Ae in conversation with ON magazine's Pete Lawrence

Autechre's new album 'Amber' saw the murky light of day on November 7th, a much anticipated follow up to the highly influential 'Incunabula'. It looks set to be logged as one of the benchmark releases in electronic music. Deeply personal and always far from the easy option, Autechre are never easy to define (or pronounce) and their elusive and enigmatic qualities reflect a complete indifference, even a mistrust of popularity and recognition. Let the track speak for itself.
The word 'track' doesn't quite get there either. Perhaps lateral excursions into the deepest recesses of the mind would be more appropriate. Whether you're sitting on a sofa at home or swaying on a dark dancefloor surrounded by several hundred others, taking in Autechre is comparable to traversing the great plains, confronting a dozen current neuroses, toying with their ramifications, and somehow emerging at the other side, purged. With them, it's basically a question of going with the flow, and who knows where you might end up.
Learning to love electronic music isn't always easy, particularly with the volume of hard, confrontational work around that demands time, energy and a certain state of mind. Autechre are at pains to distance themselves from the growing British techno scene.
Sean: Outsiders always have the best ideas. I don't get any ideas from the techno scene. The British scene is far too insular and inward looking. There is a sound developing but I don't think we're part of it. I'd call what we're doing music.
We were into electro first - BMX kids for a couple of years. It was the perfect underground for kids and even teenagers at the time were more into New Order. Then it mutated into hip-hop and there was a stage around '87/'88 when we thought 'hip-hop is shit' and the bands had stopped being decent and there was no totally original music coming out, but there was some original music coming out of Chicago at the time - all the acid stuff, and we just loved the sounds. we were going through a phase of listening to all sorts of stuff - Meat Beat Manifesto, Renegade Soundwave and we followed this through. I think we've only been grouped in with this British Techno movement because we decided to give Warp Records tracks for their 'Artificial Intelligence' album. They were about the only label that we thought were brave enough to take a chance.
I don't just like one genre of music. We just do what we want. We're told we sound jazzy, but...I suppose we got it through hip-hop and certain types of soul, old Marvin Gaye and stuff. I think it's just that we don't know what we're doing with music.
I'm constantly shocked by peoples reactions to our music. We just write it because we need something decent to listen to.
Rob: For someone else to come along and say it's good, if we didn't know them as people, we wouldn't know if they were being honest in their reaction.
Sean: We have a few close friends who we will bear in mind when we're writing a track..we might say we'll write a track for Jed or a track for Andy 'cos we think they'd really like the direction that track is taking. We tend to think that if they haven't spent the last five years with us listening to all this weird stuff, how can you like it...
Rob: It's quite a selfish attitude really.
Sean: But we're quite selfish musically. We tend to do things that we like. It's great to be able to release it and get enough money to pay the rent. we're totally happy with the way things are at the moment and we're not really looking to expand our audience. We're not really into all this computer communications stuff. We'd rather buy records. There's more gratification in music really. I'm too obsessed by music to be able to expand my mind to start getting into the Internet or whatever.
Having said that, Sean and Rob are extremely interested in exploring audio technology and pushing it to its outer limits.
Everyone should have a DAT machine in their house. It's 48k and you can get two hours on it. It just hasn't had a domestic push because they'd rather sell mini disc which is shit quality. CDs would be even better if you could increase their storage capacity to 90 minutes...shame the cases shatter. Coming from a hip-hop background, we love vinyl, but we also love not having to get up to turn it over. We're torn between all these different camps. We've been messing around with harmonics and they just don't come through on CD due to digital clipping.
Rob: We've been pushing samplers further than they're meant to go, cutting loops to minus positions so that the sample folds inside itself and seriously screwing sounds up. It sounds smart on a DAT and two months later you come to master it and the guy's there saying "Sorry, your needle's going to jump off the vinyl if we do this!" On the vinyl, we had to mono up all the bass.
Rob: Often, the whole point of the track is to experiment with stuff like that.
Next century's Pink Floyd hi-fi test records?
That would be good! Free machines, sponsorship deals...
Sean: Just did an interesting gig in Germany where somebody spilt beer in the sampler! There was a balcony and people were leaning over...we had these ambient segues and we were standing there with this whirling sound going on for six minutes and the gear just wouldn't work, so we walked off. We probably need to buy some new gear - it seems to be happening quite a lot at the moment.
Rob: We like to kill the lights when we come on - slip the lighting man a fiver and get him to turn his lights off.
Sean: We were in Moscow recently in this big old conference theatre and we said "no lights at all" and they turned every light in the building off including the exit signs and this gut got up on stage throwing this torch around, then they turned the lasers on which worked well, but it was just total blackness and it was wicked.
Rob: We try and keep people away from looking at us, though, so they get into the music. We're not gigging, we're just there playing stuff they won't get to hear.
Sean: Talking specifically about clubs, Lost is the best club I've been to, and Megatripolis of course - the crowd are so open-minded and it's about the only club to retain the spirit of '88. We've not done much in Germany apart from one club in Cologne, but that was an industry bash where a lot of people just go to "check out the band". That sort of thing just makes me fucking sick. We toured the States earlier this year and Canada - Quebec Province and Montreal are still the best gigs we've ever done - and also Moscow, Denmark, Amsterdam twice, and Lost is still definitely the best one. I'd recommend it to my Mum. Doing it once a month makes it really special. I'll go to Megatripolis or Whirl-y-Gig to escape, but I still put Lost up there on a pedestal.
Why do you think the spirit of '88 has been lost?
Shit drugs, shit music.
Rob: Things have got very complacent. Then, nearly everyone was a pioneer. Now, there are just a handful of pioneers and it's up to them to shake it all up.
Sean: We're just left with the commercial aspects of house. Strictly Rhythm are now about the only decent remaining label with their finger on the pulse. I wouldn't go to a house club now. I'd rather stay in and write.
Rob: At Megatripolis, it's the forward thinking stuff that you'd have expected to hear in '88. People have got so used to hearing 4/4 rhythms that they don't know what to do when they anything else. Mega T has been playing the freakier side of electronic music.
Sean: It's very cutting edge AND the crowd are open minded. In Manchester, you've got Flesh - the crowd are open minded, the music's shit or they just get in commercial DJs to pull in the punters.
Rob: Herbal Tea Party's like a small Megadog - it's more like another student bash and not really what we're into. Manchester's doing nothing - really.
Sean: I think Pure in Edinburgh, Orbit in Leeds, Sonora in Glasgow, definitely Oscillate in Birmingham are the ones.
Autechre don't consider themselves to be harbingers of any politically correct stance, but they are concerned that widespread apathy towards current government legislation will be deeply regretted in times to come.
Sean: The Criminal Justice Bill is ridiculous. The clause that irritated me was the one about repetitive's the single most idiotic legislative move I've ever seen, but impossible to enforce. It's easy to get around - you simply don't quantize your bass drum, you play it in live. On our new 3 track EP, two tracks are very repetitive and one with no repetitive beats. The bpm is concurrent but every bar is different rhythmically, kind of like a jazz drum solo all the way through. It isn't proving any point really except to show that we could get away with it. It can also be played at either 33 or 45 in both chill out rooms and full on clubs. I find it interesting that psycho-acoustic research has proved that it's easier to sleep with aloud repetitive beat than a dripping tap, which is irregular - maybe the government should consider introducing legislation about dripping taps. Imagine the implications of the court case!
And the 'alter-ego' project Gescom?
Sean: Quite nicely under wraps at the moment and we'd like to keep it like that. Let's just say there'll be some strange music and some very very normal music which is strange because it's so normal. There are a lot of people working on it, but we'll keep it pretty anonymous. There'll be audio stuff, visual stuff we need to get right - like 150% happy with before we put it out. only two people are doing decent visual stuff at the moment.