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Drake, Bananaman and mud-wresting with mu-Ziq: what we learned from Autechre's incredible Ask Me Anything session

Whether it was intentional or not, pioneering experimental duo Autechre have always retained an air of mystery since the very beginning. 

Between the regularly evolving studio setup and the often-impenetrable imagery and titles titles, the band have created a veritable trail of breadcrumbs for fans to obsess over, and obsess they have. Few forums have pontificated so deeply about Autechre’s canon as We Are The Music Makers, and over the last week Sean Booth and Rob Brown rewarded the notoriously dedicated fans with a Reddit-style “Ask Me Anything” webchat. We can’t think of a single act who have replied with such dedication, and the two didn’t hold back in answering even the most mundane questions.

Here at FACT, we were enamoured with how much Rob Brown had shared in his recent interview with us, but after a week on WATMM things got even more revealing. We now know, for instance, that Booth watches Law and Order (he prefers SVU because “the dilemmas are way more weird”) and that strawberries are his favourite fruit (“not really cos they taste the best just cos it does my head in that it is a natural flavour it’s so much like a man made thing, like a sweet or something”).

The whole chat really needs to be read in full for the complete experience – where else will you find two titans of electronic music being asked to sign a Russian couple’s wedding photos, and to name a fan’s unborn child (“Bobby” was decided on, in case you were wondering) – but we’ve picked out some of the best bits and rounded them up, just in case you don’t have four hours to spare to dive into the entire thing.

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Booth and Brown were predictably tight-lipped about the status of any brand new records, but they seemed a little more open with information concerning their notoriously epic archives.

When asked about further Lego Feet releases, Booth reveals that they “still have a pile of decent material from that era,” and they “could have done another CD easily.” Apparently the leftover material was recorded “between LF [Lego Feet] and Incunabula”, and was mostly tracks that Warp “didn’t want for Incunabula cos it didn’t fit the AI [Artificial Intelligence] theme or whatever.”

There were also plenty of probing questions concerning Autechre’s legendary live sets (including a comically worded Russian booking request), but if you’re hoping for a live album, don’t hold your breath. While the duo have been “discussing this recently,” the massive amount of material they would have to sort through (“a few months work”) for the collection to be “comprehensive” is enough to put them off. Also there was debate on what to actually do with the recordings – whether to release them “untouched” (“they would sound a bit weak if we left them 100% intact cos they were mixes for a live rig”) or whether they should “stick the best bits of different gigs together”, George Lucas-style.

A possible remix compilation is at a similar impasse, but for different reasons. Booth explains that they suggested it to Warp when there were around 40 mixes, but the idea was rejected, no doubt due to the costs involved (it’s a “licensing nightmare”) in securing the rights to each track. Still, the duo are still potentially interested in the idea, and Booth says “if any labels wanna do it, contact us.”

Fans of the peerless ambient masterpiece ‘VLetrmx21’ might be pleased to know that Autechre haven’t totally ruled out the possibility of an entirely beatless album. Booth does say that it’s “unlikely” that he would “spend a couple of years doing non beat tracks,” but that if they “ended up with a few, and some way to separate them off into their own thing” then it could actually happen.

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If you’ve spent much time reading Autechre interviews, you’ll probably know that they don’t often give away many clues as to what they’re listening to at home. It will come as a surprise then that the AMA finally granted us a proper look into the duo’s current playlists and historical favourites, from Captain Beefheart to Skrillex (really).

It stands to reason that the duo’s musical tastes are totally across the map. Booth admits that some of the tracks on Exai were “probably” influenced by “Hessle and Hemlock”, for instance, but also has time for the “folded vaporwave” of Oneohtrix Point Never. He claims to be no expert on grime, but still gets into the “obvious people” like Wiley, Preditah, Footsie, Ruff Squad, Trim, Dot Rotten, JME and Wonder.

The duo both grew up with a massive passion for hip-hop, and they still keep an ear open – Booth is a fan of L.A. beatsmith Flying Lotus (“I really like the track he did with Earl [Sweatshirt]”), but wants to hear him do “more straight up hip-hop stuff.” He also “loves” beat-scene pioneer Dabrye, and Brown admits that even Canadian smooth crooner Drake has his moments. “I like the things he’s doing in ‘Headlines’” Brown reveals, yet he claims to only be “50/50” on the sad boy, as his “Craig David-10-years-too-late” shtick “isn’t too fresh.”

The two even touch on some often-controversial musical topics, with Booth admitting to quite liking Paul McCartney’s ‘Wonderful Christmas Time’ (“it’s fucking terrible but it’s kind of sonically pleasing somehow”) and Brown revealing an unexpected interest in EDM. “’Reptile’s Theme’ [by Skrillex] is good,” Brown states, and follows it up by assuring that “Avicii is nothing like Skrillex.” Thanks for that!

There’s love thrown out for the expected lot – Basic Channel, 808 State, Future Sound of London, Kraftwerk, Mantronix, Coil and plenty more – but the most interesting revelations are probably those about the contemporary set. Booth says that both of them “like Actress,” and that he quite likes “some of Zomby’s stuff”, as well as some of the recent techno adventurers: Rrose, Kyle Hall and Perc, for example. Knackered house posterboy Andy Stott sadly doesn’t get off as easily: “some of it’s alright but it sounds a bit easy to me.”

It’s not only electronic music that gets jammed at the Booth and Brown households either, Brown drops David Sylvian, Stina Nordenstam, Augustus Pablo, Scientist, Captain Beefheart and Mark Hollis as personal favourites, and Booth sings the praises of the Melvins, Incapacitants and the Cocteau Twins.

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The subject of film – both Hollywood movies and visuals for the duo’s music – is touched on a number of times. While Booth and Brown have little to say on whether they’re involved in making feature film soundtracks themselves (Booth claims they have signed Non Disclosure Agreements), there are plenty of clues as to their feelings on cinema in general.

A “big fan” of contemporary filmmakers such as Primer director Shane Carruth and Neill Blomkamp (director and writer of District 9), Booth cites Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch and Andrei Tarkofsky as his all-time favourites. He adds that while he and Brown aren’t film experts (“we’re not librarians really”) they are influenced by “mostly dystopian ‘70s sci-fi.”

It makes sense, then, that Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner was a formative influence, and is mentioned by the two on multiple occasions. While Booth claims it “would be shit without Vangelis,” Brown says he was “blown away” by the sci-fi classic.

David Lynch gets plenty of mentions, and Booth is a devotee of the director’s much-maligned Inland Empire, agreeing with one commenter that it’s the most “Autechrian” of Lynch’s canon.

He is less kind about director Lars Von Trier, and claims that if the quirky Dane approached him with a proposition he’d tell him to “fuck off and stop making shit films.”

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Over the years, Autechre have collaborated with a host of different musicians, both in on record and on stage. When one fan brings up a one-off show with Austrian innovator Fennesz and German electronic music pioneer Roedelius, Booth reveals that the show didn’t exactly go to plan. Apparently Roedelius “expected us to do beats like Amber,” and at this point the duo had “dived headlong into doing algorithmic stuff.” Roedelius “gave up halfway thru and starting playing solo piano stuff,” and Fennesz, Booth and Brown were forced to “back off and let him get on with it.” After the show, he shouted at them, as he thought that Booth and Brown had “deceived or tricked him somehow.”

Brown managed to shed some light on a confounding live performance with Plaid from 1995, which found the two bands playing together behind fire dancers and bagpipe players, and underneath a series of seemingly random announcements. It ended up being fairly unique, as the duo took “sequences and sounds” from their regular set of the time and adapted them as they watched a rehearsal during the day.

Autechre did three shows together with influential industrial ambient act :zoviet*france:, but while they recorded material together, it might never actually see the light of day. Booth claims that the band’s Ben Ponton has the DAT tape and every time he asks for a copy he gets brushed off – so he hasn’t actually heard anything since they did the gigs.

:zoviet*france: weren’t the only industrial music legends that Autechre went head-to-head with – they sent some beats over to Coil for a “potential collab,” and while they listened, “nothing came of it.” Booth says that the band “listened, enjoyed, and thought that they couldn’t add anything to it,” which is pretty crushing given that the collaboration can now never occur.

As for collaborations that might happen in the future, Booth revealed that New York hip-hip producer El-P is a fan; he approached the band for a collaboration once, and if we’re lucky it “might still happen.” If they could pick a dream project however, there’s only one band that need apply – Depeche Mode.

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It’s important to remember that this public appearance ran for longer than most, and being the internet, the possibility of random abuse is, well, rather high. Thankfully, Booth and Brown treated the more peculiar questions with just as much enthusiasm as they did questions about Max/MSP, and the results are occasionally hilarious. Here are some of the best:

– When asked what to cook a lady for a special Saturday night dinner, Booth insists on a “’70s style” prawn cocktail, noting “make sure you use too much of that pink sauce.” Brown however suggests “posh truckers food” of “grilled green chilli peppers with a fried egg and sea salt crystals.” Providing of course that the lady in question is “into truckers.”

– When asked to give his opinion on overrated street artist Banksy, Booth replies with a terse “utter shit.”

– Brown reckons that early-‘80s CITV favourites Orm & Cheep would win in a battle between Superted and Bananaman.

– If asked to indulge in a spot of karaoke, Brown (“if pushed”) would plump for AC/DC’s ‘Back in Black’, while Booth would opt for The Stone Roses’ classic ‘Fools Gold’, providing “wigs are available.”

– The most Autechrean planets are Saturn and Jupiter – and Blade Runner’s Deckard is definitely a replicant.

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Since Booth and Brown were responsible for discovering Boards of Canada in the first place, it stands to reason that they’d have some good stories, and they don’t disappoint. Responding to a query about an interview with Boards of Canada where the Scots reference a drunken German backstage experience, Booth had this anecdote to share:

“Yeah it was really muddy, like insanely muddy, and I was already somehow covered in mud, and I was really beyond drunk at that point cos we didn’t have to play (our tent was flooded and cancelled) and I had already downed a couple of bottles of champagne – I thought it would be a really good idea to try and push Mike Paradinas into the mud (he seemed to be really concerned about getting any mud on him at all). Anyway, it failed, and I ended up face down in a load of mud next to him, but he got pissed off about getting some mud on his wrist, so I WIN.”

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