1) For starters, they are both artists who have single-handedly pioneered their own respective musical genres to the point where their style is so unique that it cannot possibly be accurately described using any of the normal umbrella terms of ‘techno,’ ‘house,’ ‘drum’n'bass’ or ‘acid’. In 2004 with his debut album ‘My Way,’ Akufen single-handedly opened up a caveat of new listeners’ ears to the intricate sounds of micro-house and minimal house, whereas Squarepusher’s scattered rhythms and deep dirty basslines have earned him the title of one of the original pioneers of dubstep.
2) They are both sound surgeons who slice, dice, manipulate, and dominate over the samples they use, transforming and warping sounds into melodies and textures that are completely unrecognizable when compared to their original form.
3) Speaking of samples, both rely heavily on sampling in their musical practice.
4) Both are extreme artists in the sense that they live, breathe, and sleep their art. A colleague who once booked Squarepusher told me that after doing his sound check a few years ago, the artist sat alone in a corner inside the venue dressed all in black, speaking to no one, for the 5 hours prior to his performance. Akufen, similarly–though he is quite well-known–is not nearly so well-paid. But rather than selling out for the riches, he refuses to write any music except for that which truly emanates from his heart and his soul and prefers to lead a semi-impoverished existence in favor of retaining the purity of his art.
5) Release-wise, both have put out an album of sorts in 2012–though Akufen’s 5 track EP on Musique Risquee could be categorized more as a single than an album. Squarepusher’s Ufabulum by stark contrast, has a whopping 13 tracks by comparison–though the total runtime of the EP may be only a few minutes shy of that of Squarepusher’s latest offering. Aptly named Battlestar Galacticlown, Akufen’s latest and greatest–available exclusively on vinyl–is a sample-based journey into the inner space of joy, cartoons, and relics of the past. Track B2, with the epic title of Chocolate, strawberry, peach, banana, pistachio, peppermint, lemon, orange, butterscotch ice cream cone, features an opening sample by Bert & Ernie from Sesame Street. The cover art features Marc LeClair–Akufen–driving a flying yellow car through an outer (or inner) space dream scene filled with rainbow-colored planets and flying green baby seals. The music sounds similarly candy-sweet: melodic yet spacey, combining influences from his Horror Inc. alias with his signature Akufen splice and dice sample-based sound.
Squarepusher’s Ufabulum is much darker and more dense. Most of the tracks start off as fast, bass-heavy drum’n'bass-ish monsters and about 3/4 through become almost cacaphonious with the addition of distorted melodies. Personally I prefer his beginnings to his endings, as by the end many of the tracks seem overly cluttered. But Tom Jenkinson–aka Squarepusher–pushes the limits of how one can slice, dice, and apply gates to drum sounds, and his signature style deserves more respect than these simple words of criticism can offer. His music is decidedly dark, sci-fi, futuristic, and noisy when compared to Akufen’s crystal-clean intricately-balanced melodic arrangements. But both fill the sonic spectrum with a sound that is completely their own.
Performance-wise, Akufen performs wearing a t-shirt and black-rimmed glasses with only a laptop and simple midi controller, whereas for his latest performance concept, Squarepusher dons a helmet infused with programmable LEDs, and not only controls the music, but his own visuals as well.
Given the choice to listen to one or the other at home, I would definitely put the Akufen record on the stereo before slamming down the Squarepusher, but given the choice between watching the two play live, deciding on a preference would be a tough sell. Both artists are so unique and amazing in their own ways, it is impossible to compare them. Yet last night at Piknic Electronik, while watching Squarepusher, my boyfriend turned to me and said ‘it may sound kind of strange, but doesn’t he remind you of Akufen?’ and believe it or not, at that exact same moment I had been having exactly the same thought in my own head.