Ratboy Pimp interviews Autechre's Rob Brown about their curation of the All Tomorrows Parties event taking place in the UK from April 4-6th, Interview conducted sometime in Jan/Feb, by phone from London to a country hotel near Reading. Apologies for possible transcription errors - the recording was like a Russian radio station during an electrical storm in 1923!
O.M. Let’s just have a general chat about the line-up and how it was done. It’s an impressive line-up. How long did it take to get together and how did it come about?
R.B. A bit ago, not long after we played at the Tortoise ATP, Barry hesitantly said, sort of, ‘Would you do one, if I asked you?’ and we were, ‘Yeah, totally’. Because I don’t know if they thought that we wouldn’t do it because it’s so honest and open and we try and avoid telling anyone. . . anything. And then we’re like, ‘Fucking hell, man. So, you’re asking us to get a wish-list of all, like, any artists that we want? And you’re going to phone them up and try and get them to play? And then make a really good three-day party out of it. . .? So, it’s like, alright, yeah. . . totally, we’ll do it. [laughs]
O.M. So, it wasn’t exactly too hard a decision?
R.B. Not really, no. I mean the hard bit was going about deciding how we choose who to get there. It’s a massive line-up, it’s been quite hard to arrange. You feel like you’re pushing people about, if you know what I mean.
O.M. Did you find it hard work organisationally, then?
R.B. Well, also, there’s what Barry has to do after we give him the wish-list. I mean, even the wish-list was hard to refine, partly because there was so many artists that we couldn’t get on there. Because we only had three days as well to fill, so you kind of have to be a bit cut-throat, you know, you’re boiling it down.
O.M. You could have done with a couple of weeks, then?
R.B. Yeah , we could do another one on the back of it, really. It’s amazing that we got Public Enemy, really because they didn’t know what they were doing for this year and that. Just things that have major implications for a band, unlike ourselves, where it’s like, ‘Oh, we’ve got 3000 capacity, would you do it?’, ‘Yeah.’ But stuff like Captain Beefheart, the Magic Band, you wouldn’t have thought they’d be able to come up and do something, it’s been so long. And then, well, Beefheart can’t be there but Magic Band are going to be there and they were like e-mailing us and asking what we’d like to hear and stuff! ‘What would be your preference?’, and we were like, ‘No way!’
O.M. You don’t expect that. . .
R.B. Yeah, totally! So, we were like, ‘Well, we love this bit and that bit,’ and they’re, ‘We were thinking a bit like that’, so some things just work out really well.
O.M. Did you have a master-plan at the beginning of the line-up? Was there anything specific that you were trying to achieve with it?
R.B. Just quickly, things come straight off the top of your head, really. Some things are just so undeniably obvious to us... but, then it’s like, ‘Yeah, let’s try and get Public Enemy!’ And then you realise that it’s a possibility, you then go, ‘Right! Let’s try and GET Public Enemy!’ Then, other times, it’s like, we’ll say, ‘Hey, it’s going to be a good party, it’s three days, all these kids and all these people and you can play what you want.’ So you’ll see people and then there’ll be Curtis Roads [software sound sculptor dude], all these mad, mad, frictional things that are going to be kicking off in the background of all these bands playing and stuff.
O.M. Two genres kind of leap out of the line-up, that’s hip hop and, well, experimental electronics - is that something you deliberately wanted to do or does that simply come out of what you’re into?
R.B. Well, yeah, it’s trying to get a snapshot together of things that do exist and have existed but yeah, it does fall apart when you’d like to ask, say, Marley Marl to come and play and do loads of MC Shan tracks. He might go, ‘Fuck off. I’m producing loads of mega hip hop right now. Why do you want me to do that?’ It’s like someone shouting ‘Bass Cadet’ at us when we’re playing live and we just want to hit ‘em with the new stuff. So, there’s all kind of complications, where you’re a bit afraid to ask but it’s your chance, you just got this one chance so. . . there’s no specific agenda, if you like.
O.M. You just wanted to get the best that you could, whatever that was?
R.B. Yeah, it’s just as, as. . . top as we could make it.
O.M. Were there any points that you came under real pressure? With your reputation, people might expect an impressive line-up. Did you feel under pressure to deliver?
R.B. Well, I don’t know if people would have expected an impressive line-up. People might have just thought that we’d get loads of electronica on. And that would have just been a bit weak. There’s way more to it than that. We’ve been talking about things for a long time now and there’s people that we’ve not managed to mention along the way that really, really deserve it. And this is our chance to get some of that spotlight on them.
O.M. Did Dedbeat being postponed get you more time for this line-up - Skam were meant to be doing one of the rooms there and now Haywire have taken over?
R.B. Yeah, I know what you’re saying. It’s moved to some other time nearer ATP now, hasn’t it?
O.M. I think it’s in March now.
R.B. Yeah, that would be close. But obviously, Skam are doing ours - it’s like, we’ve got this sort of space that we’re really into and they’re our mates. But this has kind of expanded, we wanted to get Skam, Andy and Rob and everyone, organising a total room that runs parallel to everything else as well. So, we’ve got a real core thing going on with us and an external thing with all the other artists as well.
O.M. And you’re playing as Gescom?
R.B. Yeah, it would just be way too much work putting together a live show and we don’t have the time at the moment. So, yeah, there’ll be three or four of us behind the decks, playing with records and it should be a good party.
O.M. Are there any more people to come? I guess this list isn’t completely tied down 100%.
R.B. No, I think it’s pretty settled now, I think it’s kind of shook itself into stability. Unless something catastrophic happens, someone can’t come or something like that. . . We did have a mega list and another mega list, that was still mega, of people who didn’t have time to come over and do it but said they might come over and do it in an emergency or something. Other than that. . . Thirstin Howl I’m looking forward to on Friday.
O.M. Is there anyone you really would have liked and couldn’t get?
R.B. Well, yeah. . . we had a big back and forth with Kraftwerk.
O.M. How did that go?
R.B. They sort of invited us to play last year and we were half way through the album and it really didn’t feel like we’d been in the studio long since we did our last tour so we didn’t have anything to work on. And they were like, ‘Oh no’, and we were like, ‘Fucking hell, damn, it’s really bad timing.’ And then we had the opportunity to ask them and they were like, ‘Oh no, we’re in the studio now. . .’! So, shit like that falls through but maybe some other time, maybe there’ll be a remix thing, something like that, who knows? Some things couldn’t work out, some people wanted really vast amounts of money to play and it would have collapsed. . . just for one band that wasn’t worth it.
O.M. Is there anyone on the line-up that you really didn’t expect to get?
R.B. Yeah, yeah! Parmegiani. He’s really specific about where he plays and what it’s all about and that’s all part of it. But he’s going to present our favourite album.
O.M. De Natura Sonorum?
R.B. Yeah. And then Magic Band are on straight after that. And then I thought. . . well, Coil, then Parmegiani then Magic Band! And then [hiss, crackle] DJing straight after, it’s like ‘AHHHH!’
O.M. Others on the line-up, well. . . Public Enemy, I guess you’re old fans of theirs?
R.B. Yeah, like ‘Yo! Bum Rush The Show’, I think it blew everyone away, all over the place.
O.M. Have you seen them live recently?
R.B. No, not recently.
O.M. So, are you booking them because you still think that they can be cutting edge or more on the basis of past glories?
R.B. That was the problem with a lot of bands, that you couldn’t do that. I mean I would have invited Mantronix if I thought it would have been a good idea. I mean, I love him for what he did from our point of view but, then again, you just don’t know if it’s worth transporting someone that you liked from the past to people that might. . . perhaps like what he does now but it’s sort of defeating your point. Public Enemy certainly was not missing our point. But it’s stuff like really, really subtle things like Baby Ford being on there - he’s still around and still really cool but he stretches way, way back for us, more than many people on this list, and yet people might overlook that. It might not be immediately obvious why we’ve chosen some people, that’s just the way it works.
O.M. People might not be aware of the history?
R.B. Yeah, or just the relationship that we have and how we see things. It might just be that, as we mix it up, Farmersmanual might sound more hip hop than Thirstin Howl or that. . . The Fall might sound more having it than, I don’t know, Aphex Twin or something.
O.M. It’s interesting, like you’re kind of saying, this linkage between hip hop and electronic music, say, it works but it might not be the most obvious pairing in the minds of some people. Do you think that it’s all about experimentation?
R.B. I think it’s about stimuli and context. I mean, someone like Zoviet France, we got into them through a friend much later on and found that we totally cross over and ended up performing live within four or five months of knowing each other. There are special things like that illustrated in this line-up, even Carl Craig, he invited us to the Detroit Music Festival last year and it wouldn’t have been the sort of line-up that we’d have had on. . . not forgetting what he’s doing and responsible for in the past, he can still work a crowd, he’s still got soul, he’s still totally. . . mainstream, in a way. But everyone can totally recognise that, he’s a kind of universal person.
O.M. So, there’s some of the big boys of techno there - say, Carl Craig, Aphex, LFO, Surgeon, Baby Ford. Is that what you’re considering the finest of that music at the moment?
R.B. Not at the moment but of all time! I think that’s a lot of that. There are certain relationships that glow here, for us. I think it would have been difficult for anyone else to have put it together.
O.M. Was LFO an immediately obvious choice for you?
R.B. Yeah, yeah. It was like, if possible, Mark Bell to do LFO, that kind of thing. . . then, G-Man [Gez Varley of LFO] is on later as well, two hours later. And Surgeon, Drexciyan DJ Stingray. . . I suppose it’s just all flavours that we’ve always been charmed by. It’s funny, people do sound diverse when listening but I forget sometimes that that’s the way people are, it’s what you’re into and what you can attribute to people around you, different stimuli that you might otherwise take for granted. At shows, sometimes, when people approach you and they really rate your work. . . it’s weird on the receiving end but I’d gladly go and bend Baby Ford’s ear, like in 1989 in a club, and give him all the ‘You’re brill!’ bit. I think it’s been about relaxing and being honest with ourselves, just like with our music, and hope that people dig it.
O.M. Do you see ATP as some kind of big-style DIY jam, then, with people all doing their own thing but together?
R.B. It is kind of DIY in that it’s been cobbled together by some bloke who doesn’t have to make a living being a promoter, that’s a definite angle. The lovely Barry’s there to just about underpin it so it works but yeah, it’s a total DIY thing. I’ve got a lot of respect for the ATP format in itself - once you’re under the microscope, trying to come up with something good then there’s a lot of energy there. O.M. It puts everyone on an equal footing.
R.B. Yeah, yeah, so they can all shine! That’s what we’re hoping for, that’s one thing that might come across. You’re taking into account the audience as well when you’re picking the performers so it’s not just a studio act where you could just do a compilation CD and send it out to all the fans instead of doing an ATP. I think the fact that they’re all there at the same time.
O.M. Playing together, in effect.
R.B. Yeah. And sharing the same space, I mean it’s quite a tight little environment.
O.M. People will be reacting to the people who’ve played before them and so on. . .
R.B. Yeah, I hate the normal festival way where you’ve got no time for soundchecks, you just roll on, you’ve got no time to get down to who you are and what you’re supposed to be doing there. This was a bit of a pain in the neck because we didn’t want people too close together. . .
O.M. But by the very nature of it, you have to?
R.B. Yeah, there will be little bumps and clumps here and there but, hopefully, the quality of the music will make up for it.
O.M. Your new album is coming out the day after ATP, which is neat. Was that an Autechre idea?
R.B. Kind of. . . it was easy to allow it to happen. If you’ve just finished an album and you hand it in, you know it’s going to be three or four months before it’s in the shops. This, it happens to be the 7th of April and it’s called Draft 7 and it’s our seventh album so that’s all kind of coincidental. It’s quite nice and it made perfect sense.
O.M. What have the initial reactions been?
R.B. Well, there’s been a really diverse set of reactions to it. The first few reactions were relief that it’s a bit more accessible and then some people were ‘Oh no, fucking hell, how did you get it so dark?’ Obviously, everyone’s got their own take on it, which is healthy.
O.M. I’ve only had a chance to hear it three times and I’ve had a different take on it each time I’ve listened to it.
R.B. Well, good. They’re all totally fresh tracks. There were a few that were kind of starting when ‘Confield’ was out but it’s all fresh.
O.M. Any new software?
R.B. No, it’s kind of far from it, in a way. A lot of the ‘Confield’ album, maybe quarter or a half of it, we’d spend three weeks building a program to actuate a certain complex set of music to our design or specifications, control it by limiting certain parameters, then you have to guide things into one place you want it. This time, it’s kind of learning to follow the dynamics. . . that kind of way of building stuff back then, it’s time-consuming. It spits out thousands and thousands of permutations to your specifications, you find yourself chopping thiings up and putting them together but... also exploring dynamics, mathematical dynamics that you want your music to benefit from. And now you can sort of sit back and program it all by hand, knowing what all those dynamics sound like and not have to worry about whether you can manipulate one little spot in an algorithm, when that algorithm is worthless if you start messing with it.
O.M. Right! So, er, you’ve managed to narrow it down to processes that you’re familiar with and are comfortable with?
R.B. It’s just not using loads of new software anymore, it’s using stuff we’ve had for ages up till 3 years ago when Confield came out and just getting to know it so well, that we can make the studio kind of transparent, in a way. When we want to do something, we can just do it now.
O.M. It’s bit easier this time round? Not spending weeks looking for a sound?
R.B. Yeah, yeah. Not spending weeks on one thing and then pressing ‘go’, and seeing what it comes out with. This time, it’s more like experimenting within a range, really thinking hard about where things go and whether it’s the right place.
O.M. Would you say you’ve felt much more in control with this album?
R.B. Yeah, totally. It’s just way more sort of. . . up there, to take.
O.M. Have you found that more satisfying?
R.B. Every album is. But we’re maybe a bit more satisfied this time because we know it all a lot better. Also, that we’re talking about it straight away. Normally, you might go on tour after an album and then speak to people about it, maybe three or four months later, you’re back at home on the phone and someone’s like, ‘So, your new album..’ and you’re like, ‘What?’ You’re already working on new stuff. So, we’re still very well acquainted with it at the moment. As for our attitude and software and all that, it’s stuff like wiring a 202 and 606 drum machine together with a TV cable, or wiring things up backwards, getting the back off a little sampler and joining the dots on the chips, it’s just sometimes you can get software to do it and sometimes you’re a slave to it. I think we’ve got the best of both worlds, software we’re really comfortable with and doesn’t get in the way of what we do.
O.M. Finally, just getting back to ATP quickly, would you rather have the appreciation from the critics or the punters?
R.B. The punters, really. It is a party. It’s not like a Chinese banquet where you just spin the wheel and see what takes your fancy. We do really care about all this stuff, so. . . yeah, there’s just so much going on. It should be really good.
O.M. Thanks for your time, Rob.
R.B. No problem.