- The raviest of Autechre's 19 live sets, all released simultaneously last month.
- Around 13 minutes into AE_LIVE_ASHEVILLE_081015, a pileup of itchy scribbles and horn-like tones reach an extraordinary density. It's a moment in which Sean Booth and Rob Brown take their place in the avant-garde firmament right next to innovative jazz players like Cecil Taylor and Albert Ayler. Then, less than two minutes later, a spanking booty electro beat and flatulent bassline spring out, surrounded by digital birdsong. It's pure rave. Utterly psychedelic, discombobulated, maddeningly unpredictable rave, but rave nonetheless. The crucial thing, though, is that there's no boundary between the two surges of sound. One grows out of the other naturally. Both are part of the same process, and all of it is totally Autechre.
If you want a way into the duo's recently released 19 hours of live recordings, this set is a perfect starting place. Of all the shows, it's the one—recorded at The Orange Peel in Asheville, North Carolina—where they seem to cut loose the most, the one where you hope the audience was suitably charged up, the one where, if you're a fan, you'll most wish you had been there for. And if you're not a fan, it's the perfect trial by fire to make you work out whether you can become one. You just need to put yourself in that rave frame of mind, because this is them at their highest energy. The purring one-note bassline at 20 minutes, and the one made from waves of liquid acid ten minutes later, are pure funk. From the 24th minute, the distorted four-to-the-floor pounding is straight from the most demented sweat pits of mid-'90s Europe, but as soon as it's settled the groove swerves into slithering dubstep.
Of course, Autechre being Autechre, nothing stands still. Everything mutates into something else, and irregularity is always a counterpoint to the groove. But even in this, it's a million miles from the slow-evolving soundscapes of NTS Sessions or the lengthy tracks of elseq. This feels live as hell. They frequently let the tempo wind down, occasionally cutting right back to a metronomic tick, then cutting brief stabs of sound in, like a DJ getting busy with the crossfader. There's a devil-may-care attitude here that challenges the idea that they're cerebral tinkerers who let the machines do the work. Yes, they may spend months in their studio getting their systems programmed and tweaked. But once they've got them up and running, they approach them with the vigour of Jeff Mills at the decks or, yes, free jazz musicians in full flight.
As ever with Autechre, if you don't get it, you don't get it. To plenty it's just noise. And amen to that. In this age of constant availability and musical snacking, isn't it nice to have an act on a big stage willing to present something daunting, something that threatens to overwhelm you? Because this is overwhelming music, and it does test your faculties at points—but it is also music of pleasure, just as much as anything in Autechre's catalogue. It isn't austere, it isn't clever-clever, it isn't something that requires masters degrees to understand—it just needs you to give in to it. And maybe that's why, more than anyone of their generation, Autechre still feel relevant. Their music makes sense in the era of Objekt, NON Worldwide, PAN and UIQ. It's radical, but still aimed at the brain and body with that pure rave intensity, humour and passion, and with that improvisational wildness and freedom always either latent or—as here—out in the open. It is out of its mind and all the better for it.