ENGLAND'S AUTECHRE HAVE TO BE ONE OF THE MOST OVER-ANALYZED RECORDING ARTISTS OF THE ELECTRONIC ERA, THEIR EVERY BLIP AND SQUEAK MINUTELY DISSECTED FOR ITS IMPORTANCE. XLRBR PRESENTS A MORE RELAXED VIEW OF WHAT THE DUO IS ABOUT. SPLIFFS ANYONE?WORDS HERTH K. HIGNIGHT IMAGES JEREMY WEISS
"I wonder-have they ever fired shotguns?" queries Eric Heinroth. "You know, it would be kinda cool to take them to my parents' ranch and blow stuff up." Daniel De Los Santos is intrigued. "Yeah! I've got some old computer cases, hard drives and monitors we could waste!" I'm sold. Autechre: the Double-Barrel Interview.
The bad news comes as swiftly as the word that Autechre were gracing our shores for a quaint tour: Sean Booth and Rob Brown were being surly with the journalists. Shit. And this, my first chance to talk to them in person. The chance that countless fanboy-turn-journalists have sought, the wet dream of every would-be (and many established) computer programmer-cum-musician, the money-shot of every IDM list member who's not crawled far up his own pimply ass in search of Cooler Than Thou-dom. The opportunity loses a bit of its lustre with Sascha Kosch's De:Bug interview in Berlin, fatefully dated May 1 st, in which Messrs. Booth and Brown avoid the obvious questions:
DeBug: Where is Autechre going with this next album?
Sean: Nah. Nah nah.
DeBug: Not a specific...
Sean: No. Not because we didn't have anything specific in mind when we did the tracks. I don't want to pretend now that we've got something.
Shit shit. Are they surly because they're so full of themselves for being Warp's ace-in-the-hole act? Because, like the Orb's Alex Paterson, they'll always sell at least 10,000 copies of anything they release? Because they can command any price they want for a remix? What do I do?
De Los Santos and Heinroth-both of Mad Monkey Records and ever-present conspirators in friendly 10M ballyhooing-are as stumped as I. Autechre are up for just about anything, I'm told by the publicist, as they've not visited Austin prior.
"Why don't you take them up to Mount Bonnell? That's a nice, scenic spot," suggests De Los Santos, long an Autechre admirer but a little nonplussed with their work of late. Quiet as he always is, Heinroth agrees. "Let's check it."
The three of us take the ten-minute drive outside of Dubya's old stomping grounds into the skirts of the hill country and make our way up the winding curves of Mount Bonnell's white-cragged rocks. On top and looking west over the Colorado River, we see the lavish houses, big boats on Town Lake, and manicured lawns of Central Texas's nouveau riche. To the east, the distance holds Austin's meager skyline, while the immediate attraction is the waste-water treatment facility just off the foot of this (ha ha) mountain.
"But these guys have played at Mount Fuji!" I exhort. How can I take the two people who, for the last decade, have defined the purest joys of electronic listening music, up this lousy stump? How can I ask them the deepest, darkest secrets of their creative process while watching shitwater rinsed clean? I wonder-have they ever fired shotguns?
I'm anxious upon my arrival at Autechre's hotel, as their tour manager, Mark Parsons, said they weren't into shooting guns-because they thought it also would be a photo shoot. And as he calls Booth and Brown to come down to his room so we could meet, he mentions that I should explain to them exactly what I have in mind and see what they say.
They come in and right away discuss the merits of bearing arms. Brown hides his approval of blowing things up with shotguns behind a suppressed smirk, especially when I tell them that we'll be shooting at peripherals, monitors and other assorted computer equipment. Booth's not unamused by the idea either, but nevertheless plays devil's advocate, true to form with what my journalistic colleagues have told me about their attitude thus far:
"I don't particularly like the idea of destroying stuff just to destroy it."
"We could do much better to give it to someone who needs it, who could use it."
"There are problems with us being associated with guns." Brown counters each, but in the end it's Booth's call: when in Texas, Autechre will not necessarily do as Texans do.
BACK IN THE USSA
I suggest we get something to eat and figure out what to do after that, and' the duo perk up a bit. Being vegetarians, they opt for Mother's, a respected . hippy dive with an ivied garden outside. On the way, Booth and Brown begin asking the questions that any first-time visitor might ask: about Austin, what residents think of our new president, and whether anyone here cares that his family are energy moguls. They're keenly interested in understanding something about the town, as though they can't believe they're in a place that tolerated such ignorance.
It's grossly apparent that the last thing on Autechre's mind is talking about the consequences of their recently released sixth album, Confield. Austin represents the last leg of a two-month tour where every journo jumping the "underground" bandwagon has implored Warp's new US office for interviews. As such, they're enduring the same repeated speculative questions about musical philosophy and mechanics along with other generically "deep" queries: "Your increasing use of software signals a change in how electronic music is being made. How do you feel about that?"; "LP5 and Chiastic Slide were a breakaway from making 'songs' and a striking move toward experimentation. Why did you do that?"; "How do you choose your remix projects?"; "What do you think of your new album?"
Considering the tiresome nature of such affronts, it's easy to see how they might be sick of this entire process. We venture back to the vegetarian issue when the menus arrive, and Booth explains his position. "I actually stopped eating meat the last time I was in the US... the meat I was getting was so terrible, it didn't taste right at all. I'm not on it for some moral issue." I convey that I don't get the moral issue either, and he and Brown both chime in, rather vehemently.
"Right, what the fuck are people on about? It's not different at all," exclaims Booth.
Brown is a bit more diplomatic and, in his tone, less overtly emotional. IIWe know for a fact that in the process of killing a plant, information is relayed to the different parts of the plant through chemical interactions. The plant is, in a chemical sense, aware of the fact that it has lost a limb, lost a fruit, or lost everything above its root structure, or that it has been removed from the earth. Like humans, like animals, chemical changes and information are passed through the plant as a response. Whether [or not] they can feel it is not the issue; it's invasive, and it happens before the plant intends or would otherwise have died on its own. We have to accept that."
"Right, and in a sense, plants feed on us," Brown continues. "When we die, they are sus tained from the materials in the earth, which is where all of us end up. In the end, they win, if in fact there's something to be won." And with that, he shoves a plant carcass into his mouth.
If the conversation to this point illustrates nothing else, it's that Brown is yin to Booth's yang. The duo's symbiotic yet complimentary conversation style reflects a musical collaboration that has progressed so far beyond spoken exchange, beyond friendship and mutual respect, beyond the need to explain themselves to a journalist like me, that they talk as though they're of the same mind. Together Booth and Brown are the monster Autechre, and today, the monster could not care less about the impact Canfields anti-song sound constructions might have on legions of laptop jocks. Instead, what they're on about is a little rest, a little respite from the hurry-up-and-wait mode of touring... and a little weed. Parsons had clued me in to this right away inside the hotel room: "Yeah, they're needing some."
After we leave Mother's, Sean brings it up in the car. I tell them we can find what they , need back at my house. And would they like to just chill there for a bit, relax, and talk a lit tle instead of heading to the show venue? "Definitely," they remark in stereo.
IT'S IN THE MAIL
We hit my house about the same time as the mail carrier, who dumps boxes and envelopes on my doorstep with a grimace. The sheer volume of promotional material prompts Booth to muse about wasteful business processes like bulk mail. I tally up the postage from packages bearing promos that day: $19.75. They guffaw.
"May we listen to some of this?" remarks Brown. "I mean, someone paid postage for all of it!" I open a box from S//:kimo and we go through the contents. We come across the VVM 3-inch CDs for Help Aphex Twin vols 1.0 and 2.0, and throw them on.
As snippets of "Ventolin," "Xtal," and "Polygon Window" whiz out of the speakers under the torqued filters of VVM's silly mind, Brown exhales a relaxed laugh. "I've got to play this to Richard! He's gat to know this is out, right?"
"Gat to know!" giggles Booth like a school-girl holding her first joint.
"See, I criticized them the last time I saw them," Brown continues. "They go after easy targets, but this is totally... one hundred... percent. . . the opposite tack!"
We continue talking about the merits of such lampooning, with analogies to Stephen Hawking acting like a parasite for appropriating super-string theory as a component of his own intellectual property. In making the point that such surface-focused artistic agendas inherently hinder a work's staying power, Booth lets slip the first mention of Canfield all day.
"I don't particularly like much of what [VVM] do. It's like, records I've liked, [of which] all the strength is in the narrative, I find them really weakening after about three or four times...I can't listen to it anymore. Probably why ours is so not like that either."
That's Brown's cue: "Part of it is that our music works at different levels-it doesn't always do the same thing to you. You start to listen to it and it changes. Music that doesn't do that, it just gets boring after a bit."
Booth continues. "I'd probably play this about three times and then that will be it.. .unless it's got real depth and there's something in there I can scrutinize. I mean, Monty Python can totally change the way that you see certain things in England if you saw it at the right time. . . and it has a residual effect. I could watch it now and still find myself laughing at myself for having changed to become a little bit more like them."
I tell them that I understand, and that it goes for their music, too-I can't handle Confield on repeated listenings. Booth grins slyly. Like Brown, he's lost all his surliness from earlier. "Oh, I wouldn't expect anyone to except us!"
"You'd go mad!" chuckles Rob. "Even we're selective..."
"Yeah...we can't always tolerate it," says Sean. "There are loads of older tracks of ours that I dan't want to hear right now. I'm weakened by them."
A revelation: it's OK to not like Autechre. To not worship them as though they shit Mozart manuscripts every time they release a remix or play live, as they do to a slightly baffled yet packed crowd in Austin that night. It's okay to walk away from what they played-the deep, deadpan bass stabs that could have come from their early electro IICrystel" days and the glaringly complex clacking patterns that plague Canfield-and feel that it was a human music with more than a couple faults. It's OK...they said so.
www.warprecords.com or www.autechre.nu
Originally appeared in XLR8R Magazine, Issue 52.
Copyright © XLR8R magazine
|Copyright © 2004-08 autechre.info.|