June 16, 2009

Autechre - Incunabula (1993, Warp Records)

Warp Records defined the IDM sound in the early '90s with their Artificial Intelligence CD series, which featured some of the first releases from artists who went on to lead prolific careers and have been defined as innovators in electronic music, including Aphex Twin, Speedy J, FUSE (now better known as Richie Hawtin/Plastikman), and The Black Dog (aka Plaid). Autechre were a duo from the UK, and their debut CD "Incunabula" was distributed in the US by TVT (parent label of classic US industrial label/shop WaxTrax!) so it was actually obtainable in American shops unlike many of the UK-printed Warp releases at the time. Besides having very futuristic (for the time) and mysterious cover art featuring reflective silver text, the sound was utterly unique and much more advanced than other early techno I had heard at the time. I am still actually kind of blown away that "Incunabula" was released in '93. While there are some dated elements, mainly in the form of the oldschool drum machine programming and bleepy synths, all the sounds are put to excellent use and the end result can still be totally appreciated even if heard for the first time today. The album is particularly interesting from the viewpoint of Autechre fans, as it captures the group in a different form than they became known for in the following years, when they established themselves as cutting-edge masters of experimental, glitchy, industrialized IDM sound. They began to incorporate more samples and a much more computer-centered production approach as the '90s progressed, using the latest and most high-end digital software and gear, and the sound took on a somewhat more abrasive, psychedelic rhythm-and-texture-oriented focus. "Tri Repetae++" was also a favorite of mine in the '90s, released as a 2CD set in the US by TVT, which featured the essential "Anvil Vapre" and "Garbage" EPs on the second disc. If you were really lucky you could even spot Autechre's devastating and creepy "Second Bad Vilbel" video on MTV's late night attempt at a "rave music" video show, AMP, which incidentally was one of the first videos directed by Chris Cunningham, who went on to direct amazing videos for Aphex Twin, Madonna and Bjork. Autechre have reinvented themselves with each release, and have put out a fantastic collection of EPs and full-lengths over the years, and while I find a few tracks on almost every release that I enjoy, "Incunabula" is one that I've gone back to again and again.