I’ve been a huge fan of Autechre for a number of years. Autechre have taught us that rhythm is not only for dancing. Their sound is an unsolvable Rubik’s Cube, a constantly changing atomic mass of particles unable to merge into a cohesive whole. I keep coming back to Autechre because I’m desperate to solve their puzzle.
I finally got see Sean Booth and Rob Brown do their live thing a few years ago, at the time of their last proper release, Oversteps. Their live show was fucking horrible. They played in total darkness, the only light in the venue came from the exit signs and the bar fridges. The stage was somehow rigged up so that even Booth and Brown’s laptop screens didn’t light up their faces. The live set had none of the delicate nuances of their recorded output; instead they blasted out a never ending stream of collapsing percussion. For all I know they weren’t even on the stage. I gave up and left after 30 minutes.
At that time, Autechre had put out three mediocre releases (Quaristice, Oversteps and Move of Ten) which all veered towards middle-of-the-road synthesised trip hop and after that disappointing live show I thought it was the end of our relationship.
Thank god that Exai, a two hour double album, has redeemed them. Exai is like a trip back to 2001, and while I’m not normally one to celebrate musicians looking backwards I’m thrilled that the boys have returned to form. After 11 albums and numerous eps, I’d say most fans of weirdo music have chosen which side of the Autechre fence they’re on. I’m not going to try and convince anyone to give them a go, but if you’ve been a fan at any point in their career now is the time to rediscover them.
Where Quaristice (2007), Oversteps (2010) and Move of Ten (2010) were records that downplayed percussion to highlight drone and melody, Exai finds them merging that phase with the non-sensical beats they’re famous for. Early on, melody was important to Autechre and their rhythms were somewhat conventional, danceable fare. By the time Confield was released, melody was being buried beneath prickly shards of percussion. On Exai, the two sides of Autechre are in constant friction with each other and the tension is palpable.
Exai explodes with frenzied blasts of angular data, underpinned by suitably doomed synth washes and Nueromancer style nightmares. It makes me want to live in an apocalyptic future where battered Drones swoop through decayed cities and we’re all plugged directly into the internet as food for machines.
Mind you, I don’t think I’ll ever bother seeing Autechre live again.