Autechre: Dancers in the Dark 06.03.08
With leotards on standby, The Skinny prepped itself for a deep and meaningful with Autechre's Sean Booth, and was pleasantly surprised by the plain speaking Mancunian's willingness to chat about his opinions on music, MySpace and getting smoked out with his mates.
Talking about music is like dancing about architecture, or so said former comedian Steve Martin. How then, does one converse about the music of Autechre, whose output has been described in architectural terms as often as it has been discussed in terms of conventional dance music?
It is easy to make a lot of unfair assumptions about a band that claims to prefer playing in the dark and who christen their tracks with indecipherable abbreviations and in-jokes only they themselves understand. Autechre have never made it easy for us, but then again maintaining a reputation as Warp Records' most innovative act for going on ten years a label built, lest we forget, upon musical vicissitude was always going to necessitate the adoption of an aggressively dissident aesthetic.
With latest long-player Quaristice revisiting all the classic Autechre moments of the last 15 years whilst still somehow sounding irresistibly and overpoweringly alien, The Skinny goes straight for the money shot: just how the hell does music like this get made?
"Quaristice was all made from massive long jams," comes the disarmingly straightforward reply. For anyone conjuring up mental images of endless Grateful Dead-style noodling, then let Mr Booth clarify: "Confield was hyper full-on sequencer music. Now we're doing that but with hardware. We'd have really complicated sets of hardware sequencers connected together running different machines we'd just leave it on rather than stopping when we made a mistake, we were keeping going and seeing where that took us. It's got a more instant feel.
"Six months before we had to deliver the album we realised we had too much and we were like, 'shit we'd better start editing now!' At the moment the traditional album format is necessary - I do like the overall narrative flow you get with anything between 60 and 90 minutes - but it won't be in another ten years once people have adapted sufficiently for it to be viable economically. Then we won't be working traditionally. Already probably 30 to 40 percent of our income comes from online sales. We're already a big way into the transition."
Rubbing shoulders with ultra-competitive labelmates like Richard D James (Aphex Twin) and Tom Jenkinson (Squarepusher) would be enough to keep anyone on their toes, but when those same people (we're looking at you, Jenkinson) start mouthing off about the death of composition and the conscious participation of machinery in the marginalisation of human creativity, then surely a band as reliant on technology as Autechre must take umbrage? Surprisingly, it would seem not.
"It's about the kit as much as the people, yeah. My capabilities as a musician are defined by what I use. We're all working within our means. But I know for a fact that if I put Tom in my room on my kit he would never in a million years do what I do with it - but it is going to be informing him. There's lots of room in equipment, I tend to get lost in it really. Even something like a DX-100 (a cheap Yamaha keyboard ed), I find it endless.
"A lot of people get bogged down in collecting, or they're trying to reduce reproducibility by using something that's exotic. But that's actually not the way you do it. The way you do it is you use the same junk as everyone else but then you have to really push yourself and that's when all the good shit comes out. All the music I grew up with in the 80s was like that - people really pushing production.
"I have got a slightly punky attitude really. It's not about having a load of kit or a load of techniques or whatever. It's just about going for it. Early hip-hop producers were all about that. They wanted to twat the next guy with their new beat; making sure that it was madder than what anyone else was doing. Even the kids on MySpace making guitar tracks, they're just going for it, they might be all following the same daft sheepy lead or whatever, that's super obvious - but the thing is it's the energy, they're just doing it."
As the conversation turns to Kim Deal's recent lamentations about the easy accessibility of recording equipment for the masses and her perceptions of a concomitant decline in quality, Booth positively bridles at her sentiments: "People like that, they're just exclusivists and reactionary. I don't see any need to preserve things the way they are. I'm quite an adaptable person. If a new idea or challenge arrives then I'm fucking right in there, do you know what I mean? I don't see any problems with that. I see people that are adapting to things around them."
Indeed, for Booth the creative processes of long-term side project Gescom are intrinsically linked to his extended social network and serve as a pressure release in relation to his work in Autechre: "Yeah, we are at the hub really; we're still pretty much the centre of it. The Gescom stuff tends to happen on its own, people coming round or chipping in an idea. If Rob (Brown - Autechre's other half) is away I might get a bit social but I try to stay productive; just get a few mates round, get smoked out and see what comes out."
Further exploding the numerous myths that paint Autechre as reclusive, shadowy characters, it seems that live performance is most central to Autechre's current stream of creativity: "We've been having record attendances recently. It's been fantastic. Making Quaristice, we were just getting totally informed by big crowds for the first time in a long time. We've just really been getting into playing with the live setup. That's why the current studio ended up the way it is. We were like fucking hell, this is really great, let's just do this!"
And for anyone with tickets to their upcoming Glasgow gig, a word of warning: "Yeah, we've played the Art School before. I liked that room. It was kind of odd, but it was fucking loud. Hopefully we can get it at least as loud this time..."