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.

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Weird of the Day: Flying Lotus, “Ready Err Not”

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Photo by Tim Saccenti

Today’s weirdness comes from reader MyaIsDead, who belatedly brought to our attention the so-insanely-gross-you-can’t-stop-watching video for Flying Lotus’ “Ready Err Not.” FlyLo’s work here in Los Angeles is hard to escape; he more or less single-handedly invented the experimental fusion of hip-hop and glitchy electronica called “beat music” and was the most famous product of Low End Theory, the long-running Northeast L.A. club night that just ended last month. And I knew he had made some crazy videos, as well as a 2017 feature-length film called Kuso that some have called “the grossest movie ever made.”

But somehow I missed the video for “Ready Err Not,” which came out way back in 2014 — though I’m kinda glad I did, because even just having read descriptions of Kuso without actually watching it, David Firth’s cutout animation of “Ready Err Not” now seems almost quaint by comparison. If Clive Barker had been the seventh member of Monty Python, maybe their cartoons would have featured dismembered babies and in-bred eyeball-eaters, too.

Venetian Snares

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We’re big fans of breakcore here at TWBITW. Whether it’s the tongue-in-cheek, piss-take version favored by Anklepants, the booty bass hybrid pioneered by Otto von Schirach or the “baroquecore” classical-meets-glitch mayhem of early Igorrr, breakcore is just inexhaustibly weird. So I’m not sure how we managed to avoid adding genre godfather Venetian Snares to The Weird List, but we’ll fix that right now.

Snares, as he’s known to fans, was born Aaron Funk in Winnipeg, Manitoba — a Canadian city where there’s so little to do (one Venetian Snares album is actually called Winnipeg Is a Frozen Shithole) that young Aaron used to entertain himself by riding his bike around looking for objects to bang on, recording the sounds on a boom box, then playing those sounds back into another boom box to layer them on top of each other. “Then I would do cut-ups or pause-ups of those tapes to create a more startling rhythmic effect,” he told Trebuchet magazine in 2004. “A strange ritual in retrospect.” No kidding.

From those early cut-up experiments, Funk graduated to using OctaMED and Cubase to produce the increasingly intricate, assaultive drum programming for which he’s still best-know. Venetian Snares never met a 4/4 tempo he couldn’t twist into something that sounds like a drum machine having a seizure. Here’s an aptly titled taste of his early work, from 1999.

You can hear some Aphex Twin influences in there, as well as other mid-’90s acts later associated with the breakcore tag like Alec Empire and Nasenbluten. But even at this early stage, Venetian Snares (he came up with the name because his densely cascading snare rolls sounded, as he put it, “like running a pencil down Venetian blinds“) was clearly on some other shit.

From there, Snares’ sound mutated from album to album almost as unpredictably as his drum breaks. He chopped up jazz and pop samples on Higgins Ultra Low Track Glue Funk Hits 1976-2002 and The Chocolate Wheelchair Album; played chicken with orchestral music on 2005’s mind-blowing Rossz Csillag Alatt Született (Hungarian for Born Under a Bad Sign); and collaborated with Austrian producer Rachael Kozak, best-known under her alias Hecate, on an album called Nymphomatriarch made up entirely of sampled sounds of them having sex. (Surprisingly, despite its highly unusual genesis, Nymphomatriarch is actually one of the least bizarre-sounding things in Aaron Funk’s discography. Less surprisingly, Kozak’s role in co-producing the album has often been met with sexist condescension in the media, prompting her to write a lengthy blog post in 2016 defending herself.)

More recently, Funk has undertaken what may be his most unlikely collaboration yet: teaming up fellow Canadian Daniel Lanois, best-known as U2’s co-producer (with Brian Eno) and creator of his own starkly beautiful ambient music, featuring lots of pedal steel guitar. Venetian Snares x Daniel Lanois, which just came out this month, takes that steel guitar and juxtaposes it against Snares’ fractured breakbeats to often startling effect. It’s not the first time glitchy electronic music has been combined with pedal steel — that honor, to the best of my knowledge, goes to Luke Vibert, aka Wagon Christ, who did an album called Stop the Panic with British steel guitarist B.J. Cole in 2000. But where that album went for a jaunty, tropical vibe, Lanois and Snares come up with something way more eerie, experimental and unexpected. It’s one of my favorite albums of the year so far, weird or otherwise.

But if that’s not odd enough for you, I’ll leave you with the title track from Snares’ 2014 album, My Love Is a Bulldozer. Just when you thought Aaron Funk’s music couldn’t get any more off the rails, he starts singing about his dick.

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Weird Interview: Anklepants

Anklepants
Photo by Dina Schweiger

Back in late June, we got to interview our current No. 1 Weirdest (One-Man) Band in the World, Dr. Reecard Farché, better known to his penis-loving minions as Anklepants. Reecard—or, more accurately, the man behind Reecard/Anklepants, [name redacted]—chatted with us for over an hour from his home in Berlin about everything from how he got interested in animatronics to why the Berlin music scene kinda sucks right now.

The interview was originally conducted as part of an article I wrote about breakcore for Insomniac.com, an electronic music site run by the folks behind such massive EDM festivals as Electric Daisy Carnival. But only a few Anklepants quotes made it into that piece, so I decided to transcribe the whole thing (well, most of it, anyway—an hour-long interview adds up to a LOT of words) and post it here so you weirdos could learn more about the man behind the mask.

We began by talking about what was, back in June, still the hottest Anklepants-related topic of conversation: his mind-blowing live set for the Boiler Room DJ video series.

 

WB: So let’s talk about that Boiler Room set. It got quite the response when it first came out.

A: Yeah, man, it’s completely nuts. In that first period, it was just ridiculous. I was getting emails every five seconds…it was just streaming in. It’s been less ridiculous since then, which is good. It’s hilarious to see what people write now that it’s getting more mainstream coverage.

My voice was completely fucked at that gig. That was my seventh show in a row, and I blew it out like three nights before that. I really fucked it up. And then I smoked a cigarette. I don’t smoke often, but sometimes when I drink, I smoke. I smoked one cigarette and my voice was fucked. I couldn’t even really talk before that gig—so that’s how much I was straining my voice.

WB: When you booked the Boiler Room show, did you have any inkling that it was going to be such a big deal?

A: No, I knew that would happen. It’s got the biggest captive audience for something of that nature, with people who are completely sedated by the DJ standing there playing tracks. That’s the thing it’s brought to my attention: I didn’t really realize how many people have been born into the world where DJing is the normal for music. People still think I’m DJing. I’m not DJing. People still don’t understand what I’m doing. You’ve never seen bands? People manipulating machines? Some of the haters’ comments are just so stupid: “I’ve never seen someone doing that on the decks.” There’s no fucking decks. There’s nothing like that. And they think that I’m just singing over the track for the hell of it or something. They don’t realize that it’s my music.

So I’m definitely not DJing. I don’t know if there’s a name for it, really. With the equipment that I use, there’s definitely no name for it, because it doesn’t exist [outside of my shows].

AnklepantsWB: Do you think that’s why people at the Boiler Room set were kind of just standing around? Because they didn’t really understand what they were seeing? Or they were afraid of the mask, maybe?

A: Usually when I play it’s completely fucking rammed and people aren’t afraid of it. Probably since the Arte thing, that interview…

WB: Oh yeah, the German TV show. [Note: We were thinking of this show. But he’s actually talking about this one.]

A: Yeah, it’s Germany and France. I don’t know if you know of this thing, but it’s the biggest arts show in Europe, really. It’s on mainstream, pay TV. So after that, my next few shows sold out straight up—in Germany, in Switzerland. They were fucking packed.

I can cum with the mask now. And at lots of gigs I’ve got guys and girls just lining up for me to cum on them. I’m not exaggerating. This happens all the fucking time. This Boiler Room gig is the first gig where you would see people standing like this in over a year. It’s usually people jumping up trying to grab me.

WB: So wait, the mask shoots liquid now?

A: Yeah, yeah, it has for quite a long time. It’s hard to see. There’s some photos where you can see when it’s fluoro coming out, because I put like glowstick fluid in there. It’s a button on the microphone I can just press at any time. There’s a small pump and a small tank. But anyway, this is the thing: People go crazy normally. This is why it kind of annoyed me. I was like, “Fuck, come on.” It was just a shame that when it finally gets a lot of coverage, it looks like people are scared. I think a lot of people thought that was the first gig, or normally I do something else. But it’s been happening for five years.

WB: Was the jester outfit new?

A: I’ve worn it on and off for awhile. But I wore it that whole tour. The black one is really, really hot. It kills me. It’s so nasty. I see stars easily five times a show when I wear that. I mean, I do anyway most of the time, because it’s so hot.

Anklepants black costume

WB: In the mask?

A: Yeah. When I have the black [costume] on, the only thing exposed to the air is my eyes and my hands and my mouth. It does up really tight around my neck. Which I could loosen up, but I like that suit because you can’t see any skin. So the illusion of the head being my head looks a bit better from a distance. But it gets so hot. The pants come up to my armpits and it’s all wool. So when the jacket’s on, there’s two layers of wool around my chest. So yeah, I’m completely drenched and the suit is completely wet by the end. It takes days for it to dry out.

WB: Did the music for Anklepants come first, and then you designed the mask? Or did it start with the mask?

A: Well, the mask was originally an idea for this stupid porn film me and my friend came up with. It was these two characters driving around space in a beat-up old spaceship, beaming girls up from different places and seducing them on the spaceship and having weird orgy parties. I mean, we still might make this film. But this is where the character came from. And at the time, I was making a lot of music with a friend. I was in bands with him and also making lots of electronic music with him. And I was like, “Hang on, maybe we should use this as a character for a music project.” ‘Cause I was already using the bear. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this teddy bear that I used to use? There’s videos of it around.

WB: No, I don’t think so.

A: The first animatronic thing I ever used at a gig was an animatronic teddy bear, which straps around my upper torso—and that goes with a whole different music. There are some Anklepants releases that are called Le Bear, but eventually it will be a separate thing. It was a pretty shit animatronic, but the new one is gonna be crazy. So yeah, that was the first one, and then I was like, “Well, there’s this penis character, maybe we should use this.” And at the time, we were making a lot of really slow, strange techno. There’s a handful of tracks that are from that but I don’t ever really play them. But it was like 110 BPM and really slow, and I dunno, I don’t even know how to explain it.

WB: Just slowed down techno?

A: Yeah, but this really kinda wonky thing with these really sleazy-sounding vocals, all pitched down. Just stupid, weird, joke kind of tracks. And I was like, “Well, that character would fit perfectly. The dicks would be moving in time.” Because at first, there was two of them.

WB: That’s right, I’ve seen some of those where you have a dancer in a mask, as well.

A: No, that’s a different one. The very first gig was two of us singing and two of us operating machines. So there were two animatronic cocks like in time, doing all different moves like synchronized. It just looks hilarious when they’re moving together. That was the first gig, but after that, he never wanted to play again. I don’t know what it was—he never said. He was kind of my best friend but he’s pretty weird with communication. I haven’t spoken to him in like a year now. Though I haven’t been back to Australia in five years, mind you. I’m going back soon and I’ll see him. But anyway, it was definitely a different idea at first and then—I mean, the music existed way before the cock face.

When I first worked on films and saw animatronics being built and started to learn a bit about the control systems and realized I already knew a bit about the electronics already, because I was really into radio-controlled cars and shit like that. I used to race them. So I was like, “Hang on, I can kind of understand this.” And I always wanted to do animatronics. I used to ask the electronic engineers questions. And then I found out a lot of the old animatronics were MIDI sequenced and I was like, OK.

The systems I use are far superior to [film work animatronics] now, as well. It’s kind of overtaken what I was first trying to emulate. Because you can’t manipulate audio when you’re programming for films. You can’t slow it down very easily with the systems they use. And they’re so expensive. What they pay a hundred grand for I can build for like 200 Euros.

WB: Would you ever want to get back into doing animatronics for film?

A: Oh, I still do. I’m doing two film jobs at the moment. But it’s not the same as if I was in Australia working for the same people—or being in the U.K. When I was in the U.K., it was just non-stop. But in Germany, it’s not as often and it’s not as much money.

WB: But it sounds like you’re too busy now with Anklepants anyway.

A: But it’s been like this. I’ve been gigging most weekends since I’ve been in Europe, since 2010. There haven’t been many months I haven’t played at least one gig in another country. This is the thing that’s hard to notice from the outside. I mean, yeah, it’s getting more popular in Europe, but at the same time, I think most of the coverage at the moment is from America and Australia. In Europe, I’ve played in most places multiple, multiple times.

A lot of the traffic I’m getting at the moment is from America. I think it’s the biggest surprise for America. I dunno—it’s not that strange. Fucking weird shit goes on in Europe all the time. I mean, yeah, it’s a robot dick face. But the music is not that weird. I could go out right now and 100 meters from my house, I bet you there’s something more obscure going on.

Anklepants live
Photo by Fabia Rodi

WB: How would you describe your music these days?

A: The newest stuff, the next Anklepants music is going into different microtonal ideas and more ethnic scales, different tunings, and more acoustic instruments, custom-built things. Really different. But I dunno, it’s parodying different things, critiquing things. A lot of different people might like different bits of it, and then maybe realize that they shouldn’t be so concerned about what’s good or bad about it.

I don’t think anything I do is that strange at all. And nothing is new. Animatronics is from the fucking ‘60s. Everything I use is old. Even the technology—it might be new combinations of things, but the sensors and stuff have been around for fucking ages. So it’s just mixing all different things together.

WB: As a writer, I find “breakcore” useful to describe your music. But it’s also a bit arbitrary. I’ve heard Otto Von Schirach’s music described as breakcore, Venetian Snares, your stuff. But really, if you put all three of you side by side, your music is pretty different.

A: Yeah, if it’s got breakbeats in it that are sped up and chopped up—I mean, I do have some songs that have this.

WB: Yeah, like “Ilikeyourfaceheadshoesanddick”…

A: Yeah, of course, but this is about the generic breakcore scene in Sydney. I was involved in this scene a bit when I first started Anklepants. I did listen to [breakcore] but I was really just fascinated with the technicality of it. I was never into chopping up pop tracks and speeding them up. That infuriates me, to be honest. Not many things infuriate me, but when people just get a Britney Spears song and speed it up and put a distorted gabber kick under it…this just infuriates me. It’s literally just turning a knob.

This is where society’s getting so fucking lazy. I’ve met people who do this stuff and some of the attitudes are just unbelievable. They think they’re crazy and wild. But I’ve had quite a few of them tell me what I should change. It’s pretty weird. They’re supposed to be rebels that don’t care about what anyone else does. But then—this is when I [came up with] this stupid thing, the übergrunde, a direct inversion of the mainstream. All they’re doing is the exact same thing. They have their own clique. They’re the same. So this kind of breakcore—I just think it’s stupid.

WB: So when you do a track like “Ilikeyourfaceheadshoesanddick,” it’s a parody of that scene?

A: Yeah, the lyrics are, “When I come to the bowels of the party, I really like to look at your dick at the party.” It’s just saying, when I go to the shittiest party—and it’s all guys, mind you—we just look at each other’s dicks. That’s what the lyrics are. They’re so stupid, but I just made them one day when I was so pissed off after I played one those gigs, with these assholes who pride themselves on being so completely open, and then you play their gig and they just give you a bunch of attitude and tell you what you should change in your music.

WB: What have they said you should change?

Anklepants

A: “It’s good but after you see it’s a dick, it’s like, whatever.” People just always try and put shit on it, because usually, what the problem is, if I play a gig with them, no one fucking watches them, they watch me. This is obviously the problem. It’s a weird thing with Anklepants, because obviously some people might not want to look at it, or they want to see the funny side. But a lot of the time, all people want to talk about is the dick face. They forget there’s even music there. And if they talk about the music, they just say it’s horrible.

But then there’s the other kind of breakcore I got interested in because of different kinds of software. For me, when it comes to anything you might call breakcore—this fast, heavily programmed music—it’s just the technical side I’m interested in, really. There’s just so many techniques trying to create contrast between different hits, different notes. The more contrast there is, the more your brain is being triggered that it’s a new thing that it’s hearing. This part of it I’m really interested in: tricking the brain, so when you’re listening to it, your brain feels like it’s constantly being shown something new. I like hearing all the techniques and people using all different hardware and software all mixed together. It’s still kind of exciting. And it’s like a challenge as well, because you have to use a lot of tricks with production to make all the sounds come through in the mix. It’s kind of like a weird jigsaw puzzle, and it’s kind of like a game, and it’s kind of problem solving.

WB: I think that’s what interests me about it, as well. Just the production skills involved with something like what Igorrr does, for example, taking classical and metal and breakbeats and stitching it all together….

A: I mean, Otto and Venetian Snares, those guys, they’ve been doing it way longer than me. I was playing in bands and stuff for a long time. I’ve played guitar since I was nine. Jazz theory and all kinds of stuff. I was doing that and I suppose they were making electronic music. I’ve been making electronic music for probably 15 years, but Anklepants is only since 2008. I was into all kinds of music, but a lot of metal when I was younger. I really only ever got into electronic music to add it to a band. Anklepants will be a band eventually. Not this new thing—Clock_yange is like a one-off thing. Anklepants will be a full band that’s got all these crazy instruments and all kinds of things going on.

WB: Is that the goal with something like the face-tar?

A: Yeah, and as soon as I start getting big enough bookings, where I can afford to have other people…the first person I want to bring in is a drummer. I’ve always wanted to use this guy in Australia who I’ve played in two bands with. And he’ll be using a mixture of conventional rock drums, but also triggered and strange electronic percussion, weird instruments that are electronic and acoustic and moving, as well. And he’ll have some character. But yeah, the main focus is to get the guitar built. Although that instrument is based on a guitar, it’s gonna have a lot of sensors and things.

I used to manipulate the music a lot more, especially arrangement-wise, before I had the wireless microphone. When I built that microphone, it started to be more about the microphone vocal manipulation. When the guitar comes, the music will be as manipulated as the voice. When it joins together, everything’s just gonna be way more free.

Aphex Twin releases first track from “Syro”

Aphex Twin

In less than three weeks, we’ll finally get to hear Syro, the first new album of Aphex Twin material from electronica demigod Richard D. James in 13 years. But for us impatient types (read: every single Aphex Twin fan on the planet), the enigmatic producer gave us an early treat today: a YouTube stream of Syro‘s first track. “minipops 67 [120.2][sourcefield mix]” is a deliciously sexy slab of old-school breaks and ambient techno, with vocoder vocals and what sounds like a combination of vintage synths and 808s. It’s maybe not the most ground-breaking thing James has ever released, but it’s atmospheric and, to no one’s surprise, impeccably produced.

We meant to tell you all about a series of Syro listening parties happening all over Europe and North America starting tomorrow, but apparently you had to RSVP to them by last Tuesday. Oops. Instead, you’ll just have to settle for the Syro track list. We’re not sure what the numbers mean; presumably they’re part of some system James has for cataloging unreleased material, but it’s hard to say. Could he really have 163 unreleased songs? He did claim a few years ago that he was sitting on at least six albums’ worth of new material, so it’s possible. [Update: Astute reader friendsound points out that “minipops 67” is at a tempo of 120.2 BPM, so that’s actually what the numbers refer to. Mystery solved!]

Syro tracklist:

01. minipops 67 [120.2][sourcefield mix]
02. XMAS_EVET10 [120][thanaton3 mix]
03. produk 29 [101]
04. 4 bit 9d api+e+6 [126.26]
05. 180db_ [130]
06. CIRCLONT6A [141.98][syrobonkus mix]
07. fz pseudotimestretch+e+3 [138.85]
08. CIRCLONT14 [152.97][shrymoming mix]
09. syro u473t8+e [141.98][piezoluminescence mix]
10. PAPAT4 [155][pineal mix]
11. s950tx16wasr10 [163.97][earth portal mix]
12. aisatsana [102]

Syro arrives Sept. 23rd in the U.S. (Sept. 22nd everywhere else) on Warp Records. You can pre-order it here.

Weird of the Day: Lauren Bousfield, “Cracknight”

Lauren Bousfield

Some artists are just too weird for any one genre to contain. After getting pigeonholed in the breakcore and chiptune scenes while working under the name Nero’s Day at Disneyland, Sacramento-based producer Lauren Bousfield dropped that moniker and began making even stranger music under his her own name. As great as Nero’s Day was—and some of it was pretty flippin’ fantastic—Bousfield’s first solo album, Avalon Vales, is even better, because it refuses to stay in one place, skipping across genres like a rock across a pond. It still owes a debt to more experimental breakcore producers like Venetian Snares, but it’s on its own trip. No wonder one of his genre tags on Bandcamp is just “____.”

You can stream the whole towering, beautiful mess that is Avalon Vales on Bandcamp. Meanwhile, for a little taste, check out this video for the aptly named “Cracknight,” and remember, if you ever have Bousfield over for dinner, don’t let him her anywhere near the electrical tape.

Aphex Twin

Aphex Twin

If you heard a loud cheer in the distance on Monday intercut with what sounded like a skipping CD player, you heard the sound of Richard D. James’ fans rejoicing at the news that, for the first time in 13 years, there will be an official new album from Aphex Twin, the production alter ego through which the reclusive, mercurial man from Cornwall released some of the most game-changing electronic music of the ’90s.

True to form, James didn’t make the announcement with a simple press release. Instead, he launched a goddamn blimp with the Aphex Twin logo inside the zero of “2014” over London, then sent fans treasure-hunting into the deep web to uncover the new album’s title and track list. Turns out the new disc will be called Syro; no word yet on a release date. (If you, like us, have no idea how to get to the deep web, some kind soul mirrored the hidden Aphex Twin page here. But you might still need some help deciphering it.)

James has never really done anything conventional over the course of his 20-plus-year career. After first making a name for himself primarily as a producer of ambient music, James helped invent a twitchier, more experimental style of electronica that came to be known as “Intelligent Dance Music” or IDM (a term James himself has disavowed). His many forays into other new sounds and styles also influenced everything from glitch to breakbeat to drill ‘n’ bass. Just in terms of the sheer number of genres he helped shape or invent, he’s arguably the most influential electronic music artist since Kraftwerk.

Towards the end of the ’90s, James’s Aphex Twin releases began to take on a more satirical bent, especially when accompanied by a pair of groundbreaking videos he made with director Chris Cunningham. 1997’s “Come to Daddy” began, by James’s own account, as a death metal piss-take, before evolving into one of the first and most influential glitchcore tracks. Most of you have probably seen it before, but for those of you who haven’t, fair warning: It’s genuinely disturbing.

The creepy Richard James masks are a recurring motif in many Aphex Twin videos, as well as much of his album art (the cover of 1996’s Richard D. James being the most famous). For his second video with Chris Cunningham, 1999’s “Windowlicker,” they took an even more unsettling turn. (Most of you have seen this video, too, but another warning for those who haven’t: the first four minutes feature more N-bombs than Samuel L. Jackson’s entire filmography).

Prior to the announcement of Syro, the last proper Aphex Twin album was 2001’s Drukqs, a double album that alternated between pretty ambient works performed mostly on a computer-controlled piano and glitchier tracks featuring lots of intricate drum programming and melodic synths. He followed that up in 2003 with a remix compilation with the brilliantly cynical title 26 Mixes for Cash, and a 2005 collection of 42 acid house tracks released under the name Analord (he loves aliases; AFX, Polygon Window, GAK and Bradley Strider are among his others). Then, for the most part, he fell silent.

In the decade since, James has surfaced occasionally, at one point even claiming that he had six completed albums’ worth of Aphex Twin material. He’s rumored to be behind an anonymous glitch group called The Tuss, which released some music on James’s Rephlex label in 2007, but he’s never copped to it. He’s definitely behind an odd release earlier this year under the name Caustic Window—odd because the album, a relatively restrained foray into ambient techno and tech-house, was never really meant to be released. Recorded in 1994 but scrapped after just a test pressing, only a few vinyl copies of Caustic Window ever found their way into circulation, occasionally trading hands for thousands of dollars. Finally, some enterprising fans raised the necessary money to buy a copy and release it digitally (with James’s blessing) via a Kickstarter campaign this past June.

But all this activity aside, Syro is still the first official release of new Aphex Twin material in over a decade, which makes it a Very Big Deal in electronic music circles.

One other interesting thing to note about Richard James is that he’s really into hiding images inside his music—literally. At the end of track two of the Windowlicker EP, “Equation” (or as it’s officially titled, “ΔMi−1 = −αΣn=1NDi[n][Σj∈C[i]Fji[n − 1] +Fexti[n−1]]”), he conceals his trademark creepy grinning visage inside the last few seconds of the track’s spectrogram (which you can see here). And on the 2001 EP 2 Remixes by AFX, what sounds like a bunch of piercing, test-signal high frequencies is actually an SSTV transmission, which can be decoded with the appropriate software into what we’re told is an image of James sitting on a couch, along with some text listing all the software used to make the EP (although we couldn’t find this image online anywhere).

While we’re all anxiously awaiting the arrival of Syro, we’ll leave you with another of Aphex Twin’s greatest weird videos, from a 1995 EP called Donkey Rhubarb. Chris Cunningham did not direct this one, so it’s not quite as artful as “Windowlicker” and “Come to Daddy,” but the Teletubbie-like creatures cavorting around with James’s illustrated face (from the cover of his 1995 album I Care Because You Do) are pretty entertaining. Apparently he brought them out on tour for awhile and used them to mess with the audience before shows. He’s a prankster, that Richard D. James.

In fact, come to think of it, we probably shouldn’t believe he’s releasing a new Aphex Twin album until the day it actually arrives. There’s a good chance he could just be punking us. Or it’ll arrive, but it’ll be in binary code, or embedded in a microchip that can only be played via Apple IIc. Or maybe he’ll drop the only copies out of a blimp. Who knows?

Or, knowing Mr. James and his perverse sense of humor, maybe he’ll pull the ultimate prank on his audiophile fans and only release it via iTunes.

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