[sic] Magazine

Autechre – Oversteps

Of all the artists that emerged in the electronic boom of the early nineties it could be argued that Autechre alone have always pushed their music forward. Over the years it’s got them praise and flak in equal measure from a fanbase that seems permanently at war with itself. For fifteen years their music seemed to follow a linear progression. Beginning with the Artificial Intelligence era when they were operating in a similar area to contemporaries Aphex Twin , Black Dog and B12 , they gradually became more and more beat focussed. The melodic warmth evaporated over time as the music became more and more complex and clinical. Some fans embraced the changes, but many others lamented the constant progression into denser and more difficult areas.

Then in 2008 Quaristice appeared. For Booth and Brown it was a revolutionary record. Some saw it as a major step backward, but really it was a step back, forwards, sideways, up and down all at the same time. Embracing such alien concepts (for Autechre) as beatless ambience, and heading off in a dozen different directions at once, it could be viewed as a career summation, as the work of artists who’d lost direction, or a rejuvenated duo hungry to explore uncharted fields. To these ears, it was definitely an exciting point in their career, when the possibilities seemed boundless.

Two years on, Oversteps confirms this view. Still indisputably Autechre, it nevertheless sounds like nothing they’ve done before. There is still room for beats of mind-boggling complexity, but nestled amongst them are tracks of rhythmic simplicity. The sounds are warm and melodic, but alien and following weird atonal patterns at the same time. Undoubtedly, it’s their most sombre work. It also contains passages of unworldly beauty, but others of apparently dissonant ugliness (which grow into swan-like elegance in time). Being Autechre, awkward changes of pitch and tempo are abundant, and yet it’s really just a case of adjusting your perceptions. Structures may be fantastically intricate, but structures they are. There is nothing random about this music.

Picking highlights from Autechre records is always fraught with danger. Some of the pieces that prove to the most satisfying are often slow to reveal themselves. It took literally years for me to come to terms with Confield, for example.

The beatless See on See is a sonic chandelier of reflective sound. Treale has a thumping rhythm that’s as close to quasi-industrial music as they’ve ever got. There is something Fisher Price about the melody of O=0 that goes all over the shop, and yet makes a weird kind of sense. D-Sho Qub is a mad mix of Saucerful of Secrets era Floyd and swarming alien insectoids. Yuop provides a grand finale of atypically cinematic grandeur.

Back in 92-94, it seemed to me that electronic music was the future. It sounded like the future. At its best it encompassed every human emotion, but in a way that had never really been done before. Back then, I didn’t really expect the mainstream music of 2010 would be so conservative and retrogressive, but I especially thought that what I’d call the ‘popular underground’ (ie stuff that wasn’t aimed at a tiny audience, but was never going to be selling by the million either) would be far more progressive than it is. Autechre continue to fly the flag for the future. Whether it will ever catch up with them is a moot point.



For more from Dez please read his blog Music Musings & Miscellany