Autechre is an English electronic music duo consisting of Rob Brown and Sean Booth, both from Rochdale, Greater Manchester, England. Formed in 1987, they're one of the most popular acts signed to the Warp Records label, known for its pioneering electronic music and through which all of Autechre's albums have been released.
While heavily associated with IDM (intelligent dance music), Booth and Brown are ambivalent about relating their sound to established genres. Their music has exhibited a gradual shift in aesthetic throughout their career, from their earlier work with clear roots in techno, house and electro, to later albums that are often considered experimental in nature, featuring complex patterns of rhythm and subdued melodies.
Autechre has additionally recorded under various pseudonyms. One of the duo's earliest recordings was a 12" single released under the alias Lego Feet in 1991 by Skam Records. The majority of releases by the umbrella project Gescom have been attributed to Booth and Brown, among additional artists. One recent critic stated that Autechre create "some of the most complicated music you could ever hope to drown in" and are "recognized as pioneers in experimental music".
Booth and Brown pronounce the name Autechre with a Rochdale accent (// aw-TEK-ər). Notwithstanding they have explained that the name can be pronounced in any way one sees fit. Booth explains: "The first two letters were intentional, because there was an 'au' sound in the track, and the rest of the letters were bashed randomly on the keyboard. We had this track title for ages, and we had written it on a cassette, with a few graphics. It looked good, and we began using it as our name."
Early years (1987–1992)
Brown and Booth met through Manchester's graffiti scene in 1987 when they both lived in Rochdale. Heavily influenced by electro and house, they began trading mixtapes and then creating their own compositions while collecting a handful of cheap equipment, most notably a Casio SK-1 sampler and a Roland TR-606 drum machine. Their first release was Lego Feet, a 12" recorded under an alias of the same name brought out by Manchester's Skam Records. Their first release as Autechre was the single "Cavity Job" in 1991, released on Hardcore Records. Two more tracks appeared throughout the following year, under the now finalised Autechre name, on the Warp Records compilation Artificial Intelligence, part of the series of the same name. The compilation contained "The Egg", later reworked for their first full-length release under the title "Eggshell".
Incunabula and Amber (1993–1994)
In 1993 Warp released their debut album, Incunabula, which became a surprise success, reaching the top of the UK Indie Chart. The album had a cool, calculated feel, with clear techno and electro roots, but additionally showed hints of the rhythmic flourishes and tuned percussion that would later become an important feature of their work. An EP of remixes of Incunabula's "Basscadet" was released the following year, with a video for the song created by Jess Scott-Hunter. 1994 additionally saw the release of Amber, an album featuring a more ambient, less percussive approach than their debut.
The Anti EP was released shortly before Amber and is as yet the only Autechre release to have an explicit purpose: it was a protest against the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which would prohibit raves, defined as any gathering of nine or more people where rave music is played. Rave music was defined as music which "includes sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats". The record came wrapped in a seal, on which was printed a legal warning: "Flutter has been programmed in such a way that no bars contain identical beats and can therefore be played at both forty five and thirty three revolutions under the proposed new law. However we advise DJs to have a solicitor and musicologist present at all times to confirm the non repetitive nature of the music in the event of police harassment."
In a 2008 interview with Pitchfork Media, Rob Brown mentioned that Incunabula and Amber retrospectively sounded "cheesy". Brown later clarified that he was trying to say "how they were perhaps more simple, but not in a shit way."
Tri Repetae, Chiastic Slide, and LP5 (1995–1999)
1995 saw the release of Tri Repetae, their third album, as well as the EPs Anvil Vapre and Garbage. Featuring a monochrome cover designed by The Designers Republic, with whom Autechre have long held a close association. Tri Repetae and its associated EPs were combined into a two disc set entitled Tri Repetae++, which was released in the United States. An official promotional video was created for "Second Bad Vilbel" from Anvil Vapre by English visual artist Chris Cunningham (his first). The "Second Bad Vilbel" video featured rapidly cut shots of industrial machinery and robotic movement, synchronised with the music. Cunningham later re-edited the video in 2002, following his disappointment with the original: "It was intended to be completely abstract but it didn't quite work out that way". A two track vinyl-only EP entitled We R Are Why, similar in style to Tri Repetae, was available to buy throughout certain concerts and via mail order throughout 1996.
Autechre released three records in 1997: the full length Chiastic Slide, and the EPs Envane, and Cichlisuite (pronounced "sickly sweet"). The latter EP consists of five remixed versions of "Cichli" from Chiastic Slide. Radio Mix was additionally released in 1997; a rare CD-only promotional recording, it contains an hour-long DJ mix of additional artists' tracks, a few of them remixed by Autechre, as well as a short interview edited at times to the point of incomprehensibility.
An untitled record (typically known as LP5 or simply Autechre) followed in 1998. It has been seen as a transitional work, with Brown commenting in 2005 that "a lot of people have cited it as a classic Autechre album because it bridges the gap between the guys who liked our old stuff and the guys who got propelled on to our new stuff."
1999 saw the release of their first Peel session EP, consisting of three tracks broadcast on John Peel's show for BBC Radio 1 in October 1995, as well as a vinyl-only limited edition promotional EP entitled Splitrmx12. 1999 additionally saw EP7, which is classed by the group as an EP notwithstanding being over an hour in length.
Confield, Draft 7.30, and Untilted (2000–2007)
The new millennium brought about a drastic change in Autechre's style, demonstrated by Confield (2001) and Draft 7.30 (2003), as well as the Gantz Graf EP (2002). The title track from Gantz Graf inspired an iconic video by British designer Alex Rutterford, featuring an object (or an agglomeration of objects) synchronised to the music as it morphs, pulsates, shakes, and finally dissolves. Rutterford, who had previously created an unofficial video for the Tri Repetae track "Eutow" as part of the Channel 4 music programme Lo-Fi in 2001, claimed the idea for the "Gantz Graf" video came throughout one of his LSD trips. The second Autechre Peel session EP was additionally released in 2002, containing four tracks broadcast in 1999, named by John Peel himself. Autechre released two collaborative albums with Andrew M. McKenzie's Hafler Trio collective throughout the following three years (see collaborations).
The reactions by both professional critics and fans to the release of Confield were mixed, though generally positive. According to Sean Booth, "most of Confield came out of experiments with Max that weren't really applicable in a club environment." In contrast, 2003's Draft 7.30 was seen by a few as an easier record to grasp. Booth stated in an interview around the release of Draft 7.30 that "[rhythm] doesn't seem to limit us in the way it did when we first started. Now I think we just get it, we're totally fluent in it and can be more expressive."
Untilted (a play on the word "untitled"), the duo's eighth album, was released in 2005. It roughly continued the sound of their previous two LPs, though featured compositions that mutated greatly throughout their duration, typically alternating between passages of ambience and heavily processed, precise beats, such as on "Ipacial Section". Its final track, "Sublimit", is at almost sixteen minutes Autechre's longest composition to feature on any of their albums until 2016's elseq 1-5. The release of Untilted was followed by a two-month tour that took the group around Europe, America and Japan, but withdrew them from studio work for an unusual length of time. The outcome of this, coupled with a forced change in studio setup, was a gap of three years between releases, longer than ever before.
Quaristice, Oversteps, and Exai (2008–2013)
Their ninth album, Quaristice, was released in early 2008. In contrast to Untilted, it is made up of twenty tracks, more than any additional Autechre release, each typically around 2–5 minutes in length. The download-only Quaristice.Quadrange.ep.ae EP that accompanies it (as well as the Versions bonus disc and three tracks released exclusively through the Japanese iTunes Store) brings the total length of music released throughout their Quaristice era to over five hours. Among this is the hour-long "Perlence subrange 6-36" that closes the EP. Each track on Quaristice was edited down from lengthy improvised sessions between Booth and Brown, a few of which were released in longer versions on Quaristice. Quadrange.ep.ae. Although Sean Booth has stated that the FLAC release of Quaristice is the actual product, the album was additionally released by Warp Records as a double LP and a single CD as well as an elaborate two CD edition by Warp Records. Limited to only 1000 copies, and containing both the regular album and Quaristice (Versions), this special edition was packaged in a photo-etched steel case. It sold out within 12 hours of being announced.
On 13 January 2010, Warp Records announced Oversteps, Autechre's tenth album. Originally slated to be released in March, it was released a month early in digital form on Bleep.com to those who preordered it; the CD and deluxe vinyl editions were released on 22 March 2010. A two-month European tour occurred in support of the album, followed by limited shows in Japan and Australia, the latter breaking a 15-year absence. Autechre then compiled a mix for the magazine FACT, released in February of the same year, that consisted of tracks by artists such as J Dilla and Necrophagist. On 25 May 2010, Warp Records announced the ten track Move of Ten, an EP by the duo in conjunction with the release of Oversteps. The digipack CD and the two 12" vinyl version, as well as a digital download, was released on 12 July 2010.
In April 2011 a boxset of EPs entitled EPs 1991 - 2002 (excluding Move of Ten) was released, with artwork from the Designers Republic. It includes a CD copy of their debut EP, Cavity Job, the first time it has been released on the format. In 2011 as part of Warp's 'Made in Japan' relief concert for the victims of the 2011 Sendai earthquake, an eleven-minute piece was released entitled '6852', possibly part of a previous live recording.
The eleventh studio album entitled Exai was released on 5 March 2013, having been available for download from the official website as of Valentine's Day, 14 February 2013. The duo announced their fourteenth EP L-Event on 17 September 2013, which was released on 28 October 2013.
AENA tour, AE_LIVE, and elseq 1–5 (2014–present)
During 2015, the duo embarked on a tour across North America, marketed as AENA. The tour was officially announced on the Warp Records website on 25 May 2015 but promotional material (specifically the logos for the upcoming tour) can be found that was released on 13 August 2014. On 29 October 2015 members of the Autechre mailing list were given invite-only permission to download a live recording from the duo titled AE_LIVE, a collection of 4-hour-long soundboard recordings of a series of concerts that took place in 2014. On 1 November 2015 a Bleep.com substore opened up giving the public the ability to purchase and download the collection.
On 13 May 2016 a new Autechre track under the title of feed1 was played on Tom Ravencroft's late evening show on BBC 6 Music after an announcement made on the Warp Records Twitter feed which was accompanied by a piece of geometric album art. On 18 May 2016 a second new track was played on KSUA, an Alaskan student radio station, again announced in a tweet by Warp. Afterwards, Warp released the snippet of the Autechre song on their soundcloud under the title "c16 deep tread". On 19 May 2016 their twelfth studio album was released under the name "elseq 1-5" on Autechre's AE_STORE_ page.
A wide variety of influences have been noted as discernible in Autechre's music. The duo's roots in tagging, early hip-hop and electro music, and b-boy culture in general are still evident, with a large number of reviews noting hip-hop rhythms—sometimes heavily obscured or processed, and at times explicit even in later work. All of Autechre's live webcasts have featured large amounts of early hip-hop and electro. In a review of Oversteps, The Wire noted "Treale" as being "a reminder of Booth and Brown's musical apprenticeship as teenage B-boys". As Autechre's music and studio setup progressed, reviews started to note influences from farther afield; experiments in algorithmic and generative synthesis, musique concrète, and FM synthesis drew comparisons with Iannis Xenakis, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Bernard Parmegiani from critics such as Paul Morley. Autechre additionally cite Coil as a major influence, with an unfinished collaboration of unknown completeness occurring around the release of LP5 and EP7.
Autechre use a large number of different digital synths and a few analog synths in their production, as well as analogue and digital drum machines, mixers, effects units and samplers. They have additionally made extensive use of a variety of computer based sequencers, software synthesisers, and additional applications as a means of controlling those synths and processing the synthesised sounds. Much of the hardware and software they use has been customised by the band themselves. Autechre have additionally experimented in depth with development environments such as Max/MSP, and Kyma, amongst others, from 1997 onwards, though it is unclear which are still in use. From 2005 until 2009, they have used the Elektron Machinedrum and Monomachine, alongside Akai MPC and Nord Modular in their live performances. It has additionally been rumoured that Autechre have used military equipment in their work. In 2008, Sean Booth reported that if he were locked in a cell for a year with only one piece of software and one piece of hardware, he'd "probably take a copy of Digital Performer and an AKG C 1000 microphone." Other machines that Autechre have repeatedly mentioned in interviews are appreciated for their interface and aesthetics as much as their sound, including the Roland TR-606 and MC-202, and the Nord Lead.
Collaborations, remixes and covers
Both Booth and Brown are known to have been heavily involved with the majority of releases by the mysterious Gescom collective, although Booth admitted in an interview that around 20-30 musicians overall are connected with what he describes as an "umbrella project". Three elaborately packaged albums (æ³o & h³æ, æo³ & ³hæ, and ha³oe & ah³eo) have been made by Autechre in collaboration with Andrew M. McKenzie's ongoing Hafler Trio project. These albums are significantly more minimal than any additional Autechre release, featuring dense, claustrophobic and noisy drones. A track called "Elephant Gear", credited to both Autechre and Canadian breakcore musician Venetian Snares under the alias AEVSVS, was released on a compilation in tribute to Elektron co-founder Daniel Hansson, who died in a car accident. Autechre have collaborated with several artists for live performances, including Zoviet France, Fennesz and Roedelius 3. Telepathics Meh In-Sect Connection, an album by Sean Booth in collaboration with Mika Vainio of Pan Sonic and Kouhei Matsunaga, was released in early 2010.
The compilation CD The Only Blip Hop Record You Will Ever Need, Vol.1, issued in 2002 by David Byrne's Luaka Bop Records, contains a cover version of "gnit" performed by Marie + Scratch. It is performed using only human voice samples.
Autechre have been involved with radio after their early days, originally spinning for IBC Radio, a Manchester pirate radio station in 1991, where they had their own show playing Belgian techno alongside their own demos. Later they would appear as part of Gescom for their weekly "Disengage" show on Manchester's Kiss FM.
Autechre have streamed exceptionally long live DJ mixes as webcasts to coincide with the release of four albums so far:
- A nearly nine-hour live mix on 10–11 April 2005 (GMT) to coincide with the release of Untilted.
- A twelve-hour live stream on 23–24 February 2008 to coincide with the release of Quaristice.
- A twelve-and-a-half-hour live stream spanning 6pm-6.30 am (GMT) on 2–3 March 2010 to coincide with the release of Oversteps.
- Two separate ten-hour live streams from 8pm-6am (GMT) on 2 and 3 March 2013 to coincide with the release of Exai.