Bent. Autechre, SEOne

Intent. Autechre, SEOne

Crouched. Autechre, SEOne


Somnambule - Writing About Music


14th April 2005, SEOne

Tonight’s gig initiates Autechre’s first tour in three years and it’s sold out. SEOne’s a dark cavern of a venue located in a series of railway arches nested underneath London Bridge railway station. There’s something slightly Dickensian about the place. It’s a mixed crowd with most people dressed down and unassuming. There’s some grizzled faces, inevitably a majority of men, but a slightly larger age range than expected. For a brief moment, I’m swayed by the impression that the whole of Rochdale (Autechre’s hometown) has migrated for a night down to London to catch their favourite band.

The sound system’s decent and there’s space to relax and chat during Rob Hall’s DJ set which runs until midnight. Then Rob Brown and Sean Booth take the stage unannounced. The lightshow winks out and darkness descends. The area in front of the stage is packed tight. The only light comes from the screens of mobiles held aloft and the red beams of focus mechanisms trained on the performer’s faces reminiscent of sniper rifle laser sights, followed by camera flashes like anti-aircraft shells exploding in the nightsky. In between, the duo’s faces are dimly lit by the LED glow of the boards below them.

Autechre hit the ground running like a couple of troops jumping from attack helicopters behind enemy lines. Staccato rhythms sound like the stutter of small arms fire uncomfortably close at hand. The music fits its environment perfectly. This is life during (future) wartime. The crowd is being subjected to something determinedly contemporary and avowedly futuristic. The tempo starts off somewhere between mid-paced and fast and sticks there. In true Autechre fashion, it’s heavily percussive, recognisably awkward and altogether unrecognisable – at least to the uninitiated. The audience are concussed by urgent, abstract, intent rhythms that resolutely refuse to lock into anything remotely danceable. It’s entirely appropriate that when someone holds a lighter aloft, instead of a flame, sparks sputter asymmetrically before darkness wins out once again.

At one point vocoder’ed voices become audible like robots’ last memories of human voices, just there, almost gone. The sound is intensely visceral like keyhole surgery gone seriously offbeam. Autechre are attempting to achieve catharsis through absolute control. The experience casts new light on their recorded output which might be viewed as a series of attempts to overcome the inherent limits of the recording medium via new strategies of sonic viscerality. In its serial collage form of ever-mutating rhythms, their performance rejects repetition. Autechre’s enterprise is remorseless in its determination to fight against complacency. In hindsight, the non-repetitive beats of the Anti-EP (composed in protest against the UK’s Criminal Justice Bill which sought to restrict the rave moment of the early ‘90s) appear to have become a fitting challenge/template for the duo’s latterday development. Tonight makes crystal clear that the current phase of Autechre’s ongoing odyssey is entirely disinterested in the reductiveness of locating the ‘perfect beat’, nor are they exercised by glitch deconstruction. Rather, they appear to be embracing the fractal potential of rhythm. The concert confirms the impression conveyed by Untilted that they’re dipping into an infinite ocean of rhythms and bringing finely-honed soundings back to the surface for the delectation of their audience.

Autechre are clearly on constant alert and their audience need to be as well. One result of this is that their music ongoingly avoids settling into any particular genre. At most the music appears to hover momentarily on the cusp of breakbeat or techno or UKG or any number of other rhythmic templates, but it never gets closer than that, instead remaining out of the range of the lazy listener or critic’s limited armoury. Gone is the grinding machine funk of Draft 7.30’s Foam Conduit, or at least it’s been sublimated into a new and insistent set of telescoping armatures whose beginnings and endings slip away beneath the fingers before they can be touched. The one and a half hour set has a number of peaks and troughs - not in any real sense related to tempo or intensity – but rather a succession of passages.

Rob Brown and Sean Booth remain studiously crouched over their decks the entire time, only occasionally exchanging brief comments with each other. Not once do they appear to survey the audience directly in front of them. It would be interesting to know whether they’re aware of them, whether if they were playing to an empty, echoing hall, their set would be any differerent. The theory’s untestable, there are no repeats. The music achieves a remarkable feat, it’s extremely abstract and simultaneously very, very real. New geologies are constantly birthed, casting the audience in the role of time-lapse geologists. There’s a slight ebb for the first time after more than an hour that’s succeeded by the first recognisable track of the set: Draft 7.30’s Xylin Room. It’s reinvented as a blunt murder instrument, as bloodied and overloaded as Natural Born Killers. Or let’s go high culture and say that Autechre in concert is like watching Jackson Pollock’s colourfield paintings rendered at hyperspeed tempos by Julian Opie.

Colin Buttimer
Published by Grooves magazine