"We find that things that are sort of perfect but fucked up are pretty cool," explains Sean Booth.
A listen to Autechre provides ample evidence that this is a mantra of sorts for Booth and partner Rob Brown. While structures are precise and geometrical, the sounds contained within these confines are alternately tweaked and bizarre, terse and beautiful.
Eight years ago, Booth and Brown naturally gravitated towards one another with the help of a mutual friend and a shared love of hip hop, electro, and tagging - b-boy culture imported from America into their native England. They began recording together and airing the finished tracks on their own pirate radio show, but soon became depressed at the limited accessibility of their music. The fact that they weren't making a living from creating music was also a pretty big downer.
In 1991, Autechre signed their first record deal and found themselves the victims of a con artist, who declared bankruptcy and promptly disappeared shortly after they signed on. They saw absolutely nothing out of the deal, no money, not even as much as a free copy of their record.
Though they're still pissed off about this, Booth seems glad that the ill-fated record hasn't gotten mass exposure, so glad that he won't even mention its title.
Booth : "It's so bad!" he laughs. "It's like the worst record we ever did!" He mentions that he saw it recently in a shop selling for fifteen pounds.
Booth : "I'm amazed that it sells for that much money because it really is a shit record!" It's clear that they'd rather have it drop off the planet than have it sell at an overpriced rate to completists. In fact, a recent 12-inch single bears the greeting "Fuck Off Trainspotters" etched into the inner grooves, so there's no doubt as to what they think of such collectors.
After a less than fortuitous debut into the world of record label politics, Autechre established contact with Warp Records in the UK, a label that has developed such artists as Sabres of Paradise and LFO. Warp liked only one track out of their 90-minute demo tape, but for two years they continued to ask for tapes on the strength of that one song, Crystal. It was featured on the groundbreaking 1992 compilation, Artificial Intelligence, among the first of its kind to highlight and promote electronic music meant more for listening than dancing.
Booth says proudly : "I've never met anybody who knows as much about music and understands it the way we do like Warp do. I think we're on the perfect label for our music."
1993 saw the release of Autechre's first full-length release for Warp, titled Incunabula. Amber followed last year after a series of EPs, including a box-set of 10-inch singles and the Anti-EP. 1994 also marked the formal introduction of Autechre to the United States, courtesy of Wax Trax!/TVT Records.
The Anti-EP became infamous in England for its backhanded response to the wording of the Criminal Justice Bill, which crimnalizes gatherings of people in the company of music that is characterized by an "emission of repetitive beats." A cheeky middle finger up to the Bill, The Anti-EP contains a track ("Flutter") characterized by an emission of non-repetitive beats, a string of 65 distinct drum patterns. It takes everything you know about dance music and tosses it out like yesterday's trash. (Though their current release, the Garbage EP, is certainly not refuse).
Though Incunabula is a Latin word describing something in its early stages, it is Amber which is the more minimal of the two. Relying on precise melodic loops, Amber possesses a more polished and deconstructed lustre than Incunabula. Brown explains the difference in approaches.
Brown : "[Incunabula] was a naive attempt in terms of the tracks and also the choice of tracks that made it an album as a single unit of music because it spawned so long a time. From us dealing early on with Warp to a month before the album was cut and released, it spawned nearly two and a half years. The tracks covered the board of what styles we were going through. It is very song-based, in terms of having obvious structures within the tracks. We saturated ourselves in that kind of construction of music so subconsciously I think we strayed into a simpler structure of music [with Amber]. It seems a lot more subtle. We prefer the production, we know we're learning a lot more about achieving the natural sounds we hear in our head where in the first album we were not quite up to potential."
Booth agrees: "I think we're at the apex where you've got maximum creativity but you've also got maximum knowledge of your equipment. Basically, we're just not going to learn anything else about our gear. We can do things exactly the way we want to do them but there's a gray area where we don't understand how it works, and that provides the chance element."
Autechre's success is directly related to the close friendship they've developed with each other over the years. Studio partners as well as flatmates, Booth and Brown have achieved a state of perfect synchronicity, to the point where they speak their own unique musical language.
Booth : "We've been able to develop a vocabulary over the years that enables us to speak to each other about music, it's so abstract. We see sound the same way in that if the sound has a shape and I was to say, 'Rob, what shape is that sound?' and sort of draw the shape, chances are that they'll be the same."
Or maybe it's a question of chemistry over semantics, biology over linguistics. At least Brown seems to think so.
Brown : "We're not based on carbon anymore, we're based on music. It's a molecular thing," he deadpans.
Whatever the explanation, Autechre have the rare distinction of doing what they want in exactly the way they want it. It's perfect, but sort of fucked up.