In between experimentalists and traditionalists - Immerse - 1995

In between experimentalists and traditionalists

"We're interested in originality rather than extreme experimentation," explains Sean Booth in a distinctive North of England accent. Like many of their fellow electronic pioneers you'll find Autechre filed in the techno section of your local megastore, but barriers are being broken down faster than they can be rebuilt, and trying to define the Autechre sound is a tricky one. As Sean says: "We've given up." Seriously. Rob Brown, the other half comes to the rescue. "If you can find a frozen lake and throw stones across it that'd be one of our favourite tracks." Sean: "People say we've got a sound or style, but we don't necessarily think that's the case. I'm sure we probably do sound like other people to them, but to us every track is different. We listen to all sorts os shit (from hip-hop, Meat Beat Manifesto to Unsane) and you can't keep away from influences but I don't think it sounds like any particular thing. We don't think about other music when we write."
Autechre have for some years been quietly making some of the most interesting electronic music around. I say quietly because Autechre are two fairly unassuming chaps who thankfully aren't the types to be going on stage trying to whip an empty-headed crowd into a state of frenzy. Autechre make the listener work to get into the groove, but conversly, turn up expecting a session of uneasy listening and you might wish you'd worn your Pumas. If Autechre had their way they'd be playing "small intimate vanues with a good sound system but not a lot of light and no stage." A fact that was borne out when I spoke to them at the somewhat misnomered Leisure Lounge in Holborn, London, where they were supposedly supporting Meat Beat Manifesto (they came on last), and doing their damndest to be allowed to play from off-stage. In the name of tradition they relented and carted their gear into the audience's field of vision for the duration of their set. My first encounter with Autechre was supporting fellow Warp artists Seefeel (Sean calls Warp "the best label in the world" and the freedom, support and trust they've given them has undoubtedly played an important part in the band's steady development) where their atmospheric (even in the dingy Powerhaus in Islington, London) soundscapes brought to my mind the minimalist but imposing scores of John Carpenter.
Sean: "We do like John Carpenter. More so early Howard Shore. The music for Alien's very good but I think it's someone really dodgy like Jerry Goldsmith. And Lalo Schifrin. But it's more individual pieces than whole soundtracks: like the way things move and change. The thing I like about film music is its timing is mediated by something actual or close to it. A good film is likely to have a better soundtrack because its scored to something more real in terms of movement. It's no different from other music, it's the application."
Rob: "We used a lot of naked analog stuff back then."
S: "It was quite a naive approach. For the first couple of years that we had records out, there were a lot of mistakes and a lot of the good stuff we found by mistake. That's kind of changed now."
So could composing for films be a logical next step for the Autechre boys?
S: "We get ideas for doing stuff visually but they're quite oblique and we don't really have the time and money to realise them. It's not the skill that's important; we don't believe you necessarily need the skill to do something. We've worked on stuff visually but just for ourselves. Yeah, we'd like to do a soundtrack for a film but it would have to be the right one - ther's not many films in the past 5 years we'd like to have been involved with. There's got to be a synchronicity between the music and the visual otherwise I don't respect it, and that's why we like people like Howard Shore in terms of mood manipulation and synchronizing things the way you feel. Especially with Cronenberg which is hard-core stuff. It's very brutal music. A lot of people are just concerned whether it sounds good, but with me it's more. It's whether it fits."
Autechre have naturally evolved somewhat from their early aural textures of Incunabula and Amber to currently a more stripped down, almost industrial drum'n'bass sound, as on the upcoming Anvil Vapre single.
S: "It just happens."
Rob: "The further we are from consciously manoeuvring our sound the better. We're always encountering new problems..."
S: "And finding new accidents and harnessing them..."
Rob: "But there's no pressure to keep moving on.!
While each new [album] might sound like a bold step into previously uncharted territory, says Sean: "We don't write albums. We just do loads of tracks, and after a year we go through the DATs and try to assemble something cohesive. When we compile the albums we ensure the tracks sound good together. It sounds different from the previous album because that's the nature of the beast. People say 'you've done this' and we just go 'yeah!' If the first time I saw Autechre was in what could be loosely termed a traditional indie gig venue, the second was in the decidedly club-orientated setting of Oscillate, while the third time was on a more avant-garde evening menu. They also recently returned to the US where they played everything from small bars to beaches and raves.
R: "Diversity is important."
S: "There are hard-core audiences for each scene but it's down to what people are prepared to do. Quite a lot of people who'd go to an indie type pub gig wouldn't be prepared to go to a club night for just one band. I think club nights aren't really the best to play: people's attention is being diverted so many different ways that it defeats the object for us. We like it when people are into it on a personal rather than communal level - in their own space. But we don't necessarily do lots of different types of venues. It's whatever people offer us."
Autechre: always different, yet resolutely recognisable. Miles Wood

Originally appeared inImmerse001. Copyright © Immerse