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

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 48)
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

Raised in Cornwall, James began releasing 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 attracted acclaim for his 1992 debut album Selected Ambient Works 85–92. He signed to UK electronic label Warp the following year, and rose to mainstream popularity with the charting singles "Come to Daddy" (1997) and "Windowlicker" (1999), backed by music videos directed by Chris Cunningham.

After releasing the album Drukqs in 2001, James continued to issue music under other aliases, including the 2005 Analord EP series as AFX, a pair of 2007 releases as the Tuss, and archival material such as 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.

Contents

Early life and educationEdit

 
James grew up in Cornwall (pictured: Chapel Porth, seen on the cover and referenced in the liner notes of James's 1993 album Surfing on Sine Waves.}[5]

James was born on 18 August 1971[6] in Limerick.[7] In 1996, he claimed to have had a stillborn older brother also named Richard whose name he inherited, though this may have been fabricated.[8][9] He grew up in Lanner, Cornwall, and attended Redruth School in nearby Redruth.[10] James said he liked growing up there, "being cut off from the city and the rest of the world".[10]

As a child, James enjoyed playing with the strings inside his family piano and disassembling tapes and tape recording equipment.[11] He took an early interest in electronics, and enjoyed modifying analogue synthesisers to create sounds.[11] 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.[12]

James said his interest in sound and engineering developed before his interest in music.[11] He began making music aged 14,[10] partially as a refuge from the "bloody awful" Jesus and Mary Chain albums played by his sister.[13] Cornwall had few record shops, but a thriving nightlife in which acid house was popular.[10] As a teenager, James worked as a DJ at clubs and raves, and included his own tracks in his sets.[10] He studied at Cornwall College from 1988 to 1990 and graduated with a National Diploma in engineering.[6] 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".[6]

CareerEdit

1989–1992: Rephlex Records and first releasesEdit

In 1989, James befriended Grant Wilson-Claridge when they were working as DJs at a Cornwall club, Bowgie.[14] 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.[10] The pair moved to London in 1992.[14]

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.[15] The EP made the playlist of Kiss FM, an influential London radio station, which helped it become successful.[16]

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.[17]

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.[18][17]

1992–1995: Selected Ambient Works, ...I Care Because You Do and early successEdit

The first full-length Aphex Twin album, Selected Ambient Works 85–92, comprised material allegedly dating back to James's teen years. It was released as a very limited import in November 1992[19] by Apollo Records, a subsidiary of Belgian label R&S Records, and later widely in February 1993,[20] 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," demonstrating that "techno could be more than druggy dance music".[21] Pitchfork later called it "among the most interesting music ever created with a keyboard and a computer".[22]

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.[23] These early releases were on Rephlex Records, Mighty Force of Exeter and R&S Records of Belgium.[24] 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. Despite reaching number 11 in the UK charts, the album was not particularly well-received, with critic Simon Reynolds later noting that "many in the Aphex cult were thrown for a loop" and that "Aphex aficionados remain divided" on the album.[25] Other 1994 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.[26] In the same year, James released his Hangable Auto Bulb EP under the name AFX, which spearheaded the shortlived drill 'n' bass style.[27][28]

1996–2000: Richard D. James Album, Come to Daddy and commercial heightEdit

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."[29] The album garnered acclaim from music critics, and was named 40th in Pitchfork's "Top 100 Albums of the 1990s" list.[30] It was also placed at number 55 on NME's Top 100 Albums of All Time in 2003.[31]

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."[32] 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][32]

2000–2009: Drukqs, Analord series and the TussEdit

 
Aphex Twin performing in 2007

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. The album 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.[33]

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 under the AFX name, Analord, created entirely with analogue equipment. These were followed in 2006 by a compilation album of Analord tracks, Chosen Lords.[34] In 2007, James released two records on Rephlex, Confederation Trough EP and Rushup Edge, under the alias the Tuss, Cornish slang for "erection". Media sources speculated about James's involvement, but his identity was not confirmed until 2014.[35][36]

In 2010, James said he had completed six new albums, including a new version of the unreleased Melodies from Mars.[37] 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".[38] The following month, he performed at the Paris Pitchfork Music Festival.[39]

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

 
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.[40]

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.[41]

In November 2014, James released a set of 21 tracks, Modular Trax, on the audio platform SoundCloud. The tracks were later removed.[42] Over several months in 2015, James anonymously uploaded 269 demo tracks, some dating to the 1980s, to SoundCloud;[43] he said he had released the demos to relieve his family of the pressure to release his archives after he dies.[44]

On 23 January 2015, James released Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2,[45] created with robotic instruments including the Disklavier, a computer-controlled player piano.[46]

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.[47] 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.[48] On 3 June 2017, James performed at the Field Day festival and released a limited edition EP, London 03.06.17.[49] On 19 June 2017, a Michigan record store sold an exclusive Aphex Twin record comprising two tracks released on SoundCloud in 2015.[50] On July 27, Aphex Twin opened an online store with expanded versions of previous albums and new tracks.[51]

Aphex Twin released an EP, Collapse, on 14 September 2018.[52] 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.[53] 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.[54][55]

Musical style and influencesEdit

Rolling Stone described James in 2014 as a "hugely influential electronic musician whose ambient washes of sound and freakishly twisted beats have gone on to inform artists of all genres."[56] The Financial Times noted his reputation as a "musical maverick, yoking different elements together in unpredictable formulations: acid house and modern classical music; hard beats and uncanny tones; difficult abstraction and populist melodies."[57] AllMusic described James's music as "forward-thinking and emotionally engaging work that ranges from sublime, pastoral ambience to manic head-rush acid techno."[2] Fact wrote that James "carved out his own space in the history of electronic music, spanning ambient, jungle, techno and more."[58]

The Guardian described James' musical lineage as electronic music icons Stockhausen, John Cage, Kraftwerk, Brian Eno and Derrick May.[4] However, in a 1993 interview James stated that he spent his early years "ignorant of music, apart from acid and techno, where I bought just about everything."[11] He cited 808 State's 1988 debut album Newbuild as a major influence.[59] It was only later that he encountered avant-garde artists such as Cage, Stockhausen, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and Eno, praising Riley's 1964 composition In C and minimalism in particular.[11] 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)[60] on Rephlex. Although he said he disliked "rock and roll", he appreciates Led Zeppelin (as a source of "great breakbeats"),[61] and Pink Floyd (for their psychedelic music).[61]

James has no formal music training and is self-taught, describing himself as "just some irritating, lying, ginger kid from Cornwall who should have been locked up in some youth detention centre. I just managed to escape and blag it into music".[4] In a September 1997 interview with Space Age Bachelor magazine, James said he composed ambient music at age 13 (one of these tracks, "i", appeared on the first Aphex Twin album Selected Ambient Works 85-92), 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.[62] In a 1993 interview with Simon Reynolds, James claimed voluntary sleep deprivation as an influence on his productions.[11]

James' Rephlex Records, which he co-owned with Grant Wilson-Claridge, coined the word "braindance" in 1991 to describe Aphex Twin's music.[35][63][64] 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."[65] 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.[67] 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 pseudonymsEdit

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

The cover of ...I Care Because You Do features a self-portrait painted by 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.[70] 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.[71] In a 1997 interview, he said: "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 [names] and I just do it. I don't know what it means."[68] In 2001, he commented on the speculation connected to many anonymous electronic artists: "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."[32]

Influence and legacyEdit

Writing in The Guardian in 2001, journalist Paul Lester described James as "the most inventive and influential figure in contemporary electronic music".[72] 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".[73]

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."[74] In 2002, asked if he would tour with Radiohead, James said "I wouldn't play with them since I don't like them".[75]

In 2007, Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk cited Aphex Twin (particularly "Windowlicker") as an influence on their 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".[76] Artists including Mike Edwards of Jesus Jones,[77] Steve Reich,[78] Wes Borland of Limp Bizkit,[79] Skrillex,[80] and former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante have expressed admiration for Aphex Twin.[citation needed]

In 2005, Alarm Will Sound released Acoustica: Alarm Will Sound Performs Aphex Twin, acoustic arrangements of James' electronic tracks.[citation needed] The London Sinfonietta performed arrangements of Aphex Twin songs in 2006.[81] Animator David Firth has much of his work soundtracked by Aphex Twin.[82] In 2012, Fact named Selected Ambient Works 85–92 the best album of the 1990s.[83]

Personal lifeEdit

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.[8] He also claimed mischievously 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.[18] 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."[84][8]

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.[85] As of 2014, he lives in Scotland with his two sons—from his first marriage[3]—and his second wife, a Russian art student.[86]

AwardsEdit

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[87] 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[88] 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
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

DiscographyEdit

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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