Out of Context
Autechre, the British posteverything electronic duo of Sean Booth and Rob Brown, can count on a warm reception in South Florida. Much has been said of the unlikely nexus of Jeep and laptop culture here that stirred an affinity for Autechre's cerebral aesthetic at the local Schematic Music Company and the recently departed Chocolate Industries. Both labels have featured Booth and Brown remixes on past releases. But our Autechre love affair is not too surprising given the Brits' early love of bass music. The rough-hewn structures and flecks of percussion that form the backbone of many a Schematic and Chocolate Industries track originate in the pioneering rhythmic-fractal work on Autechre's Tri Repetae (1995) and Chiastic Slide (1997).
"We're not embarrassed to say we love those guys at all," says Romulo del Castillo, co-owner of Schematic and half of the recording outfit Phoenecia.
"Love 'em to death," underscores business and music partner Josh Kay.
"What's so inspirational for us is their work ethic. They don't let the industry get to them at all," del Castillo adds. "They're really outside of all that stuff."
Introduced to Autechre's work in 1993 through the Warp Records Artificial Intelligence series, the Phoenecia guys (then known as Soul Oddity) met Booth and Brown on Autechre's first U.S. tour, and the four became fast friends. Brown, unaware that Soul Oddity already was with Astralwerks, suggested del Castillo and Kay sign with Skam, a U.K. label run by Autechre's ex-flatmate Andy Maddocks. Since then Phoenecia has opened for Autechre on each of its domestic tours and is producing this week's show in Coral Gables.
The extent of Autechre's influence, not only locally but on home studios across the world, is especially impressive given the pair's refusal to evangelize. Booth and Brown have steadfastly insisted there is no explanation behind their work since they started doing interviews after the release of their debut album, 1993's Incunabula. They're musicians, they say; they "grow" records. (Even this simple declaration can be problematic, however; Booth and Brown have said a number of times over the years that they're not musicians at all.) Either way, they've tried to put it as flatly as possible: They spend all day almost every day in the studio; stuff comes out. Analysis about the particulars is neither here nor there.
Past articles on Autechre (painstakingly retyped and saved for posterity on Websites such as www.autechre.nu) are peppered with quotes such as "I can't really elaborate. It's quite difficult to explain, really"; "Don't ask me why, that's just the way it is"; and "I wouldn't really know where to start discussing it. We don't really talk about music that much, to be honest with you."
Confield, the group's recently released sixth album, marks Autechre's tenth year of sidestepping questions about its music. This time around Booth, who has done most of the talking over the years, has hinted that the two would rather stop answering questions altogether. On May 1 he told the German Website DE:BUG: "I got better things to do than to justify what I do all of the time. I never have time to do what I do. I am just thinking about saying no more. I don't know if there is a point in doing interviews anymore." (In fact questions e-mailed that same day for this story had not been answered as of press time.) Even as far back as the mid-'90s, obsessive Autechre completists and track-title theoreticians prompted the pair to etch "Fuck Off Trainspotters" into one of their records, weary of the meticulous scrutiny of their every move.
Predictably the distance the group has tried to wedge between itself and its following has only bolstered its hardest corps. A certain mystique arises from oblique statements such as "I'd call what we're doing music" (Booth) and the cryptic-yet-almost-intelligible naming conventions for their songs: "VI scose poise," "Sim gishel," "Rae," "Yulquen," "Pule," "Under Boac." In many ways Autechre's extramusical legacy begs for nitpicking and postulation: the hidden track at the beginning of their 1999 release, ep7 (reached by rewinding before song one plays); their limited-edition 12-inchers on the boutique Skam label under the name Gescom, marked with Braille; the MiniDisc-only release of 88 tracks meant to be shuffled seamlessly; the software program they developed that generates a new Autechre song every time it's loaded. This is the stuff of which obsessions are made, especially for a core audience that long-time Autechre fan and interviewer Heath K. Hignight aptly describes as "kids with stay-at-home system admin jobs or tucked away in a cube farm with headphones on."
Autechre's arrival in the public eye roughly coincided with the advent of the Internet as a mainstream communication tool, and the phenomenon of the act's hyperinformed fan base is a clear byproduct. Back when the Net first began seeping beyond the walls of academia, psychotropic druggies, wide-eyed ravers, and ambient music, deviants formed a community at the site www.hyperreal.org, which is dedicated to fringe topics. In 1993 the intelligent dance music mailing list was founded, according to Hyperreal, "as a platform for the discussion of a wave of what was termed "Intelligent Techno' originating mainly from the U.K." The lightning rod for the list was the Sheffield label Warp Records' Artificial Intelligence compilation, which spawned the first music genre named for an online entity -- IDM (Intelligent Dance Music), often appearing in print with the designations "so-called" or "for lack of a better name."
Autechre's tracks "Crystel" and "The Egg" were standouts of the collection, and the LP the duo released in the accompanying AI series, Incunabula, was one of the first full-length works to push techno and electro-funk into abstract "head-fucking" territory. The IDM list grew up around the Warp cult with Autechre as its patron saint. Topic threads about a particular release, song, or even an individual sound generated by the group would last for weeks. The culture that developed in these communiqués was both refreshingly innocent and eerily obsessive, with fans going out of their way to share discographies and flame one another for not being properly respectful of their heroes. Booth and Brown, who purportedly had no involvement with the list, seemed alternately bemused and aghast at what the Autechre name meant to this strange antiscene.
As fast as the fandom has moved to contain Autechre, the duo has moved to reinvent itself. Keen students of Autechre's numerous stylistic evolutions, Phoenecia's Romulo del Castillo and Josh Kay are quick to dismiss the disappointed grumblings that seem to mark every new release and are currently circulating on fan sites about Confield. "I heard [the disc] for the first time in the airport in Rome, and it wasn't really what I was feeling at the moment," admits del Castillo. "It's like when you go and see a new David Lynch film, and it's like, "Well, it just doesn't have the same flow as Fire Walk with Me, or it has too much of a typical story line.' But then you realize people grow every single day, and sometimes they learn things you haven't learned and based on that you can't really try to put your own human experience into that. The key to listening to Autechre's music is really letting it grow on you."
Many listeners, including this reviewer, also were initially put off by the digital sound of Autechre's untitled 1998 album (referred to as LP5), not expecting such a drastic shift from the gritty Chiastic Slide. But LP5 is now widely considered a standout (currently ranked fourth on autechre.nu's user-selected Top 10 list of the group's recordings).
"It's like a really good science-fiction novel," Kay says of first contact with a new Autechre album. "You have no clue what the hell the first chapter's about, because it's alluding to things that will be discovered later. It has nothing to do with the contextual basis that we're about -- our society, our people, the color of our skin, the amount of fingers we have, whatever. But everything makes sense with time."
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