AUTECHRE :: Live @ 3S ArtSpace (Portsmouth, NH Oct-2015)

An Autechre live show in 2015 is an almost indescribable event. Imagine, if you will, a hundred thousand metallic wasps swarming in the midst of a gathering tornado.

Autechre 2015

Autechre brought their live show to the US this fall and as usual didn’t disappoint while the support acts were somewhat hit and miss. I caught them at the amazing and brand new (opened in March 2015) 3S ArtSpace in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on a cool Monday night. The prospect of a live Autechre show was very exciting as I’ve seen them almost every time they’ve come to the States beginning in 1998 at the Other Music store’s grand opening celebration in a Chelsea warehouse in New York City. I had a chance to chat with Rob Brown before the show and after he signed “loser” at me for missing their last appearance in New Hampshire twenty years before, he was very excited about the 3S ArtSpace show. During soundcheck, the P.A. system proved to be so very powerful and up to the task of their music as opposed to the rig hired for their Brooklyn Masonic Hall gig which he characterized as “utter shit.”

Rob Hall opened the evening with a set of mixed music, hewing mostly to danceable four on the floor techno and its variants. His first set before Cygnus was very acid house heavy with a gob smacking amount of bass and some very choice cuts. His second set before Autechre was a bit quieter and mellower with some more IDM-esque tracks. Hall is a competent DJ who got heads bobbing and feet moving but all in all was not playing anything terribly challenging or groundbreaking. I suppose I was expecting Russell Haswell who toured with Autechre back in 2005 and played terrifying sets during each night’s shows.

After Hall’s first set came Cygnus. Frankly Cygnus puzzles me. Is he a time traveler bringing back the old sounds of early 90’s Detroit techno? Is he a herald of the future sounds of electro and techno? Or is he just some kid rehashing stuff we’ve seen and heard before? His set mostly consisted of songs drenched in nostalgic Detroit techno rehashing. There were a few moments of transcendence, a possibility of something different before returning to familiar, hackneyed territory. Cygnus is young and it shows in his music both in the energy and apparent lack of focus and composition. His live set seemed unnecessarily busy for the most part and he was at his best when things quieted down and Cygnus opened up some space. Sadly live Cygnus had moments of brilliance overshadowed by too much stuff. I look forward to hearing his future output (look for my review of Cygnus’ Radical User Interfaces EP here on Igloo soon) as I heard something very unique and potentially groundbreaking among the acid breaks.

Following a second set of Rob Hall DJ’ing, Autechre took to the stage and the lights went out. During their entire set there was no light except for their incredibly dim laptop screens, the activity light of Sean Booth’s massive silver vape rig which also served as the night’s fog machine, and the occasional jarring flashes of mooks taking cellphone shots of the duo as they played.

I find it almost impossible to describe what Autechre playing live sounds like in the year 2015. It was definitely easier back in 1998 when they still played variants of their album based songs. Now the sounds coming out of their gear are not even remotely like anything on album and anyone who says so I believe is straining the very limits of human pattern recognition skills to find something that sounds familiar. Because an Autechre live show in 2015 is an almost indescribable event.

Yet here I go. Imagine, if you will, a hundred thousand metallic wasps swarming in the midst of a gathering tornado. You have a soup of high pressure atmosphere, metallic wasps and debris swirling around. Then take that all and put it in a strong plastic bag big enough to contain it. Then place that bag in a giant hangar or other large structure. Then turn off the lights and begin to strike the bag with an axe handle so that the wasps become agitated (assuming they are not already from being placed inside the bag).

This is the sound of an Autechre live show circa 2015.

Nothing stays still for very long. Beats morph into arrhythmic beatings. Sounds emerge, swirl around then retreat with only a hint of a grungy snapshot of a melody having been present for a moment. There are songs being played in so much as there are variations in the sounds coming at you yet it can all blend into one terrifying mess upon recollection. It’s almost impossible to assign a tempo to it as that implies some sort of linearity to the proceedings.

But there really is none. A friend and I remarked we had no idea how they were making it or what line of thought they were following but we loved it. The sound system at 3S ArtSpace is superb and allowed for the bass to completely assault listeners while the high end came through as well. It was good to see Autechre as always and experience two guys at their best working music out to thrill and confound an audience just as much as when they first appeared on the scene almost twenty-five years ago. Definitely check Autechre out on their remaining US dates and their subsequent tour of Europe.

Exai (2013) is available on Warp. [US Tour dates]

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