Autechre at Conne Island

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  • Around 9 PM on Monday, November 21st, anyone approaching Conne Island through its muddy, leaf-strewn garden was greeted with blood-curdling peels of noise shooting out the club's front door. This was Russell Haswell, then partway through a live set that called to mind a buzzsaw grinding through a chalkboard. Standing in darkness on the stage, shoulder-length hair pouring from his trucker hat, he dotted his bouts of noise with intervals of silence, a slightly different length every time, so you never knew exactly when that squealing and scraping would roar back in. By then the room was completely packed, with many people having long since claimed the square-foot of dance floor from which they'd be taking in the night's main act. Autechre play in total darkness, and the bars shut until they're finished. A state of relative motionlessness is encouraged. In a small club like Conne Island, this has an interesting effect. People formed a dense, unmoving block of bodies well ahead of time, ready to spend 60 minutes stewing in the duo's odd frequencies. They gladly endured Hasswell's visceral assault—he even got a few whistles. Skam Records founder Andy Maddocks came on for a quick DJ set next, cleansing the palette with breaky, rough-edged techno. And then, with little ado, Autechre started. The lights went down, and in rolled the first wave of fizzing, warbling sounds. Aside from the music—which was widely considered to be particularly good on this tour—the most fun part of Autechre concerts is the crowd's reaction. Rarely, if ever, does such weird music get such an ebullient response. At anything quintessentially Autechre—squishy low-end, slurping rhythms, drum fills that sound like machinery falling down a flight of stairs—people lose their shit. Sounds that can only be described in onomatopoeia—"gjjjrrrr-zzzzsccchllooooorrrphh" and what have you—are received like virtuosic guitar solos, with two-handed whistles and male voices shouting "YEAHHH!" As the music rolls through the darkness, some people fall into a semi-dream state—I spent most of it with my eyes closed, and was surprised to see how far I'd drifted across the dance floor when it was over. Others stay more actively engaged, rocking their shoulders and going for the occasional fist-pump. I had to admire the crew of punks next to me, two girls and a guy, who enjoyed a three-way kiss for the first 20 minutes or so of the set, arm in arm as if in a huddle, wobbling from side to side. The performance unfurled like a carefully paced sequence of scenes. Sometimes it evolved slowly and imperceptibly; in a few memorable moments, it changed all at once. The best of these came about halfway through, when a cascade of descending synth tones blew in out of nowhere, driving the crowd nuts even before the arrival of what, at the time, sounded like a standard techno beat (the only one of the night). Another climax was the hellish church organ stabs near the end, which created a kind of call-and-response (ORGAN-"whoo!"—ORGAN-"whoo!" ). But it's a testament to Autechre's extraordinary artistry that the crowd didn't really live for these big moments. They were equally in thrall to the most rhythmless pockets of the hour-long set, happy to loll around in the soup of this seminal duo's music, which, a quarter-century since it first appeared on record, remains as modern, entrancing and exquisitely strange as anything you'll ever hear.