Monday, April 14, 2008

Autechre makes a piece of electronic music history

IDM is a fickle genre of electronic music – come on, it stands for “Intelligent Dance Music”. There’s always a lot of debate as to whom or what truly fits into this genre and when it comes down to it, it’s more subjective than a matter of fact as to what is really considered to be IDM. But ask anyone familiar with the genre to name one artist who completely spearheads the genre and the response will most likely be Autechre. Going into the Abbey Pub to catch their live set, I knew it would be like nothing I’d ever seen or heard before. Even as a fan of their work, it was a little difficult to actually comprehend how they would manage to pull off a 45-minute to an hour long set of what they do on record (which is basically manipulating beats, soundscapes, and occasionally a melody or two into a track that can reach anywhere up to about 15 minutes long).

Before we could be treated to their set, the crowd had to bear witness to the sound collages of Massonix (aka Graham Massey, founding member of 808 State and also co-producer of Bjork’s “Post” album). Two songs into the set, it was a bit unclear of what Massonix was trying to accomplish. In fact, throughout his entire set, which was mostly laptop based, he used a guitar (to which someone in the crowd yelled, “Don’t do it!!”), a soprano saxophone, and a few keyboards. His set traversed the boundaries of quite a few genres, encompassing free jazz, big beat, drum ‘n bass, techno circa 1997, breakcore, and ambient. At the end of the set, I was left thinking that if Massey’s goal was to show the crowd that there’s more to him than ‘that guy from 808 State,’ he had definitely accomplished it. It wasn’t spectacular by any means, but it certainly was entertaining and also very interesting to hear where the production on Bjork’s “Army of Me” track came from as some of his beats sounded slightly reminiscent of that.

After Massonix left the stage, DJ Rob Hall took over with a laptop DJ set that successfully managed to build anticipation within the crowd for what was to come. 45 minutes later, the lights on the stage turned off and Autechre took the stage. Now, it’s essential to mention that when listening to Autechre, either live or on record, track names are unimportant (and at most times, indecipherable). With that said, it would’ve been impossible to really know if the guys in Autechre were performing a set of studio material or if it was all completely improvised. Like most of the artists on Warp Records (whose roster included Aphex Twin, LFO, and Jamie Lidell), when you go see them perform, you go for the experience and not to hear their “hits” or “popular songs.” The most pleasing part of Autechre’s set is that not one laptop was used to create their synthesis of harsh beats and minimal synth melodies. It really seemed like the Abbey Pub’s soundsystem was built for Autechre’s sound including those harsh beats. Each set of beats tore through the audience like a killer wave, all of which would crescendo into higher speeds throughout their time onstage. Performing in the dark for the duration of their show, Autechre really seemed like they wanted the emphasis to be put on the stuttering beats cascading out of the speakers . . . and with the beats hitting as hard as they were, it would’ve been impossible for anyone to pay attention to anything else anyway. After they left the stage, I felt like I had really witnessed something truly unique and groundbreaking; and upon the release of their first single in 1991, they really had broken ground into what would eventually be known as “IDM.” If you ever want to witness a piece of electronic music history, catching Autechre in a live setting is a great way to start. -Neil Miller, Jr.