he made between 1997 and 2001, the start of his career, and which point towards where he went from there.
It's because it's intriguing to see the origins of things, like a backwards puzzle – from the early beginnings, we can piece together the end product. Why's that weird? Because sometimes it's not a good urge – sometimes it can ruin the magic of that end product, or it's just tedious and not particularly interesting to delve into the back story. As stand-up comedian Patton Oswalt said (well, shouted) of the Star Wars prequels: "I DON'T CARE WHERE THE STUFF I LOVE COMES FROM. I JUST LOVE THE STUFF I LOVE."
Luckily, 0181 – named after the retired area dialling code for London (there's probably something in that) – is more like the fun backwards puzzle than a magic ruining experience (which is the name of my anti-Harry Potter punk band). Across the track's 38 minutes we get Kieran Hebden (I know, it's surprising, Four Tet isn't his real name. Axl Rose was born Bill Bailey, believe it or not) experimenting with different aspects of the electronic genre – and different genres entirely – in a way that doesn't sound nearly as fragmented as you might expect. Or, as it might have done were they not all mixed together as a single track.
There are guitar loops (of the sort he probably made in his pre-Four Tet post-rock band; but let's not hold that against him) that counterpoint the breakbeat beneath them; ambient soundscapes dotted with treated piano; some delicate two-step; a brilliant moment where a Prince Paul-style hip hop beat is strung along by some intricate acoustic guitar noodling; then there are the sections of improvisational jazz of the sort he made in collaboration with late, great drummer Steve Reid, and appeared as early as the first track on his first album, Dialogue, from 1999.
That's part of what makes 0181 stand out against the likes of Live! at the Star-Club in Hamburg (or Muppet Babies) - it's a puzzle, sure, but we don't have a box image to work from. We don't know when these recordings were made in relation to his releases between 1997 and 2001. It strips that de/reconstruction element of "prequel" media, and leaves with something that stands alone as an eclectic, ever-shifting piece of music, as full of evolving ear-worms as his last "proper" release, single collection Pink. It's a neat little companion piece to album; it works, too, as a top-class DJ mix. One that happens to consist solely of Four Tet songs.