Aphex Twin

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Aphex Twin
Aphex Twin 2.jpg
Richard James performing in Turin in 2007
Background information
Birth nameRichard David James
Also known as
  • AFX
  • Blue Calx
  • Bradley Strider
  • Caustic Window
  • The Dice Man
  • GAK
  • Q-Chastic
  • Polygon Window
  • Power-Pill
  • The Tuss
Born (1971-08-18) 18 August 1971 (age 47)
Limerick, County Limerick, Ireland
OriginLanner, Cornwall, England
Genres
Occupation(s)
  • Record producer
  • musician
  • composer
  • remixer
  • DJ
Instruments
Years active1985–present
Labels
Associated acts
Websiteaphextwin.warp.net

Richard David James (born 18 August 1971), best known by the stage name Aphex Twin, is a British musician.[1] He is best known for his influential and idiosyncratic work in styles such as ambient techno and intelligent dance music during the 1990s.[2][3] He is among the most acclaimed figures in contemporary electronic music.[2][4]

Raised in Cornwall, James began releasing acid techno records in the early 1990s under aliases such as AFX and Polygon Window, and co-founded the independent label Rephlex Records in 1991.[4] He first received acclaim for his 1992 debut album Selected Ambient Works 85–92. He signed to UK electronic label Warp the following year, and later rose to mainstream popularity with the charting singles "Come to Daddy" (1997) and "Windowlicker" (1999) along with their music videos, both directed by Chris Cunningham.

After releasing the studio album Drukqs in 2001, James went into a period of inactivity as Aphex Twin but continued to issue new music under other aliases, including the Analord EP series in 2005 as AFX, a pair of releases in 2007 as The Tuss, and an unreleased 1994 LP in 2014 as Caustic Window. James returned as Aphex Twin in 2014 with the album Syro, which won a Grammy Award for Best Dance/Electronic Album.

Early life and education[edit]

James grew up in Cornwall (pictured: the cliffs at Land's End)

James was born on 18 August 1971[5] in Limerick.[6] In 1996, he claimed to have had a stillborn older brother, also named Richard, though this may have been fabricated.[7][8] He grew up in Lanner, Cornwall, and attended Redruth School in nearby Redruth.[9] James said he liked growing up there, "being cut off from the city and the rest of the world".[9]

As a child, James enjoyed playing with the strings inside his family piano and disassembling tapes and tape recording equipment.[10] He took an early interest in electronics, and enjoyed modifying analogue synthesisers to create sounds.[10] According to James, at age 11 he won a magazine competition by producing sound on a Sinclair ZX81, a home computer with no sound hardware: "I played around with machine code and found some codes that retuned the TV signal so that it made this really weird noise when you turned the volume up". A blogger investigating this claim found that someone by a different name had won the competition, possibly James under a pseudonym.[11]

James said his interest in sound and engineering developed before his interest in music.[10] He began making music aged 14,[9] partially as a refuge from the "bloody awful" Jesus and Mary Chain albums played by his sister.[12] Cornwall had few record shops, but a thriving nightlife in which acid house was popular.[9] As a teenager, James worked as a DJ at clubs and raves, and included his own tracks in his sets.[9] He studied at Cornwall College from 1988 to 1990 and graduated with a National Diploma in engineering.[5] According to one lecturer, he often wore headphones during practical lessons and had a "kind of mystique about him ... I think some of the other students were a bit in awe of him".[5]

Career[edit]

1989–1992: Rephlex Records and first releases[edit]

In 1989, James befriended Grant Wilson-Claridge when they were working as DJs at a Cornwall club, Bowgie.[13] When Wilson-Claridge discovered that James was playing his own music, he suggested they create a record label to release it. They founded Rephlex Records in 1991.[9] The pair moved to London in 1992.[13]

James' first release as Aphex Twin was the 1991 12-inch EP Analogue Bubblebath on Mighty Force Records. The track "En Trance to Exit" was recorded with Tom Middleton.[14] The EP made the playlist of Kiss FM, an influential London radio station, which helped it become successful.[15]

From 1991 to 1993, James released two Analogue Bubblebath EPs (one without a band name on it, one as AFX) and an EP, Bradley's Beat, as Bradley Strider. Although he moved to London to take an electronics course at Kingston Polytechnic, he admitted to David Toop that his electronics studies were being evacuated as he pursued a career in the techno genre.[16]

After leaving the Polytechnic, James remained in London, releasing albums and EPs on Warp Records and other labels under aliases including AFX, Polygon Window, Power-Pill, Blue Calx and the Dice Man, appeared on compilations. Although he allegedly lived on the roundabout in Elephant and Castle, South London, during his early years in the city, he actually lived in a nearby unoccupied bank.[17][16]

1992–1995: Selected Ambient Works, I Care Because You Do and gaining success[edit]

The first full-length Aphex Twin album, Selected Ambient Works 85–92, comprising ambient music, was released in 1992 on R&S Records to critical acclaim. John Bush of Allmusic described it as a "watershed of ambient music".[2] In 2002, Rolling Stone wrote that Aphex Twin had "expanded way beyond the ambient music of Brian Eno by fusing lush soundscapes with oceanic beats and bass lines."[18] Pitchfork called it "among the most interesting music ever created with a keyboard and a computer".[19]

In 1992, James also released the EPs Digeridoo and Xylem Tube EP as Aphex Twin, the Pac-Man EP (an album of remixes of Pac-Man music) as Power-Pill, and two of his four Joyrex EPs (Joyrex J4 EP and Joyrex J5 EP) as Caustic Window. "Digeridoo" reached #55 on the UK Singles Chart, and was later described by Rolling Stone as foreshadowing drum and bass.[20] These early releases were on Rephlex Records, Mighty Force of Exeter and R&S Records of Belgium.[21]

In 1993, James released Analogue Bubblebath 3; the "On" EP and its accompanying remix EP; his second Bradley Strider EP, Bradley's Robot; two more Caustic Window EPs; and his first releases on Warp: Surfing on Sine Waves and "Quoth EP", as Polygon Window. Warp released the second Aphex Twin album, Selected Ambient Works Volume II ,in 1994, which explored a more ambient sound, inspired by lucid dreams and synesthesia. Other releases were a fourth Analogue Bubblebath, GAK (derived from early demos sent to Warp), and Classics, a compilation album.

For his 1995 album I Care Because You Do, composed between 1990 and 1994 in a range of styles, James used an image of his face for the album cover, which became a motif on his later releases. He commissioned Western classical-music composer Philip Glass to create an orchestral version of the I Care Because You Do track "Icct Hedral", which appeared on the Donkey Rhubarb EP.[22] In the same year, James released his Hangable Auto Bulb EP under the name AFX, which spearheaded the shortlived drill 'n' bass style.[23][24]

1996–2000: Richard D. James Album, Come to Daddy and commercial height[edit]

Richard D. James Album, James' fourth studio album as Aphex Twin, was released on Warp in 1996. It features use of software synthesizers and unconventional beats. John Bush of AllMusic noted that this was James' first studio album to work with jungle music, noting that the album was "more extreme than virtually all jungle being made at the time" with beats that were layered over the slower melodies that characterized James' earlier ambient works. Pitchfork opined that the album was one of the "aggressive combinations of disparate electronic forms when it was released", with its "almost-brutal contrast between its elements creates a seal that's locked in freshness since way back in 1996."[25] The album garnered acclaim from music critics, and was named 40th in Pitchfork's "Top 100 Albums of the 1990s" list.[26] It was also placed at number 55 on NME's Top 100 Albums of All Time in 2003.[27]

James garnered attention the following year after the release of his Come to Daddy EP. The title track was conceived as a death metal parody. Accompanied with a successful music video directed by Chris Cunningham, James became disenchanted by its success: "This little idea that I had, which was a joke, turned into something huge. It wasn't right at all."[28] It was followed by "Windowlicker", a successful single promoted with another Cunningham music video, nominated for the Brit Award for Best British Video in 2000.[1][28]

2000–2009: Drukqs, Analord series and the Tuss[edit]

Aphex Twin performing in 2007

In 2001 Aphex Twin released Drukqs, an experimental double album featuring computer-controlled piano (influenced by Erik Satie and John Cage) and abrasive, fast, meticulously-programmed songs. Many track names are written in Cornish—for example, "Jynweythek Ylow" ("Machine Music"). Rolling Stone described the piano pieces as "aimlessly pretty".[29] The release polarized reviewers. James told interviewers he had accidentally left an MP3 player with new tracks on a plane, and had rushed the album release to preempt an internet leak.[30]

In 2001, James also released a short EP, 2 Remixes By AFX, with remixes of songs by 808 State and DJ Pierre. It also had an untitled third track, consisting of a SSTV image with high-pitched sounds which can be decoded to a viewable image with appropriate software (such as MultiMode for Macintosh or MMSSTV for Windows). In 2002, James was nominated for the Brit Award for Best British Male.[1]

In 2005, James released a series of vinyl EPs as AFX, Analord, created entirely with analogue equipment. These were followed in 2006 by a CD compilation of tracks, Chosen Lords.[31] In 2007, James released two records on Rephlex, Confederation Trough EP and Rushup Edge, under the alias the Tuss; the name is Cornish slang for "erection". Media sources speculated about James's involvement, but his identity was not confirmed until 2014.[32][33]

In an October 2010 interview, James said he had completed six new albums, including a new version of the unreleased Melodies from Mars.[34] In September 2011, he performed a live tribute to the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki; he performed his remix of Penderecki's "Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima" and a version of "Polymorphia".[35] The following month, he performed at the Paris Pitchfork Music Festival.[36]

2014–2015: Caustic Window, Syro, SoundCloud, and Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2[edit]

Street art promoting the Syro album in New York City.

In 2014, a test pressing of a 1994 album recorded under James's pseudonym Caustic Window appeared for sale on Discogs. The album was once intended for sale on James's label Rephlex, but went unreleased. With the consent of James and Rehplex, fans organised a Kickstarter campaign to purchase the record and distribute copies.[37]

Syro, the first album released under the Aphex Twin name since Drukqs in 2001, was released by Warp on 23 September 2014. It was marketed by a teaser campaign including graffiti, a blimp flown over London, and an announcement made via a .onion address accessible through the deep web browser Tor.[38]

In November 2014, James released a set of 21 tracks, Modular Trax, on the audio platform SoundCloud. The tracks were later removed.[39] Over several months in 2015, James anonymously uploaded 269 demo tracks, some dating to the 1980s, to SoundCloud. In May, the tracks were removed.[40] James said he had released the demos to relieve his family of the pressure to release his archives after he dies.[41]

On 23 January 2015, James released Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2,[42] created with robotic instruments including the Disklavier, a computer-controlled player piano.[43]

2016–present: Cheetah and Collapse EPs[edit]

On 8 July 2016, Aphex Twin released the Cheetah EP, backed by a music video for "CIRKLON3 [Колхозная mix]", the first official music video for an Aphex Twin track in 17 years.[44] On 17 December, James performed in Houston, Texas at the Day for Night festival, his first American appearance in 8 years. An untitled 12-inch vinyl was sold exclusively at the festival, containing two 10-minute tracks.[45] On 3 June 2017, James performed at the Field Day festival and released a limited edition EP, London 03.06.17.[46] On 19 June 2017, a Michigan record store sold an exclusive Aphex Twin record comprising two tracks released on SoundCloud in 2015.[47] On July 27, Aphex Twin opened an online store with expanded versions of previous albums and new tracks.[48]

Aphex Twin released an EP, Collapse, on 14 September 2018.[49] The EP was announced on August 5 in a garbled press release written in broken English and visually distorted with the same Aphex Twin 3D graphic found in London, Turin and Hollywood.[50] A promotional video for the Collapse EP was going to be broadcast on Adult Swim, but it was cancelled after failing the Harding test. It was made available online instead and the official music video for the song "T69 Collapse" was uploaded to YouTube.[51][52]

Musical style[edit]

In a September 1997 interview with Space Age Bachelor magazine, James said he composed ambient music at age 13, had "over 100 hours" of unreleased music and had invented music-composition software consisting of algorithmic processes which automatically generated rhythm and melody. In the interview, he also claimed to have experienced synesthesia and incorporated lucid dreaming into his compositions.[53] In a 1993 interview with Simon Reynolds, James claimed voluntary sleep deprivation as an influence on his productions.[10]

In 2001, The Guardian described James' musical lineage as Stockhausen, John Cage, Kraftwerk, Brian Eno and Derrick May.[4] Acknowledging another influence, James released Music from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop: a compilation of music recorded by the pioneers of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (including Delia Derbyshire)[54] on Rephlex. Although he has said "I don't really like rock & roll" he appreciates Led Zeppelin (as a source of "great breakbeats"),[55] and Pink Floyd (for their psychedelic music).[55]

James' Rephlex Records, which he co-owned with Grant Wilson-Claridge, coined the word "braindance" in 1991 to describe Aphex Twin's music.[32][56][57] According to the label: "Braindance is the genre that encompasses the best elements of all genres, e.g. traditional, classical, electronic music, popular, modern, industrial, ambient, hip-hop, electro, house, techno, breakbeat, hardcore, ragga, garage, drum and bass, etc."[58] In a review of Astrobotnia's Parts 1, 2 & 3 Rephlex release, a Pitchfork writer said in 2002:

Intelligent dance music (IDM) is mentioned on the home page of the Intelligent Dance Music (IDM) mailing list (created in August 1993) about the music of Aphex Twin and the Artificial Intelligence Series released by Warp Records.[60] The series features James' recordings as Polygon Window and early productions from artists including Autechre, Black Dog, Richie Hawtin's FUSE project and Speedy J. The term spread to the United States and internet message boards. James responded to the IDM term in a 1997 interview:

Image and pseudonyms[edit]

James' face, grinning or distorted, is a theme of his album covers, music videos and songs. According to him, it began as a response to techno producers who concealed their identities:

The cover of ...I Care Because You Do features a painting of James, and that of Richard D. James Album has a close-up photograph. His face is superimposed on the bodies of other people in the music videos for "Come to Daddy" and "Windowlicker". Near the end of the second track of the "Windowlicker" single (known as "Equation"), a photo of James' face is a steganogram which is revealed as a spectrogram.[63] Another image of James and collaborator Tom Jenkinson is embedded (in SSTV format) with text in the third track of 2 Remixes by AFX, "Bonus High Frequency Sounds". He has used his own photography for some releases, including the album sleeve for Selected Ambient Works Volume II.

James has recorded as AFX, Blue Calx, Bradley Strider, The Universal Indicator, Brian Tregaskin, Caustic Window, The, Smojphace, GAK, Karen Tregaskin, Martin Tressider, PBoD (Phonic Boy on Dope), Polygon Window, Power-Pill, Q-Chastic, Dice Man, The Tuss, and Soit-P.P.[64] In a 1997 interview, James commented on the difference between works released under different names, saying "There's really no big theory. It's just things that I feel right in doing at the time and I really don't know why. I select songs for certain things and I just do it. I don't know what it means".[61]

In a 2001 interview, Richard D. James commented on the ambiguous nature of his own releases and the speculation that surrounds many anonymous artists working in electronica: "a lot of people think everything electronic is mine. I get credited for so many things, it's incredible. I'm practically everyone, I reckon—everyone and nobody".[28]

Influence and legacy[edit]

Writing in The Guardian in 2001, journalist Paul Lester described James as "the most inventive and influential figure in contemporary electronic music".[4] AllMusic's John Bush wrote that, "unlike most artists who emerged from the '90s techno scene, James established himself as a genuine personality, known for his cheeky grin and nightmare-inducing music videos as much as his groundbreaking albums and EPs," which helped to "expand his audience from ravers and critics to rock fans, with numerous non-electronic musicians citing him as an inspiration".[2]

In 2007, Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk cited Aphex Twin (particularly "Windowlicker") as an influence for the duo's 2001 album Discovery. Bangalter said he liked it because "It wasn't a big club beat, but it also wasn't a laid back, quiet one.".[65]

In 2013, Thom Yorke of Radiohead named Aphex Twin as his biggest influence, saying: "He burns a heavy shadow ... Aphex opened up another world that didn't involve my fucking electric guitar ... I hated all the music that was around Radiohead at the time, it was completely fucking meaningless. I hated the Britpop thing and what was happening in America, but Aphex was totally beautiful, and he's kind of my age too."[66] In 2002, asked if he would tour with Radiohead, James said "I wouldn't play with them since I don't like them".[55]

Mike Edwards of Jesus Jones, speaking at the release of Perverse in early 1993, described James as an influence.[67]

His 1994 song "#5" from Selected Ambient Works Volume II was slowed down and made into the song "City of Lost Angels". This version was featured in the 1997 game Fallout from Interplay Entertainment.[citation needed]

In 2005, Alarm Will Sound released Acoustica: Alarm Will Sound Performs Aphex Twin, acoustic arrangements of James' electronic tracks.

The London Sinfonietta performed arrangements of Aphex Twin songs in 2006.[68]

Former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante said that Aphex Twin is "the best thing since sliced bread", and his Outsides EP and PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone are examples of James' influence.

Minimalist composer Steve Reich, who James remixed for his "Pendulum Music" piece, has praised James and commended his work.[69]

James premiered new music with Radiohead guitarist-composer Jonny Greenwood in a 2011 collaboration with Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki.[70]

Animator David Firth has much of his work soundtracked by Aphex Twin.[71]

In 2012, a Fact magazine review of the 100 best albums of the 1990s listed the LP Selected Ambient Works 85–92 in No.1 position.[72]

In June 2014, Answer Code Request (Patrick Gräser) called James "one producer who always inspires" him in the "Influences" section of the Ransom Note website. Gräser used the Aphex Twin song "Analogue Bubblebath 1" to exemplify James' influence: "I guess being obsessed with your own music is what makes him that brilliant."[73]

In June 2014, Wes Borland of Limp Bizkit stated "Cliffs" or possibly "Rhubarb" from Selected Ambient Works II as being the song he would listen to for the rest of his life if he had to pick one.[74]

In December 2015, Skrillex briefly mentioned how "some of his favourite music pieces of all time are by Aphex Twin".[75]

Personal life[edit]

In the mid-1990s, James bought a former bank in the Elephant & Castle area of London, where he claimed to live in a converted vault.[7] He also mischievously claimed in a 2001 interview to have bought the steel structure in the centre of the roundabout, though this is in fact the Michael Faraday Memorial which houses an electricity substation for the London Underground.[17] In the 1990s, James bought a 1950's-era Daimler Ferret Mark 3 "tank" (technically an armoured car), complete with working machine gun, which he would drive around town while living in Cornwall in lieu of a car. He stated that it "pisses over virtual reality or any computer game I've ever played."[76][7] He also claimed to have bought a submarine.[4]

In a 2010 interview with Fact, James revealed that he was living in Scotland at the time after relocating from London—according to FACT, he "extolled the virtues" of his new residential location.[77] As of 2014, he lives in Scotland with his two sons—from his first marriage[3]—and his second wife, a Russian art student.[78] According to James, his sons both make music.[3]

Awards[edit]

Year Awards Category Work Result
1998 MTV Video Music Awards Best Special Effects "Come to Daddy" Nominated
D&AD Awards Pop Promo Video with a budget over £40.000 Yellow Pencil
Direction Yellow Pencil
MTV Europe Music Awards Best Video Nominated
1999 "Windowlicker" Nominated
Prix Ars Electronica Digital Music Himself Won
Online Music Awards Best Electronic Fansite[79] Nominated
2000 Brit Awards Best British Video "Windowlicker" Nominated
D&AD Awards Direction Yellow Pencil
Editing Yellow Pencil
NME Awards Single of the Year Won
Best Dance Act Himself Nominated
2002 Nominated
Brit Awards British Male Solo Artist Nominated
Shortlist Music Prize Album of the Year Drukqs Nominated
2005 Antville Music Video Awards Best Video "Rubber Johnny" Nominated
2014 Rober Awards Music Poll Best Male Artist Himself Nominated
Comeback of the Year Nominated
Best Electronica Won
2015 Grammy Awards Best Dance/Electronica Album Syro Won
International Dance Music Awards Best Full Length Studio Recording Nominated
Mercury Prize Album of the Year Nominated
A2IM Libera Awards Nominated
Creative Packaging Award Won
Marketing Genius Syro album release campaign Nominated
2016 Brit Awards British Male Solo Artist Himself Nominated
2018 UK Video Music Awards Best Dance Video "T69 Collapse" Nominated
Best Visual Effects in a Video Nominated
Best Animation in a Video Nominated
2019 Classic Pop Reader Awards Video of the Year Pending
Brit Awards British Male Solo Artist Himself Nominated

Discography[edit]

Studio albums as Aphex Twin

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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