Richard David James (born 18 August 1971), best known by the stage name Aphex Twin, is an English electronic musician. He is best known for his idiosyncratic work in styles such as techno and ambient music in the 1990s, and is associated with the electronic subgenre known as intelligent dance music. In 2001, The Guardian called James "the most inventive and influential figure in contemporary electronic music".
Richard James performing in Turin in 2007
|Birth name||Richard David James|
|Also known as|
|Born||18 August 1971|
Limerick, County Limerick, Ireland
|Origin||Lanner, Cornwall, England|
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. He attracted early 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), backed by music videos directed by Chris Cunningham.
After releasing the album Drukqs as Aphex Twin in 2001, James spent the following years releasing music primarily 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 the Grammy Award for Best Dance/Electronic Album.
- 1 Early life and education
- 2 Career
- 2.1 1989–1992: Rephlex Records and first releases
- 2.2 1992–1995: Selected Ambient Works, I Care Because You Do and early success
- 2.3 1996–2000: Richard D. James Album, Come to Daddy and commercial height
- 2.4 2000–2009: Drukqs, Analord series and the Tuss
- 2.5 2014–present: Caustic Window, Syro, and return as Aphex Twin
- 3 Musical style and influences
- 4 Image and pseudonyms
- 5 Influence and legacy
- 6 Personal life
- 7 Awards
- 8 Discography
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 External links
Early life and educationEdit
James was born on 18 August 1971 in Limerick. In 1996, he said he had a stillborn older brother also named Richard whose name he inherited, though this claim may have been fabricated. He grew up in Lanner, Cornwall, and attended Redruth School in nearby Redruth. James said he liked growing up there, "being cut off from the city and the rest of the world".
James has stated that an interest in making sounds developed before he got into writing music, and that as a child he enjoyed playing with the strings inside his family piano and disassembling tapes and tape recording equipment. He took an early interest in electronics, and enjoyed modifying analogue synthesisers to create sounds. 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." This claim was debunked in a Fact article; evidence indicates someone else won the competition, winning £6, not £50.
James began making music aged 14, partially as a refuge from the "bloody awful" Jesus and Mary Chain albums played by his sister. 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. As a teenager, James worked as a DJ 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".
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. 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. The pair moved to London in 1992.
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. The EP made the playlist of Kiss FM, an influential London radio station, which helped it become successful.
In 1991 and 1992, James released three Analogue Bubblebath EPs, two EPs as Caustic Window, the Red EP as part of the Universal Indicator group, 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 the techno genre.
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.
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 by Apollo Records, a subsidiary of Belgian label R&S Records, and later widely in February 1993, to critical acclaim. John Bush of Allmusic described it as a "watershed of ambient music". 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". Pitchfork later called it "among the most interesting music ever created with a keyboard and a computer".
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. These early releases were on Rephlex Records, Mighty Force of Exeter and R&S Records of Belgium. In 1993, James released Analogue Bubblebath 3; the "On" EP and its accompanying remix EP; an EP under the alias Bradley Strider, 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. 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. In the same year, James released his Hangable Auto Bulb EP under the name AFX, which spearheaded the shortlived drill 'n' bass style.
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 synthesisers 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 characterised 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." The album garnered acclaim from music critics, and was named 40th in Pitchfork's "Top 100 Albums of the 1990s" list. It was also placed at number 55 on NME's Top 100 Albums of All Time in 2003.
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." 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.
2000–2009: Drukqs, Analord series and the TussEdit
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 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 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 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.
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 TwinEdit
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.
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.
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 269 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.
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. 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. 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 July 27, 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 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. 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.
Musical style and influencesEdit
AllMusic labeled James a "pioneer of experimental techno" who "constantly pushed the limits of what can be accomplished with electronic equipment, resulting in forward-thinking and emotionally engaging work that ranges from sublime, pastoral ambience to manic head-rush acid techno". Fact wrote that James "carved out his own space in the history of electronic music," and identified his unique melodies as "the reason he’s talked about as not just an electronic innovator but as the sphere’s definitive artist". The Independent called him a "maverick of 1990s electronica [who] exemplifies the finest traditions of British pop mischief". FT noted his reputation as a "musical maverick, yoking different elements together in unpredictable formulations" and blending "hard beats and uncanny tones; difficult abstraction and populist melodies". Writing in The Guardian in 2001, Paul Lester identified James's lineage as "electronic greats" Stockhausen, John Cage, Kraftwerk, Brian Eno and Derrick May.
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." Before recording music, James spent his teen years modifying analogue synthesizers, becoming "addicted to making noises. That was the buzz for me [...] I only later got interested in listening to other people's stuff". James said he spent his early 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 said voluntary sleep deprivation was an influence on his productions, as he only slept 2 to 3 hours per night. He also claimed to have recorded over one thousand unreleased tracks. He later said he experienced synesthesia and incorporated lucid dreaming into his compositions.
In a 1993 interview, James praised Terry Riley's 1964 composition In C and minimalism. 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. 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) on Rephlex. He has described Kraftwerk as a major influence." When James began working with faster drum programming in the mid-1990s, he named friends and fellow musicians Luke Vibert and Tom Jenkinson as influences. 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" in 1991 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:
|“||Breakbeats liberated producers from the impositions of relentless four-to-the-floor stomping, and "braindance" escaped the mind/body binary opposition of electronic music—here was a rhythmically hyper, complex genre that retained its club roots by appending fantastically supple limbs to the listener's fervid imagination.||”|
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. 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:
|“||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.||”|
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:
|“||I did it because the thing in techno you weren't supposed to do was to be recognized and stuff. The sort of unwritten rule was that you can't put your face on the sleeve. It has to be like a circuit board or something. Therefore I put my face on the sleeve. That's why I originally did it. But then I got carried away.||”|
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. 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. 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." 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."
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". Rolling Stone described James as a "hugely influential electronic musician whose ambient washes of sound and freakishly twisted beats have gone on to inform artists of all genres." 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".
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." In 2002, asked if he would tour with Radiohead, James said "I wouldn't play with them since I don't like them".
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". Artists including Mike Edwards of Jesus Jones, Steve Reich, Wes Borland of Limp Bizkit, Skrillex, Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park, and former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante have expressed admiration for Aphex Twin.
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. Animator David Firth has much of his work soundtracked by Aphex Twin. In 2012, Fact named Selected Ambient Works 85–92 the best album of the 1990s.
In the mid-1990s, James bought a former bank in the Elephant & Castle area of London, where he said he lived in a converted vault. 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. 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."
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. As of 2014[update], he lives in Scotland with his two sons—from his first marriage—and his second wife, a Russian art student.
|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|
|MTV Europe Music Awards||Best Video||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|
|NME Awards||Single of the Year||Won|
|Best Dance Act||Himself||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|
|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|
|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|
Studio albums as Aphex Twin
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- Snapes, Laura (13 September 2016). "The Wheal Thing: Aphex Twin's Alternative Cornish Language". The Quietus. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
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- Stubbs, David (2018). Future Sounds: The Srory of Electronic Music from Stockhausen to Skrillex. Faber & Faber. Retrieved 8 February 2019.
- Simon Reynolds. Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture. Soft Skull Press, 2012.
- "Rephlex Records: Recalling Aphex Twin & Grant Wilson-Claridge's label". Orbmag.com. 7 May 2018. Retrieved 18 April 2019.
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