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Monday, January 21, 2019

Autechre: NTS Session 1


1) t1a1; 2) bqbqbq; 3) debris_funk; 4) l3 ctrl; 5) carefree counter dronal; 6) north spiral; 7) gonk steady one; 8) four of seven; 9) 32a_reflected.General verdict: 

Just one more average journey through the world where all older genres of music have been substituted by their robotic counterparts. Which actually makes perfect sense.

Well, instead of five years and twenty volumes, they only waited two years and gave us four volumes — although, with each of the sessions running around 120 minutes, the total still exceeds elseq 1–5 by about three hours. And once again, of course, like a total moron I have to listen to it all and offer my uneducated judgement on whether Autechre have once again rolled out a steaming pile of robo-shit, or whether they have once again taken music in an unpredictable, mind-blowing, trail-blazing direction that only a select few will be able to follow in an age when electronic sound has become the default soundtrack of its generation, but not quite in the way in which Autechre might have envisioned it twenty-five years ago.

All four sessions were recorded by Autechre during a four-week residency at the experimental-avantgarde NTS radio station in London in April 2018, and then released in all possible formats (digital download, CD, vinyl) as a single package, or as four different albums, whichever you prefer; like elseq, I will cover each volume separately, since it is not possible to write a single review for eight hours of music (even Autechre music), and also because this time around, there are clearly very different vibes to each of the sessions.

In all honesty, I originally made a vow that if the first couple of tracks turned out to be «unlistenable» (that is, would largely consist of chaotic robo-noise), I would bypass the pledge of completism and simply ignore the projectʼs existence — not even because of the life-is-too-short reason (I mean, who are we kidding: most of us are still spending most of that life on trivialities, no matter how short it is), but simply because I would have nothing to say about it anyway, other than reiterate my usual complaints about Autechre making music for the little green men who live in transistors and capacitors, rather than us mortals.

But I was pleasantly surprised — Session 1 actually turns out to be the most structured and sensible release from Autechre in quite a few years. Naturally, it is not «one hundred and twenty minutes of totally awesome music with not a second of time wasted without reason»; but it is the closest they ever came to creating their own jam-based album, sort of like an electronic equi­valent of a Cream or Grateful Dead live performance. Most of the compositions are groove-based, with steady beats providing a welcome anchor while additional electronic tracks supply the «improvisational» melodic content (hey, I even said «melodic»), whose patterns can stay largely the same throghout or can actually shift and develop (this is the only thing that makes twenty-minute long behemoths like ʽgonk steady oneʼ bearable).

Contrary to gushing fans and reviewers, I do not discern any particular innovation in these grooves, sticking to my usual guns (Autechre pretty much reached their innovative peak at the turn of the millennium and have been riding the coattails of their own past glories ever since), but the session does not really need to be innovative — what we have here is a fairly normal, run-of-the-mill chillout party hosted by the duoʼs robot friends, and for once, I feel like I am actually being invited to that party. Besides, the grooves themselves demonstrate a surprisingly high level of diversity, and there are also faint traces of an almost conceptual structure, rather than just a collection of randomly scattered, messy ideas.

For the first eighteen minutes, your senses get pummelled by the slow, heavy, straightforward, almost blues-rockish beat of ʽt1a1ʼ; against that beat, screechy and squeaky soundwaves create the effect of an electronic swamp, festering with iridium toads and silicone mosquitoes. Once the effect has acquired an almost lulling quality to it, the track segues smoothlessly into ʽbqbqbqʼ, eleven minutes of a quietly bubbling electronic soup, simmering in your average nano-cauldron on your average nano-stove — also surprisingly steady and relaxing for an Autechre release. Then itʼs back to harsh, groovy business with ʽdebris_funkʼ, whose rare usage of actual words in the title is quite appropriate for the actual music (the groove does sound like it was clumsily re-assembled from a dropped, broken, and scattered funk rhythm), and ʽl3 ctrlʼ, whose ultra-speedy «click rhythm» actually forms a backdrop to a real crescendo of sound — a gradually assembled storm of dissonant ambience, wild enough to justify the presence of ʽcarefree counter dronalʼ, a relatively short glitchy interlude before the next part of the show.

That second part is where things begin to get rougher and also a bit more predictable (ʽNorth Spiralʼ reminds me of the familiar «Autechre plays Pong» territory), and I am not sure that ʽgonk steady oneʼ really deserves a 22-minute running length even with all the rhythmic and textural changes that it introduces along the way — but it is structured somewhat like a progressive, multi-part electronic suite, and I am sure fans will have a great day picking it apart and slobbering all over the individual components. In comparison, ʽfour of sevenʼ sounds almost like a retro sonic tribute to the old schools of acid house and IDM, from 808 State to Aphex Twin — it is almost danceable, with a trippy electronoboogie bass line and looping melodic overtones, not to mention the good old cosmic space vibe. And then it leads into ʽ32a reflectedʼ, which acts as a bona fide ambient conclusion to the whole experience: seven minutes of kaleidoscopic bliss, although some of the tones might be too sharp for listeners with sensitive ears.

In short, this is not so much Autechre trying to be innovative as it is simply Autechre jamming around with decent ideas — it probably did not take them too much time, with all the experience on their hands, to come up with these grooves, but that might be precisely the reason why, even with all the insane length of the experience, this is still their most accessible piece of product in years, if not decades.


  1. George liked an Autechre album? um um um... OMG... that can't be George someone has kidnapped and replaced our George with an 18 year old german youtuber named Hans OMG OMG who do I tell? Next thing you know he'll be reassessing the complete Chemical Brothers catalog... ACK!

    1. Well, just for the record, this is far from the first Autechre album with a positive reaction. And The Chemical Brothers aren't half bad, either.