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Aphex Twin
Aphex Twin 2.jpg
James performing in March 2007
Background information
Birth name Richard David James
Also known as
  • AFX
  • Bradley Strider
  • Caustic Window
  • GAK
  • Polygon Window
  • Power-Pill
  • The Tuss
Born (1971-08-18) 18 August 1971 (age 51)
Limerick, Ireland
Origin Cornwall, England
Genres
Occupation(s)
  • Musician
  • composer
  • DJ
Instruments
Years active 1985–present
Labels
  • Warp
  • Rephlex
  • Apollo
Associated acts
  • Universal Indicator
  • Mike & Rich
  • Squarepusher
  • Luke Vibert

Richard David James (born 18 August 1971), best known as Aphex Twin, is an Irish-born British musician, composer and DJ. He is known for his idiosyncratic work in electronic styles such as techno, ambient, and jungle. Journalists from publications including Mixmag, The New York Times, NME, Fact, Clash and The Guardian have called James one of the most influential and important artists in contemporary electronic music.

Raised in Cornwall, James began DJing at free parties and clubs in the area and around the South West in the late 1980s. His debut EP Analogue Bubblebath, released in 1991 on Mighty Force Records, brought James an early following; he began to perform across the UK and continental Europe. James co-founded the independent label Rephlex Records the same year. His 1992 debut album Selected Ambient Works 85–92, released by Belgian label Apollo, garnered wider critical and popular acclaim. James signed to Warp in 1993 and subsequently released charting albums such as ...I Care Because You Do (1995) and Richard D. James Album (1996), as well as Top 40 singles such as "Come to Daddy" (1997) and "Windowlicker" (1999); the latter two were accompanied by music videos directed by Chris Cunningham and brought James significantly wider international attention.

After releasing Drukqs in 2001 and completing his contract with Warp, James spent several years releasing music on his own Rephlex label, including the 2005 Analord EP series under his AFX alias and a pair of 2007 releases as the Tuss. In 2014, he made available a previously unreleased 1994 LP as Caustic Window. He returned later that year with the Aphex Twin album Syro on Warp, winning the Grammy Award for Best Dance/Electronic Album. He has since released charting EPs including Cheetah (2016) and Collapse (2018).

Early life

James was born on 18 August 1971 in Limerick, Ireland, to Welsh parents. He has said that he had a stillborn older brother also named Richard whose name he inherited. In a 1997 interview with Alternative Press, James stated that this death occurred while his family had moved to Canada in 1968 for his father's mining work; it led his mother to reuse the name because "she didn't want to accept the death of the child." James grew up in Cornwall, where he lived in Lanner while attending Redruth School in Redruth. James said he liked growing up there, "cut off from the city and the rest of the world". He became interested in making sounds before writing music, and as a child he played with the strings inside his family piano and disassembled tape equipment. In a 2001 interview, James said that at age 11, he won £50 in a competition for 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." However, Fact Magazine reported in 2017 that this contest story is dubious, and likely based on a program published in Your Computer Magazine 1982, for which the author (G. N. Owen) was paid £6. James states that he bought his first synthesizer at age 12 and after taking an interest in electronics would modify analogue synthesisers "and junk" to make noise.

James began making music aged 14. Cornwall had few record shops, but a thriving nightlife in which acid house was popular. James claimed to have been making music with similarities to acid and techno for years before hearing the genres, leading him to purchase every record he could find in the styles. In his late teens, James began DJing at clubs and raves, and included his own tracks in his sets. He studied at Cornwall College from 1988 to 1990 and graduated with a National Diploma in engineering. 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."

Career

1988–1991: Cornish free parties, Rephlex Records and first releases

James started a regular DJ slot in 1989, playing alternate weeks at the Bowgie nightclub in Crantock. There he met Tom Middleton and Grant Wilson-Claridge. Impressed by James's music, Middleton played a tape James had given him to a free party organiser in Exeter, who eventually convinced James to release a record on his fledgling record label Mighty Force Records. James was initially resistant, but Darby and Middleton convinced him to release the record. Similarly impressed by James's music, Wilson-Claridge suggested they use some money he inherited to create a record label to release it. He and James founded Rephlex Records in 1991.

James's first release was the 12" EP Analogue Bubblebath, released on Mighty Force in September 1991. The EP made the playlist of Kiss FM, an influential London radio station, giving it wide exposure in the dance music scene. In 2015, The Guardian called the release one of the key moments in the history of dance music. The record caught the ear of Renaat Vandepapeliere, the head of R&S Records, at that time one of the leading European rave labels. James visited him in Belgium, bringing with him a box full of cassettes of his music. From these cassettes they picked out tracks for two records, including James's first album Selected Ambient Works 85-92.

In 1992, as word of his 12" records spread, James started performing at London techno events like the formative club Knowledge, held at the SW1 nightclub in London's Victoria, and the influential night Lost.

Through 1991 and 1992, James released three Analogue Bubblebath EPs, two EPs as Caustic Window, the Red EP as part of the Universal Indicator collective, along with the Digeridoo and Xylem Tube EPs on the R&S label. Although he moved to London to take an electronics course at Kingston Polytechnic, he admitted to David Toop that his electronics studies were slipping away as he pursued a career in electronic music.

1992–1994: Selected Ambient Works and early success

The first full-length Aphex Twin album, Selected Ambient Works 85–92, comprised material dating back to James's teen years. It was released in November 1992 by Apollo Records, a subsidiary of Belgian label R&S. John Bush of Allmusic would later describe the release as a watershed moment in ambient music. In a 2002 Rolling Stone record review Pat Blashill noted that Aphex Twin had "expanded way beyond the ambient music of Brian Eno by fusing lush soundscapes with oceanic beats and bass lines," demonstrating that "techno could be more than druggy dance music". Writing for Pitchfork in 2002, David Pecoraro called it "among the most interesting music ever created with a keyboard and a computer". DJ Mag's Ben Murphy named it "a seminal record in the IDM, ambient and experimental canon".

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, two of his four Joyrex EPs (Joyrex J4 EP and Joyrex J5 EP) as Caustic Window, and Analogue Bubblebath 3. "Digeridoo" reached #55 on the UK Singles Chart, and was later described by Rolling Stone as foreshadowing drum and bass. That year, he also appeared as the Dice Man on the Warp Records compilation Artificial Intelligence with the track "Polygon Window;" the compilation would help birth the genre later known as "intelligent dance music" and help launch the career of Aphex Twin alongside Autechre and Richie Hawtin. In 1993, there followed his first releases on Warp: Surfing on Sine Waves (the second entry in the label's Artificial Intelligence series) and the EP Quoth, as Polygon Window, and later in the year the "On" EP, which entered the top 40 on the UK charts. Rephlex also put out an EP by James under the alias Bradley Strider, Bradley's Robot, and two more Caustic Window records.

James was part of several tours in 1993. He supported the Orb on several dates, and joined the "Midi Circus" tour at venues across the UK, co-headlining with Orbital, the Orb and Drum Club. Later in the year, he was part of the NASA "See the Light" tour with Orbital, Moby, and Vapourspace at venues across the United States.

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 James's experience of synaesthesia. It reached number 11 in the UK charts, but was not particularly well received critically; critic Simon Reynolds later noted that "many in the Aphex cult were thrown for a loop" and that "Aphex aficionados remain divided". Other 1994 releases were a fourth Analogue Bubblebath, GAK (derived from early demos sent to Warp), and Classics, a compilation album.

1995–2000: ...I Care Because You Do, Richard D. James Album and Come to Daddy

For his charting 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 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. In the same year, James released his Hangable Auto Bulb EP under the name AFX, which spearheaded the short-lived drill 'n' bass style.

Richard D. James Album, James's fourth studio album as Aphex Twin, was released on Warp in 1996. It features software synthesisers and unconventional rhythms. Will Hermes of Spin discussed James's use of jungle elements, writing that "by applying junglist strategies to his own obsessive sound creation - his gorgeous weirdo palette of modernist strings, whirring crib toys, and agitated machines - he remakes drum'n'bass in his own image". In a Pitchfork list of the best albums of the 1990s, Eric Carr wrote that Richard D. James Album demonstrated "aggressive combinations of disparate electronic forms", with an "almost-brutal contrast between its elements" that has ensured its relevance. In 2003, NME named it the 55th greatest album of all time, and in 2009 Pitchfork named it the 40th greatest album of the 1990s.

James garnered attention the following year after the release of his charting 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." It was followed by "Windowlicker", a charting single promoted with another Cunningham music video, nominated for the Brit Award for Best British Video in 2000.

2001–2009: Drukqs, Analord and the Tuss

Aphex Twin, 2008
James performing in 2008

In 2001 Aphex Twin released Drukqs, an experimental double album featuring abrasive, meticulous programming and computer-controlled piano influenced by Erik Satie and John Cage. It features the piano composition "Avril 14th", which remains perhaps James's best known work. The album polarised 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.

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. In 2002, James was nominated for the Brit Award for Best British Male. In 2003, Warp released 26 Mixes for Cash, collecting many of James's remixes for other artists.

In 2005, James released a series of vinyl EPs under the AFX name, Analord, created entirely with analogue equipment. These were followed in 2006 by a compilation album of Analord tracks, Chosen Lords.

In 2009 Rephlex Records released digital versions (in the FLAC file format) of the 11 Analord EPs. Each of them (except for Analord 10) had bonus tracks, totalling 81 minutes of new music between them all. Richard later disbanded Rephlex Records, removing the website entirely.

In 2010, James said he had completed six new albums, including a new version of the unreleased Melodies from Mars. 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". The following month, he performed at the Paris Pitchfork Music Festival.

2014–present: Caustic Window, Syro, and return as Aphex Twin

Syro street art
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 Rephlex, fans organised a Kickstarter campaign to purchase the record and distribute copies.

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 darknet browser Tor.

In November 2014, James released a set of 21 tracks, Modular Trax, on the audio platform SoundCloud. The tracks were later removed. Over several months in 2015, James anonymously uploaded 230 demo tracks, some dating to the 1980s, to SoundCloud. He said he had released the demos to relieve his family of the pressure to release his archives after he dies. He has continued to occasionally release tracks on the account.

On 23 January 2015, James released Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2, created with robotic instruments including the Disklavier, a computer-controlled player piano. On 8 July 2016, he 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. On 17 December, James performed in Houston, Texas at the Day for Night festival, his first American appearance in eight years. An untitled 12-inch vinyl was sold exclusively at the festival, containing two 10-minute tracks. On 3 June 2017, James performed at the Field Day festival and released a limited edition EP, London 03.06.17. On 19 June 2017, a Michigan record store sold an exclusive Aphex Twin record comprising two tracks released on SoundCloud in 2015. On 27 July, Aphex Twin opened an online store with expanded versions of previous albums and new tracks.

Aphex Twin released an EP, Collapse, on 14 September 2018. The EP was announced on 5 August 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. A promotional video for the Collapse EP was to be broadcast on Adult Swim, but was cancelled after failing the Harding test. It was made available online instead, and the video for "T69 Collapse" was uploaded to YouTube.

Speculations of James's return started after a mysterious website featuring the producer’s logo inside of the word “London” was discovered by fans. Its title alluded to 19 August 2023, the same day that the Field Day festival takes place on in London, teasing a possible performance. His return was confirmed on 24 January 2023, when Aphex Twin was announced as a headliner for the festival. Over the next few weeks, several other performances were announced around Europe.

Musical style and influences

James had no formal music training and is largely self-taught. Prior to becoming a producer, James spent his teens modifying analogue synthesisers and became "addicted to making noises," only later becoming "interested in listening to other people's stuff". James states that he spent his initial years "ignorant of music, apart from acid and techno, where I bought just about everything". He claimed to have been independently making music similar to acid and techno before encountering the styles, and subsequently became enthusiastic about them. He has cited 808 State's 1988 debut album Newbuild as a major early inspiration. In a 1993 interview, James identified voluntary sleep deprivation as an influence on his productions at that time. He also claimed to have recorded over one thousand unreleased tracks. He later said he experienced synaesthesia and utilised lucid dreaming as a means of developing compositional ideas. Some of James's early work was compared to Brian Eno's ambient releases, but James claimed not to have heard Eno before he began recording.

In a 1993 interview, Simon Reynolds noted that James had only recently explored avant-classical and left-field rock artists including Cage, Stockhausen, Eno, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and Can, and had spent a couple of years "catching up" on other genres outside techno and house. In 1997, James described himself as a fan of "old tape and avant-garde music" such as Stockhausen's "Song for the Youth" and the work of American composer Tod Dockstader. He also named works by Erik Satie, Drexciya, Ween, Serge Gainsbourg, and Les Baxter among his favorite albums. When James began programming faster, jungle-inspired breakbeats in the mid-1990s, he named friends and fellow musicians Luke Vibert and Tom Jenkinson as influences. In a 2014 interview, James said of jungle that "I still think it's the ultimate genre, really, because the people making it weren't musicians," and noted that "for years, I could listen to jungle and nick things from them, but they didn't know I existed." Along with Vibert and Jenkinson, James helped to spearhead the short-lived drill 'n' bass style, which exaggerated elements of drum and bass, on his Hangable Auto Bulb EP (1995). Acknowledging another influence, James's Rephlex label released Music from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, a compilation of music recorded by the pioneers of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. In 2019, he described Kraftwerk as a major influence. Although he said he disliked "rock and roll", he appreciates Led Zeppelin (as a source of "great breakbeats"), and Pink Floyd (for their psychedelic music). Asked in 2011 about an artist he would like to work with, James named Kate Bush.

Rephlex Records, which James co-owned with Grant Wilson-Claridge, coined the word "braindance" to describe Aphex Twin's music. 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." According to Pitchfork's Paul Cooper braindance "escaped the mind/body binary opposition of electronic music" while retaining its club roots.

James's music has often been characterised as an example of the "intelligent dance music" that began in the 1990s. IDM is mentioned on the home page of the Intelligent Dance Music (IDM) mailing list at Hyperreal.org about the music of Aphex Twin and the Artificial Intelligence Series released by Warp Records. The series features James's 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:

I just think it's really funny to have terms like that. It's basically saying, "this is intelligent and everything else is stupid." It's really nasty to everyone else's music. (laughs) It makes me laugh, things like that. I don't use names. I just say that I like something or I don't.

Personal life

In a 2010 interview with Fact, James said he is living in Scotland after relocating from London. As of 2014, he lives in Scotland with his two sons from his first marriage and his second wife, Anastasia, a Russian art student. His sister Julie James is a Welsh Labour politician who was appointed the Welsh Minister for Climate Change in 2021. In a 2014 interview, James mentioned that he finds it challenging to live in a small village: "You have to speak to everybody, and everybody knows your business. For someone like me, who’s a little bit autistic or something, it can be quite intense." He also mentioned he does not own a smartphone.

Awards

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 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
IMPALA Awards Album of the Year 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 Rober Awards Music Poll Best EP Collapse Nominated
Best Art Vinyl Best Art Vinyl Nominated
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 Nominated
Brit Awards British Male Solo Artist Himself Nominated
A2IM Libera Awards Marketing Genius Collapse Won
Video of the Year "T69 Collapse" Nominated

Discography

Studio albums as Aphex Twin

  • Selected Ambient Works 85–92 (1992)
  • Selected Ambient Works Volume II (1994)
  • ...I Care Because You Do (1995)
  • Richard D. James Album (1996)
  • Drukqs (2001)
  • Syro (2014)

See also

  • List of ambient music artists
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