Reviewing Autechre is probably the most hopeless endeavor I’ve made for this paper. Autechre is, without a doubt, one of the most experimental and “out there” groups that I listen to. I know with certainty that if someone goes out, inspired by this review, and dives into “Exai” or “elseq 1-5,” they will feel as though they have jumped into some about-to-blow underwater volcano.
Needless to say, this music is weird, as is a lot of the music I play—my housemates (bless their souls) have only asked that I change the music twice. Once was for Animal Collective (hilarious, I know), and the other was for Autechre. The Animal Collective track they requested I turn off was the opener from their album “Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished,” which features an incessant, highpitched ringing. I understand why my housemates objected, but the Autechre wasn’t the ringing of “Cloudline” or the continued assault that is the “Grantz Gaff” EP. It was just some cut from their masterpiece, “Confield.”
The point here is that Autechre’s music enjoys a very justified reputation of inaccessibility. As of now, they have not decided to change that. Autechre have released live sets before, and this one comes from their “elseq” album tour. That album is five hours long. There were about six live sets already released from the “elesq” tour, but nonetheless, this new release has a 19 hour runtime.
If that sounds daunting, then imagine trying to listen to it—or at least the 19 hours of live material—multiple times in one week just to inform one ~900 word review. Again, I’m faced with the fact that the only people who are going to dive into it are probably already into Autechre, and everyone else will be very put off by these descriptions. But hopefully something about this piece will convince people to go against the grain.
The first thing to know is that this Autechre serves nicely as background noise. It isn’t ambient by any stretch, but there is a way in which its hectic oscillations work very well against whatever you are doing. I read, work out and just listen to this music— Autechre is, without a doubt, the best headphones artist.
My second piece of advice is to listen to “elseq” before trying out the live sets. The record is one of the best collections Autechre has put out. The value in a band like Autechre—value more advertisable than the sheer fact of creating art—is that they push the boundaries of music. Melodies and rhythms are the basis of all of Autechre’s music, and tracks like “feed1” and “c16 deep tread” are great examples of this. There is something very groovy going on here, something very enjoyable. The manner of that enjoyment is what is up for interpretation.
The other thing that “elseq” brings to the table is that it introduces you to what makes Autechre a great musical act. The record is impressive on its own, but the way it plays with sonic ideas throughout its five-hour runtime is truly a joy to behold. Each live set is an hour of experimentation and riffing on a common theme. Many of the tracks on here come from “elseq.” Most notably, “c16 deep tread” is interpolated throughout the entirety of the live sets, which are infectious in how they repeat and reinterpret these beats and songs across 19 hours.
The only thing I can really compare these live sets to is “elseq” itself. The live sets from the Portland, Chicago and Denver shows in particular feel like stripped-down and spacier abstracts of the album’s contents. When a track like “c16 deep tread,” which is already bare-bones, comes on 30 minutes into the Denver set, it feels like a path of rocks strewn throughout the desert.
With “elseq” and these live sets, the duo crafted music that speaks to new feelings developing in the modern age. This isn’t music made for machines—it’s music made for people. The Live set covers and “elseq” are all abstract collages of geometric shapes, but as a whole they make a larger picture that appeals to something more. Beyond serving simply as adequate covers for the odd music inside, the covers stand alone as some pretty wild artwork. Whatever you take away from it is your own, just like everything else with Autechre. Go listen to “elseq.” You’ll be surprised by what you find inside.