Autechre

Autechre-3

In electronic music these days, there’s an arms race to see who can produce the most elaborate visual spectacle possible — usually to distract from the fact without said spectacle, all the audience would be looking at is one or two people hunched over laptops. And hey, I love a good gee-whiz show as much as the next aging raver — especially when it marries futuristic glitch to museum-quality stage design, like Amon Tobin’s 3D-projection mapped ISAM tour did in 2012. But you know what I love even more? The fact that British duo Autechre have done a complete 180 and now perform most of their shows in total darkness — or as close to total darkness as pesky things like fire codes will allow for (darn those vibe-killing yet potentially life-saving “Exit” signs).

I was lucky enough to see Sean Booth and Rob Brown perform in this format here in L.A. in 2015, and it was, in its own way, more mind-blowing than any EDM laser light show. Autechre’s music, which the Mancunian duo records and performs on a customized aggregation of software, patches and virtual synths called “the system,” is so dense and alien-sounding that, over the course of 90 minutes, it begins to fill a darkened room with something close to a physical presence. Sounds seem to leap and dart around you in three dimensions; you become aware of how certain bass frequencies register not just as sound but as a physical sensation, rumbling somewhere just behind your collarbone.

Hearing live music in the dark has other, more pragmatic advantages, as well. The shadowy, still-faintly-visible head of that one six-foot-four dude who of course planted himself right in front of you just as the music was starting? After a few minutes, you forget all about stretch and his fat noggin. Also, you spend way less money on beer when it’s too dark to see where the bar is. Thanks, Autechre!

Even with the lights on, Autechre’s music is out-there enough to merit a spot on the Weird List. They’re second only to Aphex Twin among pioneers of the ’90s style of stuttering, off-kilter, glitchy electronic music lumped under the unfortunate but convenient heading of IDM, or intelligent dance music (hey, it was either that or “what the fuck is this shit?”). Over the years, as they’ve added to and perfected “the system,” their sound has evolved beyond its early influences — which included everything from ’80s hip-hop to electro-industrial experimenters Coil and Meat Beat Manifesto to avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen — to become a genre unto itself, a manifestation of its own closed-loop schemata, with the machines acting as a third band member, chasing algorithms to increasingly bent, bloopy, intricately polyrhythmic ends.

Autechre didn’t start out weird. Aside from a jokey spoken-word intro in which a dentist tells his patient to “lean back and relax” before we hear a drill and the patient’s agonized, gargling moans, their first single “Cavity Job” was a pretty standard piece of early ’90s British acid house, with the kind of pulsating synths and looped breakbeats already popularized by acts like Orbital and A Guy Called Gerald. Their second album, Amber, on the influential Warp label (also home to Aphex Twin), was a largely ambient affair — trippy, but not a radical departure from what many other chill-room electronic acts were doing at the time.

Then, in 1994 — less than a year after Amber — they released a three-song EP called Anti that was both bold sonic experiment and political statement. The EP’s final track, “Flutter,” was a jittery, shapeshifting beast composed in response to a British law that outlawed raves. Since the law defined raves as parties that featured music played as a “succession of repetitive beats,” Brown and Booth programmed “Flutter” to contain beats that never exactly repeated themselves — a fact they called out on the album’s packaging, though they slyly cautioned DJs against playing it in public without “a lawyer and musicologist present at all times to confirm the non-repetitive nature of the music in the event of police harassment.” It’s arguably the first example of instrumental electronic music explicitly used as a form of political protest. It’s also probably the earliest Autechre track that fully embraces the glitchy, non-linear style for which they’re now best-known.

As the ’90s wore on and “electronica” had its first big commercial boom, thanks to acts like The Prodigy, Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim, Autechre’s music continued down a much different path, getting weirder, harsher and more abstract with each passing release. Their music videos reflected this — especially the 1996 clip for “Second Bad Vilbel,” which marked the directorial debut of Chris Cunningham, who would go on to make groundbreaking videos for Björk and Aphex Twin among others. (Cunningham wasn’t satisfied with the quality of the original, so he released a re-edit of it in 2002; this is that later version.)

As Autechre’s music got more abstract, so did their album and song titles: Chiastic Slide, Envane, “Goz Quarter,” “Calbruc,” “VI Scose Poise.” Most of the words are random nonsense, but some recurring ones have specific meanings to Brown and Booth that they have a hard time articulating. When a Pitchfork interviewer asked them about the word “casual” in several song titles, for example, Brown explained that they label “catalog shelf stuff” with similar traits. “It’s fucking real difficult to explain exactly what we mean by them,” Booth added. “We know. If Rob says, ‘I’ve got some more casuals here, do you want them,’ I’ll know exactly what he means. But I can’t put into words what it is.” (Side note: The duo has also said that there is no official, correct way to pronounce their name. They say “aw-TEK-er” in a Mancunian accent, but I’ve also heard “AH-tek-ur” and even “aw-TEK-cruh” like they’re French or something. But hey, go nuts and say it however you want.)

By the early 2000s, Autechre were both elder statesmen of IDM and among its most forward-thinking practitioners. On tracks like 2002’s “Gantz Graf” — given an excellently psychedelic yet cyborg-like video by British graphic artist Alex Rutterford — they chop, splice and stutter programmed beats and synthesizers until it sounds like machines howling in agony, or ecstasy, or possible both.

These days, in addition to their lights-out shows, Brown, Booth and their “system” continue to churn out new music at an astonishing rate. Their 2016 album elseq 1-5 contained over four hours of music, and this year they followed that up with another eight hours of music, originally presented over four two-hour segments on NTS Radio back in April and released last month both digitally and as either an 8-CD or 12-LP box set under the title NTS Sessions 1-4. (Although Booth has said of past Autechre releases that the “actual” product is the lossless FLAC files — the implication being that anything else is a derivative version that may not be a 100% accurate representation of the duo’s original work.) I couldn’t find any excerpts of the NTS Sessions on YouTube except a few that were uploaded at half-speed and double-speed (Autechre fans are kooky, y’all) but you can listen to the whole thing on Autechre’s official site or on Spotify. Next time you have eight hours to kill, I highly recommend it. Listening to the whole thing is like meditating inside a broken CD player. That’s falling down a really long flight of stairs. Made of mercury. And acid. There’s definitely something having to do with acid in there somewhere.

Before I play out this post with an amazing unofficial video for a track from my favorite Autechre album, 2008’s Quaristice, I want to leave you with a couple of quotes from Sean Booth. The first comes from the aforementioned Pitchfork interview and is especially relevant to this blog, because in it, Booth makes a case — which I completely agree with — that today’s audiences are more primed than ever for weird music, even though much of what they’re getting is cookie-cutter and derivative:

“One of the things about the internet is that everybody can be very quickly educated on music, but that’s a double-edged sword, because you’ve got a bunch of artists who are desperate to fit in. Everyone’s in a rush to sound the same. At the same time you’ve got this audience who have got access to fucking everything that was ever made, so the audience is actually extremely sophisticated. It’s a weird paradox. You hear a lot of stuff with the same kind of synth lead and the same sucky compression and the same kick drums, the same long chords. It’s incredibly conservative. Then you’ve got this audience who know about Xenakis and Stockhausen and they’re fucking 16-year-olds. I see that as a great opportunity to make things that are genuinely a bit weird.”

The second quote comes from a long Q&A on the electronic fan forum site watmm.com from 2013 (and which I’m cribbing from Pitchfork’s review of NTS Sessions 1-4 — I’m not usually all up in Pitchfork’s business like this but when it comes to Autechre, they know their stuff) in which someone asked Booth what an Autechre dance track might sound like today and he replied, “but we are making dance music.” Damn straight they are. Trust me, if you listen to this shit long enough, you can totally dance to it. To others it might look like more you’re having a stroke, but that’s just part of the fun.

Links:

Advertisements

Stinky Picnic

stinky-picnic

Usually when we — or anyone, really — throw around the term “outsider music,” we use it to connote impenetrably idiosyncratic music made by adults so eccentric they have to work alone because they can’t find anyone else who shares their vision. That’s why we were so delighted when our favorite Down Under reader, Interweb Megalink (not his/her real name), led us to the Australian duo Stinky Picnic. The father/daughter team of A.D. Machine (guitars, loops and backing vocals) and Ponky Pie Pea (singer, songwriter, keyboardist and the brains of the whole operation) make music as idiosyncratic as any Daniel Johnston or Mission Man tune — but in doing so, they transform outsider music into “the most normal, unconditionally loving activity available in the home,” in the words of author Neil Nixon, who included them in his book 500 Albums You Won’t Believe Until You Hear Them.

Stinky Picnic started when Ponky Pie Pea was three years old. You won’t be surprised to hear that she named the band. She’s now all of 10 or 11 and her songwriting skills have grown exponentially in that time. If we’re being honest, A.D. Machine had to do much of the heavy lifting on Stinky Picnic’s early work, fleshing out his daughter’s adorable but fairly straightforward sung-chanted lyrics about hamsters and logs and whatever else struck her fancy at the moment he pressed the record button. But after a few years and a shit-ton of releases, the kid is a budding genius of melody, harmony, surrealism and comic timing. Behold the marvel of all the aforementioned elements that is “Hairy Bananas” — and bear in mind that this was part of a rehearsal for a gig at the Make It Up Club, where all songs are improvised, so Ponky Pie Pea is coming up with this shit straight off the dome. Eat your heart out, Imogen Heap! (Disclaimer: Imogen Heap is great. But she’s famous for that vocal looping stuff and you gotta admit, this kid’s got “Hide and Seek“-level skills.)

Like most kids of her generation, Ponky Pie Pea is super into Minecraft. (I don’t get it, either, but I’m old and the only game app on my phone is Sudoku.) So she and A.D. also made a trilogy of albums with songs inspired by Minecraft, and set some of them to Minecraft videos. Here’s the one for “Pigs” — made when Ponky was about eight — which is in absolutely no danger of being confused with the Pink Floyd song.

I’ll leave you with possibly my favorite Stinky Picnic song: “Maybe a Mongoose,” another epic jam recorded when Ponky was eight or so, from their 2016 album A Horrible Hodgepodge. At one point, she scat-sings like a tiny, Australian Ella Fitzgerald. It’s way funkier than it has any business being — and like all of Stinky Picnic’s oeuvre, it’s a nice reminder that before we were all taught to conform, we were all outsiders, running wild with our imaginations and spouting nonsensical ideas more entertaining and probably just as valid as whatever crap the so-called “adult world” is churning out these days, like This Is Us or a new Chainsmokers album or whatever.

Links:

 

Shamalamamonkey

shamamembers 2

Lately we’ve been getting a ton of bands sent to the site whose origin and identities are shrouded in mystery. From Aussie MIDI mashup artist Buttress O’Kneel to portable toilet terrorists Clown Core, more and more weird bands these days seem to prefer to remain anonymous.

Is this a reaction against the private-sector surveillance state of Facebook, Google and Twitter? A rejection of the music press’ increasing obsession with celebrity-style artist “profiles” that tell you their shoe size but not what kind of music they play? A sign of the impending collapse of the music PR machine, as fewer bands can afford fancy publicists to help them craft their “story”? Are they all secretly famous actors and pop musicians who don’t want us to blow up their experimental side project? Is Mandek Penha really Hugh Jackman? Is Vladimir Cauchemar actually one of the guys from Daft Punk? Probably not, but the fact that we’re even having this conversation (feel free to chime in anytime) is evidence that, in our information-overloaded times, being enigmatic is actually a pretty great marketing strategy.

Our latest enigmatic Weird Band of the Week comes to us from … uh, actually, we’re not sure where they’re from. They apparently played a show in Indianapolis last year, but it’s not clear whether that’s their hometown — or even whether or not the show actually took place, since their website describes is thusly: “They played 3 songs dressed as the scheduled headliner band before anyone noticed that they were not the actual band. They managed to get through 3 more songs before being removed from the stage by security.”

We’re also not sure who’s in the band or how many members they have. The guy who contacted us about them, Josh Spurling, sent us a brief bio saying the band has “between 1 and 13 [members] of European, Asian, and/or Arabic descent.” It further noted: “They are said to possess an arsenal of instruments ranging from electric guitars to an old kitchen sink. Their impromptu performances range from 30 seconds to 13 hours and are performed with various disguises and under alternate band names. These shows are rarely announced, often in remote areas, and occasionally even without an audience. No one knows why.” (Spurling described his role with the band as “facilitator,” which is one of those fancy-sounding words like “utilize” that sounds specific but means almost nothing. I utilize various techniques to facilitate feeding my cats, but does that mean I’m usually the one scooping food into their bowls? Nah, I’m just on the couch going, “Honey, have you fed the cats yet?”)

I’m not even sure how to describe Shamalamamonkey’s music, despite the fact that I’ve been listening to it for a good hour or so now. They’ve only released two songs, “Gussle the Golfer” and “Gussle Tied to Trouble.” Who or what is Gussle and why is he/she/it a recurring subject of every Shamalamamonkey song? No one knows. Each song is about 11 minutes long and cycles through a bewildering array of sounds and styles, from cow-punk to jazz to punk-funk to avant-garde noise to bluegrass. I’d say they sound like Primus and The Residents squaring off at a battle of the bands in a semi-abandoned jazz club in an early Jim Jarmusch movie, but that’s only the first two minutes of “Gussle Tied to Trouble.”

Oh I almost forgot to mention: They also, for some reason, set both their songs to clips from old silent movies. I’m not sure the movies actually have anything to do with the music, but they do give the whole thing an appealingly slapsticky feel.

So who are Shamalamamonkey? We may never know for sure. Although I do suspect they have something to do with an earlier group called The One Band, because that’s the only other group with a track posted to Josh Spurling’s YouTube channel. That One Band has an old website, on which Spurling, aka That One Guy (not to be confused with that other That 1 Guy), is described as the group’s founder, leader and main instrumentalist. Is he also the brains behind Shamalamamonkey? Who cares? Whoever’s making these tunes, they’re a demented genius — and if that genius prefers to remain anonymous, well, to steal a phrase back from Bobby Brown (possibly the only person I can say with some certainty is not part of Shamalamamonkey): That’s their prerogative.

Links:

Senyawa

senyawa

This week’s weird band was suggested to us by a reader called Major A, who describes them as “rhythmic and melodic, modern and primitive, simply rich and beautiful.” And I gotta say, Major A, you nailed it. Indonesian duo Senyawa make some of the most powerful, original music I’ve heard in a very long time — and they do it all with just a voice and a homemade bamboo instrument called a bambuwukir. I’m not even going to attempt to describe what they sound like — just listen and watch for yourself:

Amazing, right? What singer Rully Shabara does with his voice is unlike anything I’ve heard. It reminds me a little of a cross between Tuvan throat singing and Mike Patton at his most unhinged, but even that doesn’t really do it justice. And the sounds Wukir Suryadi gets out of his instrument are equally mind-blowing, as he uses it play microtonal drones, screeching leads and percussive fills, sometimes all at once.

Senyawa have been around since 2011 and achieved some international success. In 2012, French filmmaker Vincent Moon made a short documentary about them called Calling the New Gods, and in 2016 they did a split EP with Japanese noise band Melt Banana. But in a Vice Indonesia clip from 2016, they noted that in their hometown of Yogyakarta in central Java, most people still don’t know who they are. “Lots of people in Yogya still haven’t seen us play,” says Shabara. “For some reason, Indonesians who have not seen us perform live tend to assume that our music leans towards traditional music. This is wrong and it makes me so irritated.”

Admittedly, my knowledge of Indonesian music begins and ends with the gamelan and Rich Brian, but I’m pretty sure there’s not much traditional about performances like the one below, taken from something called the Radio Asia Festival in Warsaw, Poland in December of 2017. I get why people sometimes describe their stuff as metal, even though that doesn’t really capture what they do either. I say we dispense with genre terms and just say Senyawa are amazing. Agreed?

Links:

Eartheater

eartheater-by-samantha-west-1244
Photo by Samantha West

Alexandra Drewchin is based in New York City, but she grew up on a horse farm in rural Pennsylvania. It feels important to mention this up front in describing the music she makes under the name Eartheater, and not just because horses figure prominently in the project’s iconography, including the striking cover of her latest album, IRISIRI. Even though much of what she does is programmed and electronic, there’s something very equine and pastoral about it. The rhythms canter and gallop; the sounds flex and ripple with muscular grace; her vocals, though sometimes harsh and processed, more often float over the mix like they’re echoing from a great distance, panning and Dopplering as if sung by someone in constant motion.

There’s also an alien quality to Drewchin’s Eartheater work — ironically, it sounds more not-of-this-world than her other project, a psych/noise-rock band she does with drummer Greg Fox that’s actually called Guardian Alien. As Eartheater, she shares with artists like Matmos and Amon Tobin a gift for blurring the lines between organic and electronic. Synthesizers breathe and sigh like animals; acoustic instruments and field recordings contort into jagged, mechanical shapes. A track title from her first album, Metalepsis, is telling: “The Internet Is Handmade.” You might think it’s a piss-take on all the bespoke this and artisanal that infesting the hipster communities of Brooklyn and Queens, where she’s based. But actually, it’s her way of pointing out that technology, which we always think of as somehow removed from humanity, is actually just another expression of it. “I’m all about seeing the nature in the motherboard — honoring the metals that make [our] computers run,” she once told an interviewer.

Here’s her latest video, “Peripheral,” in which she takes a blowtorch to an ice sculpture and performs acupuncture on a massage chair.

Her live performances are already the stuff on New York art nerd legend. At one, described by a Vice writer, she wore angel wings and wielded a chainsaw. At another, she danced in a trenchcoat and performed contortionist backbends illuminated only by a pair of flashlights. “I find the ouroboric-like shape of a deep back bend to be uniquely altering,” she said in another interview. “I prescribe this shape to myself and find it’s really helpful to unlock deep emotions while performing.” (For someone who has just shy of 4,300 Facebook likes as I write this, Eartheater has done a lot of interviews — which I think says more about the ouroboric nature of the New York music press than it does about her.)

Speaking of contortions, here’s another Eartheater video that features lots of them, courtesy of Drewchin and fellow dancer Gina Chiappetta. Contortionism is another good visual metaphor for Eartheater’s music; she twists her vocals and instruments as dramatically as she twists her limbs. There’s something both powerful and vulnerable about it — she looks strong and fierce, but also at certain moments like her neck’s about to break.

We started with horses and that’s where we’ll finish, with the video for “Inclined,” another track off IRISIRI, Eartheater’s third album, which was just released in June on PAN Records. The video itself is, by Drewchin’s standards, pretty straightforward: She rides a horse around a bay at low tide, dressed like a steampunk bride in leather and a white veil, and — well, that’s it, really. (Oh, and all the lyrics are subtitled in Russian — a nod to her father, perhaps, who is Russian.) But the track itself is supremely weird in a way that I love. It’s like someone badly described hip-hop to a fan of The Slits and Philip Glass — “it’s aggro vocals that are kinda chanted over loops and shit” — who then attempted their version of a hip-hop track. “I like to customize my style/You can’t buy this — suck my bile,” is my favorite lyric of 2018 so far.

P.S. Thanks again to our anonymous friend at Interweb Megalink, who introduced us to Buttress O’Kneel and also succeeded where the New York press failed in turning us on to Eartheater. Thanks for helping us customize our style, Mr. and/or Ms. Megalink.

DDAA (Déficit des Années Antérieures)

DDAA

Psychofon Records, the current label for this week’s weird band, compares them to The Residents, Nurse With Wound and Can. Which sounds like they’re casting way too wide of a net — until you listen to the surreal, percussive soundscapes of Déficit Des Années Antérieures (DDAA) and realize that yeah, that’s actually pretty spot-on.

Formed in 1977 by three students from the School of Beaux Arts in Caen, France, DDAA’s music encompasses everything from eerie tape loop experiments to tribal percussion to minimalist post-punk anthems that make Suicide sound like Wham! by comparison. Until 1992, they were wildly prolific, releasing somewhere around 15 albums and various EPs and singles, many of which were available only on cassette. They resurfaced with another pair of albums around 2000, took another hiatus, and then have been pretty active since 2011, picking up right where they left off with releases like Ne regarde pas par la fenêtre (Do not look out the window), a four-song EP of dadaist hymns set to industrial throbs and foreboding electronic music.

Amazingly, despite their prodigious output, Jean-Luc André, Sylvie Martineau-Fée and Jean-Philippe Fée — the three musicians who have formed the core of DDAA for the band’s entire existence — appear to remain virtually unknown outside of France. (And maybe Germany, too — shout-out to German reader Sebastian, who turned us onto them.) There is very little information about them available in English so I don’t know their full backstory, or what other projects, if any, they’ve been associated with. It does appear that “Fée” is a stage name, since the Psychofon website translates it and identifies them as Sylvie Martineau-Fairy and Jean-Philippe Fairy. Or maybe they just have a particularly apt surname for their otherworldly music and they didn’t want all us non-Francophone folks to miss out on properly appreciating it.

Did France have MTV in the early ’80s? Maybe that explains the existence of several DDAA music videos from around that era, which are just as delightfully bizarre as their music. Here’s “25 pièces sont vides” from their 1984 album La Familie des Saltimbanques. The sound quality is kinda crappy, so you might want to turn it up.

Amazing, right? Both totally avant-garde and totally ’80s. Most of their tracks, especially from this era, have very assertive, atmospheric bass lines, which appear to be courtesy of Jean-Philippe Fée. Here’s another music video from the same year but a different album (told you they were prolific): Les Ambulants‘ “The Riddle’s Standard.” I especially love the vocals on this one, which somehow manage to sound both strangled and incantatory, like a priest delivering a sermon while chugging sacramental wine out of a paper bag.

Nearly 40 years later, they’re still at it, performing live shows that are basically slow-moving storm fronts of aural unease, and releasing new music that continues to defy categorization. I’ll leave you with a track from their 2015 album Hazy World called “Pirouette” that sounds like a symphony for idling lawnmowers, or maybe the world’s largest moth swarm flapping their wings against the windows of a screened-in porch. France’s answer to The Residents? Sort of — but it’s probably more accurate to say that DDAA don’t sound like anyone else.

Links:

Okilly Dokilly

Okilly-Dokilly-1
Both Okilly Dokilly photos by Casey Peters

Our regular readers know there’s nothing we love here at TWBITW more than an incredibly specific high-concept band (see: Mac Sabbath, The Metal Shakespeare Company, etc.). So it’s about damned time we gave a little love to Okilly Dokilly, Arizona’s leading Ned Flanders-themed metal — or “nedal,” as they prefer to call it — five-piece.

Formed in 2015, Okilly Dokilly’s premise is simple: Take dialogue from Ned Flanders, the God-fearing, improbably buff next door neighborino from The Simpsons, and turn it into lyrics for epic heavy metal anthems, performed by five dudes in matching Flanderian green sweaters, round glasses and bushy mustaches. Since Flanders’ Christian kindness and relentless good cheer has always seemed like a front for a seething cauldron of repressed rage, it works surprisingly well. Here, take a gander.

To quote Ned: “What a rush! That got my blood pumping in a way I thought only quiet reflection could.”

I’m not really sure what else to tell you about Okilly Dokilly, except to note that their members are called Head Ned, Red Ned, Stead Ned, Thread Ned and Bled Ned, and they have an album out called Howdilly Doodilly, which is available now via Bandcamp or at your favorite neighborhood Leftorium. Oh, and they have one music video, for the song “White Wine Spritzer” — based on an obscure Ned quote from season 10. (To Okilly Dokilly’s credit, most of their Ned quotes are not the most obvious choices — though I do wish they’d turn my favorite outrageous Nedism from The Simpsons Movie into a Satanic dirge: “And I wish you didn’t have the devil’s curly hair!”)

P.S. Thanks to readers Dexter Storer and J (yeah, just J), among others, for turning us on to Okilly Dokilly’s heavy “nedal” thunder.

Links: