:: Article

Overwhelmingly Bearded

By Andrew Fleming.

Autechre, London 2008

Autechre are in many ways IDM’s archetypal ‘how’ outfit; Rob Brown and Sean Booth’s sound is all about form and process. This is only in part derived from the music itself, which – for the uninitiated – has encompassed everything from straightforward acid techno to harsh glitch sounds and ambient noise. The sense of mystique is also stimulated by a cult of cheerfully geeky gear fanatics that have obsessed over the duo’s methodology for the last fifteen years; how, beyond an unhealthy mastery of MAX/MSP, do the guts of Autechre work?

This curiosity has convinced Autechre’s overwhelmingly male, and overwhelmingly bearded, fans to spend an early Tuesday morning in a freezing car park near Liverpool Street station. The pair have a new album to support — the schizophrenic Quaristice — but you get the idea that straightforward promotion isn’t what tonight’s show is about. Autechre are one of the Warp label’s flagship acts, this is probably the biggest Warp-organised London show for three or four years, and the label have pulled out all the stops: the sound rig alone is stupendous, capturing Autechre’s gut-shaking bass and acidic 808 snaps with equal aplomb. Perhaps the biggest beneficiaries of the set-up are openers SND, whose terrifying Neubauten-esque programmed attacks rattle off like heavy artillery, shaking industrial dust from the rafters.

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(pic: Sheikh Ahmed)

As for Autechre, what you get is somewhere between the early techno material and later glitch explorations. It’s certainly nothing like Quaristice, and nor does it offer that longed-for insight into method. The reasons for this are interlinked; Autechre live are technically inscrutable but sonically fluid, cutting and snipping events together almost seamlessly, quite unlike the new album’s discrete pieces. The performers are lit, but barely; the main focus of the crowd’s rapture appears to be two Apple laptops, not the heads bobbing around behind them.

We still don’t know how it works, then, but by and large it does. Autechre scamper from pocket to pocket within the monstrous sound they create; the pair address a stuttering beat or caustic synth pattern just long enough to hit their stride, before immediately pulling the rug from under our feet and moving on. Over the course of their one-hour set, this stride occasionally falters, but there’s enough here to keep both the head-bobbers and buzzing ravers happy. An abrasive start of battering off-beats actually recalls the prior SND set, but gradually gives way to the kind of bubbling acid gurgles we heard on last year’s A1-D1 side-project, released under the Gescom banner. A full-on techno climax bafflingly provokes some in the crowd to start, of all things, a mosh pit; perhaps this was just the desperate realisation that it was 2am, and they had work the next day. The majority, however, were happy to follow the head-bobbing lead of the mercurial pair behind the laptops; what exactly goes on inside those heads, though, remains gratifyingly enigmatic.

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ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Andrew Fleming
is a recent graduate. He lives and works in London.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, November 18th, 2008.