Many of us can link a certain album to pivotal moments in our lives. Whether it’s the first record you bought with your own money, the chord you first learnt to play on guitar, the song that soundtracked your first kiss, the album that got you those awkward and painful pubescent years or the one that set off light bulbs in your brain and inspired you to take a big leap of faith into the unknown – music is often the catalyst for change in our lives and can even help shape who we become.
In this series, Music Feeds asks artists to reflect on their relationship with music and share with us stories about the effect music has had on their lives.
Here are their love letters to records that forever changed their lives.
The Presets’ Julian Hamilton: Autechre – LP5
1998 was my final year at Music School. A piano major, up until then I had spent most of my time learning the classics – Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin – and now as I was nearing the end of my degree I found myself getting deeply into the heavy stuff, the more complex world of the post-war modernists. My imagination was set alight by other the worldly sounds of John Cage, the collapsing textures of Karheinz Stockhausen, the jarring dissonance of Pierre Boulez. I had an insatiable urge to explore all sounds weird and wild for the piano.
My night-time music tastes were also evolving. I grew up on hip hop and electro, and I got into raves as a high schooler. Most nights during Uni were spent partying, jumping around to acid house and big beats at Sydney clubs like Mr. Goodbar and Club 77. Yet, dance music at this time was changing. Styles like house and techno remained strong, but at their edges other styles were splintering off into a hundred micro genres. Artists like The Chemical Brothers and Speedy J took hip hop, and gave it a serious amyl bump, juicing it up and hardening its edges for the rave kids, whilst Tricky and Portishead took the same source material and stripped it of its bravado and artifice, leaving only blunted beats better suited for 90’s stoner generation. Meanwhile, Aphex Twin and Squarepusher took jungle and breakbeat, and with their twisted and distorted microprogramming completely redefined what dance music could sound like. It was an incredibly exciting time to be a fan of dance music, and one duo from Sheffield, England in particular made an album completely blew my head off.
LP5 by Autechre.
I saw it before I heard it. Flicking through the maze of multicoloured CD booklets in their uniform jewel cases at Sydney’s Red Eye Records, I came across one case that looked like no other. Completely solid. All graphite – it looked like it had been cut directly from a coal mine. It had no text on the cover except the unpronounceable band name written, in what else, Helvetica. It included no liner notes, no credits, no booklet, no tracks titles. “This had to be sick” I thought to myself as I took it to the counter to ask to listen on the headphones.
My expectations were high, and I was not disappointed. From the first few bars I was blown away. Bit crushed snares ricocheted around the stereo spectrum like ball bearings, hit hats buzzed and zapped like broken dentist drills, glitchy colours and smooth synth textures caressed my eardrums, and all the while dope kick drums held down the groove as if some long lost ghost of an 80’s electro MC was reminding them to keep it funky.
This album seemed to have been created completely for me. It sounded like all the music that I had ever loved had been chucked in a blender and spat out as one dope, futuristic party collage.
I recognised the abstract beats of 90’s hip hop, made tough with the hardest drums of industrial techno. I heard the complex rhythms of 1970’s Jack DeJohnette drum solos, collapsing over the quiet chord progressions of Ryuchi Sakamoto. Gyorgi Ligeti’s shimmering walls of sound were thrown in the tumble dryer with the 8bit soundtracks of Double Dragon and Super Mario Bros. The dense textural chaos of Xenakis’ orchestral works were made fresh with beats by Africa Bambaata.
I couldn’t believe music could be made that on one hand was so heavy and cerebral, yet on the other hand was so damn funky. Each track was a total head-fuck, yet still undeniably dope.
One track in particular, ‘Fold 4, Wrap 5’ had this nuts drum pattern, which started fast, then slowed over 4 bars, and then, folding over on itself, it revealed the fast rhythm again, only to repeat that pattern over and over, like some blunted shepard tone in beat form descending over and over, whilst never losing its groove. I couldn’t understand how something so wrong could sound so good. To this day it remains once of the most mind-blowing pieces of music I have ever heard.
Hearing this record was a huge revelation for me. I realised then that all the crazy shit I was learning at music school could be melded with all the vital music I was hearing on the dance-floor, and if done right the results could be fresh.
Thanks to records like these, I have never been afraid to mix high art with pop art. Whether remixing someone else’s track, or making a contemporary dance score, or creating a catchy Presets single – I have always aimed to make music that is on the one hand cool and accessible, while still aiming keep it weird too. Autechre taught me that it’s ok to make music for people to move their hips to, or bop their heads to – but it’s also OK to melt some minds from time to time.