On Autechre's Challenging 'Exai' and Pan's Worthy Successors

[caption id="attachment_68498" align="alignleft" width="640"]Autechre Photo courtesy of Warp Records.[/caption]

Every week or thereabouts, Mutant Dance Moves takes you to the shadowy corners of the dancefloor and the fringes of contemporary electronic music, where new strains and dance moves are evolving.

Like most college graduates, soon after gripping lambskin I found myself traipsing through Europe in the early 21st century. And while I partook in almost every cliché to be had as an American abroad (smoking weed in Amsterdam, getting blind-drunk for less than $4 in Czech Republic, etc.), at one point I found myself well off the beaten backpacker path, at an experimental music festival in Valencia, Spain. The bill included noise folk like Russell Haswell, DJs like Baby Ford and Basic Channel, and --serving as headliner-- was the UK duo of Rob Brown and Sean Booth, the gents better known as Autechre.

The entire proceedings went down at the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, an astounding new museum envisioned by architects Santiago Calatrava and the late Félix Candela. For Autechre’s set, we were seated in a hall not unlike that of the UN general assembly, the vibe more kin to a lecture than warehouse rave. High-windowed walls ran along one side of the room, from which we could see the mass Spanish youth unable to score tickets. They began pounding on the glass as if to incite a riot, nearly smashing all the windows in the museum, before they were finally allowed to stream in to the place.

By that point in time, Autechre were the apex of intelligent dance music, with albums like LP5 and EP7 pushing their sound into new boundaries: absorbing granular synthesis, power electronics and more, yet still tethering it to a sense of rhythmic play that could still evoke early electro, jungle, even the skipping arrhythmia of Thelonious Monk. At that concert though (and soon thereafter on their discography), they went deep into electronic abstraction, frequency fussiness and glitchy navel-gazing, and that crowd of riled-up Spaniards –rowdy as futbol fans mere minutes before—became docile and then bored, soon dispersing.

Autechre’s latest album Exai won’t soon turn those folks back from the exits. A double album that’s 40 minutes longer than anything else in their daunting discography, their 11th album finds them pulled back from the brink of efforts like 2001’s inhospitable Confield and 2008’s more fragmentary Quaristice, yet still unwilling to edit or focus the tracks into something more formidable. Tracks like “vekoS” and “runrepik” start off promising, before dissipating into the spaces between each component, as if the duo remains intent on dismantling every machination, rather than refining it or moving it forward.

Lee GambleNot that there aren’t universes to be had between beats. Take for example Lee Gamble’s Diversions 1994-1996, which was released on the adventurous Pan imprint late last year only to quickly disappear into the ether, just seeing a repress this month. The Birmingham-raised, London-based producer Gamble is no doubt the progeny of Autechre’s sound, as enthralled to jungle and underground dance music as he is by the more rigorous and experimental sides of electronic composition. The astonishing Diversions splits that difference, a gauzy yet turbid investigation into Gamble’s own dubbed-to-cassette jungle mixtapes rendered in the mid-'90s. And while his intent scans as high-art, seeking to –as he put it in an interview-- “extract, expand upon and convey particular qualities emblematic of the original music,” the results are immediate and uncanny in their ambience, a modern update of visual artist Mark Leckey’s epochal 1999 video piece “Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore” while also slotting in among the work of Oneohtrix Point Never and The Caretaker.

Another recent Pan offering comes in the form of Greece-based producer Jar Moff’s bewildering debut album, Commercial Mouth. On Jar Moff’s Tumblr page, some of the man’s Exquisite Corpse-esque collage work can be seen, an aesthetic that carries over to the two side-long tracks here. White noise, free jazz blurts, Burroughs-ian cut-ups, alien FX, chiming bells, faltering drum machine hits, field recordings and more spin past at a destabilizing pace. At 25 minutes, Commercial Mouth is anything but commercial, yet its abstraction and mutant sound properties feel manageable. It’s quite a whirlwind of a trip.