Autechre ain’t what they used to be. Throughout the 90’s, each and every release Autechre graced us with was a step into a parallel netherworld for which the rest of the globe could source inspiration from. Theirs was a truly out-there sound that no other human on the planet could emulate. Even to this day, a new Autechre album is an event to be cherished, and still resonates a feeling of true excitement that few other electronic acts are able to equal. To be perfectly honest, though, I’ve never quite been able to get down with their output since 2000. Autechre has become a thing that I appreciate more than I enjoy based on the brilliance of their anchored early work. Their latter period machines-taking-over click ‘n glitch explosions have left me yearning for that old Autechre magic where they took a robot beat and synth, and encased it in a heartbreakingly distant and removed melody. They have several songs from the past 15 years that are great examples of how they’ve evolved, and the most important thing about Autechre is they have no interest in looking back at the past. Even if lovers of their early work don’t get what they’re doing now, the need to create something original is paramount to their output. Much respect for that.
Unlike Autechre’s Warp brother Aphex Twin, they have never ceased releasing records and touring. They are just as important as Aphex musically, but they’ve taken an entirely different route in terms of public visibility. Part of Aphex’s allure is his relative mysteriousness (despite his recent smorgasbord of releases), where Autechre manages to be somewhat hidden while still constantly touring and putting out records. Their live experience may be part of the reason for this as they insist on performing in total blackness. That’s right, you are not allowed to look at Autechre, thank you very much. I’m about to come full circle with my Autechre live experience as I plan to see them at the Decibel Festival in Seattle this Friday, and as I think back to the first time I saw them in Seattle back in 1993, it leaves me to ruminate over the several times I’ve witnessed them. The first time was one of those moments of lightning in a bottle as no one knew much about them, they only had a few releases, and the venue was as intimate as a public restroom. However, you could still at least see them — in fact, you could literally reach out and touch them, as there were only 40 odd people standing around wondering exactly what the fuck this brilliant sound was. In the following years, I’ve seen them three times, and each instance it’s been total darkness, with nothing but the illuminating glow of the apple emanating from their Macbooks on stage. I’m gonna just say it: Autechre leave a lot to be desired live, at least as a spectacle. The sounds are cool, it’s super loud and abrasive, but don’t go expecting any of their old classics. In fact, don’t be expecting any sound that resembles a coherent song at all. It’s a free-for-all computer takeover, complete with gut-churning bass that will be sure to turn your bowels to liquid shite. This isn’t a concert you’ll want to take a date to, that’s all I’m sayin’.
I accept that I’m not supposed to “get” what Autechre does now. They make very challenging music, and it’s my fault for not responding to it the way I used to. One of the many reasons I love this band so fucking much is they have always challenged and excited me, and when I go to their shows now and come away confused and disoriented, I am interested in every single second of the experience. We’re not supposed to understand all the trends and updates, we just take it in and translate the messages — I can’t think of a better way to stay honest with my listening habits. Autechre forever keeps us on our toes, and refuses to let us be passive. Autechre reminds us that in order to hold our attention we must be accosted with the most abrasive music….the BEST music.
Autechre is on tour in the states right now, and you should go see them. Some of you will hate it. Good. You should hate it. People thought Elvis was too much as he swiveled his hips and made you think of your naughty parts back in the 50’s, and while Autechre may only make you think of putting in earplugs and checking your email, they still give us an experience like no else ever has.
To celebrate my loving indifference to the modern sound of Autechre, I’m going to go back and consider my favorite ten tracks from their deep-ass catalog. What are your favorites?
(10) “Surripere” from “Draft 7.30”
Perhaps I love this song so much because after the mess that was “Confield” I was excited to hear they were still capable of producing a song that actually had a beginning, middle, and end. Barely, though. While the album was shaky for the most part, this track is a beautiful stroke of unease: an oceanic, waving bass-line accompanied by a horror-show melody. It’s one of the best examples of how they married their old and new sound perfectly.
(9) “M62” from “Move Of Ten“
Four-to-the-floor shock! Typically reserved for only their remixes, Autechre proved they indeed have an ear for club music, or at least as close to club music as they would ever readily acknowledge. If you’ve ever heard a DJ mix from Autechre, you’ll certainly know their background is rooted firmly in electro culture, and while this track is perhaps the most straight-ahead techno track they’ve ever done, it’s refreshing to hear their influences so clearly represented.
(8) “Rae” from “LP5“
This is where we get into extremely tricky territory of trying to pick the “best” track from an astounding album. On any given day I could choose a different song from the astounding “LP5” album, but today it shall be “Rae”: a flutter of perfectly executed shuffle beats, punctuated with one of the most endearing melodies you’ll ever hear.
(7) “Cichli” from “Chiastic Slide“
One of the best electronic tracks of the 90’s, period. Right when we thought Autechre couldn’t stretch their originality any more into space, they threw down a full album of slow intros and even slower outros, somehow distancing themselves from humanity with sparse electronics, then pulling us back in just enough with a thinly veiled melodic stampede of minimalism.
(6) “Flutter” from “Anti EP”
This record was released in response to the English government’s move to limit raves back in the early 90’s. Known as the “Criminal Justice Act”, the old farts were so annoyed with raves back then that they motioned to strike down any hoodlum dancing to repetitive beats. Like any good electronic artist worth their salt, Autechre responded by issuing this record, complete with sticker over the opening, warning the listener that the music therein included dangerous repetitive beats. We laughed and scoffed and tore open the sticker anyway, and what we heard is still one of Autechre’s finest moments. This is one of my top records ever to be played at the wrong speed — I played “Flutter” at 33 rpm for years until I heard an MP3 of it, proving that Autechre meant it to be played at 45 rpm. When I finally played it at its “correct” speed, it was like falling in love all over again. I still prefer it played at 33 RPM, but my density illuminated why these guys are so great in that we take away from their music whatever the fuck we want.
(5) “Slip” from “Amber”
Again, how do you choose a single song from such a glorious album? At this moment, it’s “Slip”. You all know why. This song is fucking incredible.
(4) “Second Bad Vilbel” from “Anvil Vapre EP”
Any self-respecting Autechre fan knows their best songs lurk on EPs. “Second Bad Vilbel” is one of the most ass-kicking electronic tracks ever committed to wax. Much like Aphex’s “Come To Daddy” was the heavy metal version of electronics, “Second Bad Vilbel” preceded it by two years, and even came complete with a Chris Cunningham-directed video. Drill and Bass, Drum and Bass, whatever-the-fuck-you-wanna-call-it bass, this song is still one of the most devastating pieces of electronic bad-assery ever created.
(3) “Clipper” from “Tri Repetae”
You need to hear this entire album, not just one track. “Tri Repetae” is a watershed moment in electronics, and “Clipper” was a seismic shift in the Autechre sound. Autechre stopped being so outwardly pretty during this phase, but the melody was still floating slowly in the ether.
(2) “Bike” from “Incunabula”
In 1993, music like this simply did not exist. If you hear this song now for the first time after being ensconced with electronic music for years, its significance may go over your head. “Incunabula” was nothing short of a revelation upon its release, and for the first time, Detroit techno and machine funk were given a British electro twist, with “Bike” arguably being the album’s best track. We freely talk about Aphex’s first album being a thing to behold, and it should be, no doubt. “Incunabula” deserves to be spoken about with the exact same reverence.
(1) “Garbagemx36” from “Garbage EP”
I might be voting for this entire EP as a whole for it is on this record Autechre exercises their strongest gifts as music makers. Immaculate production, subtle melodies, intricate ambience, and passion for electro all bubble to the surface on this 40-minute EP. “Garbagemx36” is a perfect example of how the intricacies of simplicity leave the biggest mark, and throughout its 14-minute duration we’re able to explore all the elements of electronic music we love. A funky bass-line, an ambient synth, an electro-smattered beat, and an irresistible melody prove that Autechre’s 90’s output hasn’t aged a single day, and somehow remains more resonant and powerful than anything they’ve released in the last 15 years.