When I picked up the phone from my Detroit studio, I answer to a think British accent, one that I can't quite place with my mid-west ears. It is actually a Manchester twang, more specifically an accent straight out of city called Sheffield, located a few hours north of Londn. Sheffield, England is an industrial town much like Detroit, it happens to baost a collective of well know electronic musicians...
...Arguably, the duo Autechre is amongst the most talked about in recent months. Twenty-six year old Sean Booth is one half of the group that the media can't quite put a finger on. During our conversation we talk about the usual stuff, like the weather, the great Michigan snowstorm of '99 ("Ahh shit you're up north as well," he says) and Autechre's recent fascination with trees. He's calling me from his studio. Rob Brown', the other half of Autechre, is in the background, presumably tinkering with gear, while Sean fields my question. Sean is blunt to the point and definitely not hesitant to talk about what's on his mind. Maybe he is frank because Autechre has attracted all kinds of quirky commentary, as one DJ put it, riding on "a thin line between stupid and clever" or as one writer put it, "visceral yet rhythmically complex, melodic yet otherworldly." Autechre have compiled a prolific set of albums in the past few years, including, Incunablula, Tri Repetae, Autechre and the Peel Sessions, released last February. So far, experimental might be the best label for their music. "I think that genres are obviously like totally hilarious," Sean says. With the myriad of responses to Autechre's schizophrenic rhythms, it's safe to say that their music qualifies as unique, which is one of their aspirations, Sean says. "We're just trying to be different and not like that's the only reason we exist, but in terms of being artists and being on the same label. You've got strive to be yourself. It's trying to stand on the right side of the line." In their quest for artistic innovation, Autechre has steadily gathered a devoted fan base, but success did not come as a shock to Sean.
"As a kid, I really thought I could do it," he says. "I knew that it could take leaps and bound. It was really encouraging. We were well into hip hop. It was kind of like we just knew there were people who were going to be into what we are doing." Sean and Rob joined forces over a decade ago, sharing a fondness for hip hop and Juan Atkins. "We didn't know what the connections were at the time. To me it was like a good acid record was as good as Juan Atkins doing a good electro record. There was a time where it was all the same thing. Now there's 20 genre names for hip hop that shouldn't even be there." The music scene in Sheffield was a big local influence, but they paid particular attention to trail blazing Detroit music. "Mike Banks, loads of UR, Red Planet, all Derrick May Carl Craig. We've got loads of Direct Beat. It's major part of out intellect," Sean says of his influences. Sean and Rob joined forces in 1987, sharing musical taste, a creative bond, common friends, and for a time, the same living space. "It's difficult, I mean we do spend a lot of time working together." Yet, their friendship hasn't gotten in the way of their music, Sean says, "because we both know what we should do." "I think everybody has different inclinations. I think Rob and I help each other guide things in a certain direction," he says. "There is generally a fifty-fifty split between the amount of work that goes into a track." Their approach has garnished them some unexpected attention, from the likes of Nine Inch Nails kingpin, Trent Resnor, who also picked up Squarepusher, another Sheffield producer and Warp Records recording artist, for Nothing. "We reckon its hilarious. It's really interesting working with him. It's a learning exercise as much as anything," Sean says of Resnor. "I don't know what's going to happen with it. It 's a long time going and it's like after that, whatever, if someone comes along and offers you a ridiculous amount of money. It's much more than we needed, but it's like it's turned out really useful because we've managed to get everything going." They've also attracted attention from the Sony Japan powerhouse. "I don't have any qualms about taking money from these people," he adds. "Yeah, as you said, we're lucky as fuck.." After considerable success in breakthrough world markets, Autechre is hungry to keep going, spending 12 to 15 hours a day in their studio. They listen to records at all times of the day, like most musician types, staying up all night working out tracks until dawn. "We're used to getting up here early as well. I was getting up at 3 in the morning or 4 in the morning. Then its like you feel you have a personal life."
For Sean, time in the studio is crucial."I think if you give yourself time to develop you start finding things out," he says.. "I think its well worthwhile spending more time, maybe than is necessary." But is the young group getting burned out by the demands placed on them by the media or their label? It does not seem to be the case. "Our main problem is getting the ideas down, because we have too many," Sean says. "Every track we do sounds different from the last one anyway. Occasionally there's period where you find yourself doing similar tracks." They generally devote more time to creating new music than to promoting and performing. ""We do have a booking agent, she calls us every few days. We'd rather be working," he says. "We haven't done any gigs for like 8 months. We're going to do more, obviously." (Summer's a better time for touring, I say. "No, he answers, "all the best club nights, all the best stuff goes on in winter." Okay, I speculated wrongly.) Part of the reason, Sean and Rob maintain discipline is that they are able to actually focus on creating new music on a full-time basis. "We've got a mate who's got a label and he's real trustworthy. We don't have to run a label for ourselves which is pretty lucky really, quite a luxury. Running a label is very stressful. Like seriously, you've got to know what you're doing. If you're trying to make music, I think you're stronger doing what you're doing." So maybe it's their success that has inspired them to keep going, but again I am wrong. Sean makes it clear, they do it for themselves.
"I might consider like, a person. I don't consider like, a thousand people. You can't consider 20,000 people who are into the sort of things we're into, he says. "You can't really reach out with people. We don't really make an effort to try. That's not really the sort of people we are. We want people to feel good. I just don't know if we do it the same as everyone else." So they let their guts guide their music. "I think its important to do whatever you feel it is you have to do. If you feel like you should do 50 different types of records, then you should do that." At the end of the day, like true musicians, Autechre has what they set out to do, to make the music they want to hear. "That's what its there for. When I listen to tracks from ten years ago, I find so much out about myself that I just would never would have known at that age."
So in their unforeseen path to stardom, Autechre opts for the Underground ideology. "We're just never going to compromise what we do musically. It's the only thing that will remain solid, what we do, no matter what happens."
So back to the trees. Trees and Autechre. Sean sums up the connection in his own words. Hmm, a guy who doesn't hold back.. I've just been getting into trees recently, the way that a tree branches - decisions, splits. I love Oak trees. The most amazing thing about plants is that they don't ever get old; they 're so much better than animals."