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May 17, 2005

Electronic duo strives and fails to make intelligent dance music

The British electronic duo of Sean Booth and Rob Brown, also known as Autechre, recently came to the Metro to promote their latest album, Untitled. Having only heard them a little, I decided on a whim to check them out.

Autechre came out at 1 a.m., and the crowd cheered loudly. It was obvious that almost everyone had just been marking time through the two previous acts, DJ Rob Hall and the duo SND. All the stage lights turned off except for some onstage reading lights and emergency lights, and Booth and Brown took their positions behind their equipment.

For the next 90 minutes they barely moved from their spots as they methodically created an ever-evolving soundscape, sometimes harshly dissonant, sometimes subtly layered to create intriguing sonic combinations of beats. Having little previous knowledge of their music, I didn't recognize anything Autechre played, but a friend of mine said that while they played some new songs from Untitled, few of the sounds were new.

Booth and Brown didn'tsay a single word the entire night, and thanks to the darkness and two speakers blocking them, it felt like they weren't really there. In some ways it was like listening to an album by myself, except it was louder than I could ever hope (or want!) to have at home, and of course I wasn't alone.

To be honest, the entire experience was rather strange. This type of music is occasionally called intelligent dance music (IDM), which is definitely a misnomer,not because it isn't intelligent, but because it hardly danceable! The ones who did dance bounced around like leprechauns on speed, while the rest of the audience resigned itself to swaying in place. You couldn't blame them, as most of the time the music was a combination of hyper-fast beats combined with languid bass lines.

Perhaps I was just tired, but the show failed to energize me. While electronic music is often somewhat repetitious, all of the acts this night seemed exceptionally so; by 2 a.m. I found myself quite bored, a feeling I definitely would not have anticipated. Occasionally, the different sounds would coalesce into an interesting song, but the moments were short-lived, and far between.

I don't think I was the only one who felt this way. The audience had pretty much cleared out by the end of Autechre set, with few people seeing the headlining act all the way through. Rob Hall came back on stage, but I don think many people stayed around to hear him again. I left, having had my fill of all three acts.

Looking back, I would say that the show delivered on its promise; Autechre played their music and, well, Hall and SND played music in the same genre. However, there was no energy. Simply put, the spark needed to make a great show was missing.