Interview: Autorotation

Autorotation1Autorotation are an electronic-based trio who create, in a nutshell, really beautiful, yet strangely mesmerising music.  Residing in London, they are a really interesting bunch.  Our editor caught up with them to see what makes them tick.

So, can you just briefly introduce theband for us? Who’s in and what do they play?

We are Autorotation, an electronic band from South East London. We have Robyn on vocals, iPad and dulcimer, Laura on percussion, vocals and MIDI controller, and Igor on the guitar and programming.

How did Autorotation come into existence then?

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away (called Toronto), Igor put up an advert for a vocalist in a local online music forum, listing influences like Cocteau Twins, Aphex Twin and Autechre. Luckily, Robyn saw it and, amazingly, knew who the influences were (some good UK acts don’t always cross the Atlantic). So, they met in Igor’s “studio” (notice the quotes) and Robyn noticed that he had orange hair and thick glasses, but no gravy stains on his shirt. And Igor noticed that not only Robyn could sing well, but that she knew more about music gear than him. That was enough to kick-start the band.

What were the early days like?

Crappy equipment, computers that constantly crashed (no money for anything decent), gigs in dingy places with abused PA systems. Well, not much has changed really! Except that we have a few more toys and the gear is more reliable.

What were your first gigs like?

Scary. We didn’t really know what works and what doesn’t in terms of equipment, complexity of the setup and the sound, and the whole performance aspect. It may all sound fine in a studio, but once on stage, it’s so easy to be navel-gazing and frankly boring to the audience, or to have an overly-complicated, detailed sound that just doesn’t translate into the gig environment.

Any particularly memorable moments?

We did a lot of Gay Pride gigs in and around Toronto. It was always good fun.

We also did the TMBase05 festival in Timisoara, Romania, at which the main act, after ours, was Rechenzentrum, with guest Schneider TM. They had totally usurped the middle of a large stage with equipment on large tables so that all other bands had to skirt around this during their performances. They hadn’t built themselves up a great reputation at the hotel or with the live crew during the festival, and between us leaving the stage and them starting their set, our then guitarist from Yorkshire, who never minced her words, got her revenge on their guitarist who had been being sexist towards her, by detuning his guitar which was right under her feet during our set. (She was a multi-skilled lady!) They took the stage to boos as their guitarist ripped out some truly revolting chords causing the vocalist to tell the audience to “Fuck off”, stupidly thinking that Romanians don’t understand English. Bad move.

Why did you leave Toronto for London

We’re not going to sugar-coat it: Toronto is quite boring, to be honest. It’s a hipster playground with a huge chip on its shoulder for not being New York. There were many people doing interesting stuff, but no scene to speak of and no interest in live electronic music. EDM DJs are fine – but a band must rock hard, right? Yeah, we’re going to lose a few Facebook “likes” from the Torontonians for saying this, but fuck it.


How did that change in cities, influence the music you were producing?

Life in general became more neurotic and uncertain, so I guess that is reflected in the music, which is now much more chaotic and dark. But, the move was also liberating in a way. We stopped thinking about “making it” and now just concentrate on making music that we want to hear. Also, London encourages you to experiment and find your style. Whether or not that style will be accepted is another matter, but at least there is an aura of “different is good” – very much the opposite from Toronto.

Who have been the major influences on you as a band?

We like a wide spectrum of music, so the influences range from classical composers like Debussy, Satie, Gorecky, Ligeti, and Branca to the more obvious pop icons like Kate Bush, Cocteau Twins and Lamb. Then, there are the electronic artists like Laibach and Autechre. Finally, musical friends and collaborators have always been a great influence, like The Soap Company and Makunouchi Bento, to name just a couple.

And who’s floating your boat these days?

Tallis, Durufle, Gorecky. We’re really into choral music these days. Plus the excellent album “Strømløs” by Nebular Spool.

How has your style evolved over the years?

We started doing drum’n’bass years ago when we started. Then went all dubby, then shoegazy. All those past “loves” are still kind of there, but I guess we now pay more attention to the melodic content and the arrangements rather than just the beats. We like complicated, detailed music that requires attention from the listener. It probably shows in what we write ourselves, because we want to be happy and proud of what we produce. If anyone else likes it, it’s a bonus.

How did Laura joining the band change things? What did she bring to the party, so to speak?

A common friend introduced us about a year ago and it turns out that we are all on the same page with the music we listen to and what we want to achieve as musicians.
Vocal harmonies are our specialty and having another competent female vocalist is a great asset when performing. She is also a master percussionist, composer and songwriter, so it all adds up when performing or writing.

What technology out there has had the greatest influence / helped with this evolution in style?

We’ve always been focused on the music-making software and how it can be used for live performances. Recently, we ditched Logic and went old-school using a tracker, Renoise, for both writing and performing. Now, we’re experimenting more and more with MIDI over local wireless network, mobile phones and tablets as controllers, as well some great open-source software like PureData and ChucK.

You’ve recently remixed Sephirot’s track, ‘Didn’t They Have To Die’, resulting in the creation of ‘Instant Love’. How did you approach that project?

We usually try to use some elements of the original track, twist and mutilate them and then create something totally different. Instead of a dance track, we decided to go with more of a folky feeling, with the accordion-resembling loop and a nylon-string guitar. There was also a stem in the remix pack that really fitted well with the general feel of the song, adding to the atmosphere of fear, hesitation and insecurity. At the end, we recorded the vocals in one take only, kept them as raw as possible for the effect of anxiety and vulnerability.

What constitutes a good remix to you?

Someone getting inspired by the original to create a totally new and different piece of art.

Who out there is floating your boat remix-wise these days?

To be honest, we’re out of the loop at the moment. Our focus is somewhere else.

In five words, can you sum up Autorotation for those that have never seen you?

The five Cs: cats, cats, cats, chocolate cake.

Or, if you prefer: crackly, exotic, molecular, warm, fractured