Last week we witnessed two nights of the European tour of Autechre.
Getting really busy these last years, the duo toured in 2015 and released nine of those live recordings through their new online shop. This year they managed to release Elseq-1-5, their 12th studio album, a mammoth outing split into five parts that clocks in at over four hours long, released only digitally. And they decided to do an extensive tour of more than 25 dates, joined by the support of two old fellas – also partners in some of the Gescom projects, Andy Maddocks, founder of SKAM records, and Russel Haswell, the noise wizard that often releases on Editions Mego.
Of course there are always two sides of the story when talking about Autechre, and we’re not going to dwell a lot into explaining why they happen to be probably the most interesting live act in electronic music to witness at the moment. First impressions on their music from a non-experienced listener could be ‘oh but that’s not music!’ or ‘c’mon, it’s just random noise’. We find those reactions quite similar to the ones by people who listened to techno or even rock and roll for the first time – more than half a century ago. Once you get to see the forest, words can’t really help to describe the feeling.
The thing about Autechre is that they still remain fresh and ahead of their time, after almost 30 years of releasing music. And they were climbing the highest mountains since their beginning in 1987. This year they decided to erase the limits of a physical format release, and that’s why some of the tracks on Elseq are almost half an hour long. It’s like they decided to please their most devoted fans, and also decided to do it quickly. If it’s digital, what you receive is fresher than what you get on a physical format – and that’s what they are aiming to do nowadays.
But let’s try to describe their own forest based on the shows that we saw. Tallin (it was their first time ever in Estonia) and Helsinki.
The one in Estonia was a bit more intimate. It took place at the Von Krahl Theater, right in the center of the utterly beautiful old city of Tallin. It was a sold out event, but the venue held no more than 250 – 300 people. Snow all that week served as a good background to what was coming next. You see, November is the worst month to go to Estonia, unless the snow starts early that year, then you shift from dirty sludge to white magic and soothing acoustic foot-sounds. Is it just me who finds a connection between northern locations and weird music?
Skam founder Andy Maddocks started at 7pm for an audience that was starting to build up, and by that we mean just a handful of people sitting on the floor on a room that was already prepared for the main show. Long black curtains were placed over the walls, and only the warm up had some lights on it, signs on the walls warned people that no pictures or flash were allowed during Autechre’s concert.
Back to Maddocks, his first appearance consisted of a merge of ambience and deepness that truly pleased the audience, by the end of his set the room was full, but half the people were still seated, and it remained that way until Russell Haswell went on stage.
He greeted the audience by informing us that he was advised to start with a drink, so he opened a bottle popping up the cork and got deep into his hardware-based intense-noise spectacle. Offering probably the most experimental part of the whole show at Von Krahl, it felt cold, loud, sharp, and lacerating. It was clever to have Andy Maddocks back on stage for a short DJ set before Autechre, and probably their whole tour was planned that way, as Finland was the same. And this time, with everyone standing, Maddocks went from ‘trap?’ to bass music and faster BPM’s, generating high expectations for what was about to happen.
How to start describing Autechre live? Yes, they are still playing with no lights at all, so you literally have nothing to see, you don’t even see the person standing next to you. They’ve said more than once that this is as close as you can get to listening music through headphones, and they might be probably right. Autechre is a spectacle for the imagination.
Warm textures and smooth sounds from the start, it’s like discovering a new range of the colour spectrum, but in sound. It felt like an exploration in sound dissection, with emerging subdivided drums coming in from time to time, or diverse tones that would eventually form something close to a melody. At some point you might realize that there are ostinatos’ happening with the whole structure of what they are playing, and then everything clicks, and your brain goes on ecstasy. There are no Ableton Live pads for what they do, everything is programmed in MAX, so it takes ages to generate the main source that they will use to play live, and make everything emerge to the surface. It sounds blurry and acoustically clean at the same time.
Witnessing more than one performance of the same tour helps a lot to see the forest too. Even though it would seem that they played a similar mix, it felt very different in Helsinki. The sound system was more intense, like a Funktion One sounding loud – that extreme. The audience was at least twice as big as in Estonia, since the event took place at Tavastia Klubi, one of the most famous clubs in Finland. And there I got the impression that they actually shift according to the place they are in.
The second night felt rawer, with pretty much no mixing at all between the tracks. A track would end and very suddenly the other would start, like a slap in the face. I was accompanied in both shows by someone who’s never heard anything similar before, and her reaction in Tallin was mellow, and in Helsinki she felt literally like running away from the city, its machines and its complexity, to the forest, where humans haven’t messed up that much already. So an intense experience is guaranteed with Autechre, either way.
Highlights? Anything similar or resembling Elseq? It’s hard to describe, but their set last year at Sónar Festival had some moments that would be later put out on Elseq, and on this actual tour, it could have felt a bit like Elseq on the Tallin show, at least like the 5th part of Elseq, the mellow or the least-dissected one.
The real highlight came around three quarters into the show on both presentations. It was an intense sequence of notes that resembled an absolutely massive pipe-organ, and it’s timbre would be something coming from the process of aging throughout time, generating dissonance in some of the most intense notes, and a mix of nostalgia and intensity that would shake your brain. This formed a great melody that submerged and drowned into an autechrian swamp while being played. People went crazy at that part, and trust me, it’s not that easy to make these audiences look very excited. In Helsinki they were shouting.