Autechre hits the road with influential electronica
Autechre is one of the standard-bearers of the last 25 years of electronic music. The British duo (pronounced Au-teck-er) has long been revered for its complex, innovative sounds. Its many admirers include high-profile groups like Radiohead; Thom Yorke named Autechre as a key inspiration behind the electronics-infused album “Kid A.”
“We’re part of the establishment,” jokes Sean Booth, who founded the duo with Rob Brown in 1987. “I don’t feel like I am when I’m in my little room with equipment. I feel like a complete loner. But [our music] gets subsumed. It gets incorporated into the mainstream.”
It’s hard to tell Autechre’s story without also mentioning its record label, the British powerhouse Warp Records. Autechre was one of the first acts to sign with the Sheffield label in 1992, and released its debut album, “Incunabula,” in 1993. Autechre has released many albums since then, including the critically acclaimed breakthrough “Tri Repetae” (1995), the experimental, cerebral “Confield” (2001), and the most recent release, “Exai” (2013).
Along with fellow Warp acts like Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada, the group was tagged by the press in the 1990s as being part of the wave of so-called “intelligent dance music,” or IDM — electronic music you couldn’t really dance to, best appreciated on headphones.
But the “IDM” moniker never seemed quite fair — and Autechre always despised the term. For one thing, lots of dance music is intelligent — and you certainly can dance to Autechre if you try. (During the band’s last show in the area, at the Middle East in 2008, many fans tried — however jerkily — to dance to the group’s blizzard of fractured rhythms.)
“We’ll never make music that’s compatible with the dance floor, because we don’t really like things that are compatible with anything,” says Booth, laughing.
Autechre’s members certainly know their way around the dance floor; they’re fantastic DJs, and grew up immersed in early hip-hop and electro. “We met through a mutual friend who was into the hip-hop, BMX, graffiti, and tagging scenes,” says Brown. Their early experiences with constructing DJ mixes informed their music. “We’re hardly turntablists, but we have a good idea of what’s involved in putting a record together — how it feels and how it flows.” (The pair recently released a wonderful four-hour mix of their favorite vintage hip-hop and electro tunes, created for the Dutch festival Dekmantel, and available for free download on Soundcloud.)
Interestingly, Brown and Booth view themselves as being part of the long continuum of hip-hop and electro. “We’re a weird continuation that fits in with electro, seen through the lens of modern dance music,” Booth explains. “Influences that are hard to chase because they’re quite disparate. It’s difficult. We’re what hip-hop might have been if it hadn’t become what it is now. When we started doing tracks, we thought hip-hop was becoming too narrow in its definition musically.”
The duo is mum about the prospect of a new album. But its current North American tour is a good sign that Autechre is staying active, and live shows are the best way to experience its unique brand of music. (The group plays the Paradise in Boston Sunday night and 3S Artspace in Portsmouth, N.H., on Oct. 5.) Booth and Brown often compose new music specifically for their concerts, and tailor the music specifically for the room they’re playing in. “It could be something as simple as a venue having something different acoustically — a different sized room, with different layout, different sound systems,” says Brown.
No two shows are exactly the same. “Some kick drums sound terrible in one room and amazing in another,” says Brown. “We end up inventing new material in that day before we get in the venue. We just get started with jamming.”
They are also famous for playing in the dark, with minimal or nonexistent lighting. Many big electronic acts, Brown laments, have become like pompous rock stars, strutting up and down on big stages awash in lights and eye-popping visuals. By turning the lights off, he says, the crowd can simply focus on the music, and not on the performers. “The lights-off thing wasn’t our idea,” says Brown. “It was just we got to the point after doing a lot of gigs, that we realized that the lights weren’t giving what we wanted.”
Besides, he says, playing in the dark led some listeners to have revelatory, almost psychedelic experiences. “People were having really visual experiences even with just music on,” says Brown. “We think our music sounds better if you’re in that kind of state — making it available, making it accessible.”
At Paradise Rock Club, Sunday at 7 p.m. Tickets: $22. 800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com
At 3S Artspace, Portsmouth, N.H., Monday at 8 p.m. Tickets: $18. 603-766-3330, www.3sartspace.org