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Aphex Twin

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Exploring the experimental possibilities inherent in acid and ambience, the two major influences on home-listening techno during the late '80s, Richard D. James' recordings as Aphex Twin brought him more critical praise than any other electronic artist during the 1990s. Though his first major single, "Didgeridoo," was a piece of acid thrash designed to tire dancers during his DJ sets, ambient stylists and critics later took him under their wing for Selected Ambient Works 85-92, a sublime touchstone in the field of ambient techno. James' reaction to the exposure portrayed an artist unwilling to become either pigeonholed or categorizable. His second Aphex Twin album, Selected Ambient Works, Vol. 2, was so minimal as to be barely conscious -- in what appeared to be an elaborate joke on the electronic community. Follow-ups showed James gradually returning to his hardcore and acid roots, even while his stated desire to crash the British Top Ten (and perform on Top of the Pops) resulted in a series of cartoonish pop songs whose twisted genius was near-masked by their many absurdities. His iconoclastic behavior surprisingly aligned with MTV audiences turned on to end-of-the-millennium nihilist pop along the lines of Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails.

James began taking apart electronics gear as a teenager growing up in Cornwall, England. (If the title Selected Ambient Works 85-92 is to be believed, it contains recordings made at the age of 14.) Inspired by acid house in the late '80s, James began DJing raves around Cornwall. His first release was the Analogue Bubblebath EP, recorded with Tom Middleton and released on the Mighty Force label in September 1991. Middleton left later that year to form Global Communication, after which James recorded a second volume in the Analogue Bubblebath series. This EP (the first to include "Digeridoo") got some airplay on the London pirate radio station Kiss FM, and prompted Belgium's R&S Records to sign him early the following year. A re-recording of "Digeridoo" made number 55 in the British charts just after its April 1992 release date, and James followed with the Xylem Tube EP in June. He also co-formed (with Grant Wilson-Claridge) his own Rephlex label around that time, releasing a series of singles as Caustic Window during 1992-1993. Available in cruelly limited editions, most of the recordings continued the cold acid precision of "Digeridoo" -- though several expressed humor and fragility barely dreamed of in the hardcore/rave scene to that point.

The climate for "intelligent" techno had begun to warm in the early '90s, though. The Orb had proved the commercial viability of ambient house with their chart-topping "Blue Room" single, and R&S scrambled to find useful material from its own artists. In November 1992, James acquiesced with Selected Ambient Works 85-92, consisting mostly of home material recorded during the past few years. Simply stated, it was a masterpiece of ambient techno, the genre's second work of brilliance after the Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld. As his star began to shine, several bands approached him to remix their work, and he complied, with mostly unrecognizable reworkings of tracks by St. Etienne, the Cure, Jesus Jones, Meat Beat Manifesto, and Curve.

Early in 1993, Richard James signed to Warp Records, the influential British label that virtually introduced the concept of futuristic "electronic listening music" with a series of albums (subtitled Artificial Intelligence) by ambient techno pioneers Black Dog, Autechre, B12, and FUSE (aka Richie Hawtin) among others. James' release in the series, titled Surfing on Sine Waves, was recorded as Polygon Window and released in January 1993. The album charted a course between the raw muscle of James' nose-bleed techno and the understated minimalism of Selected Ambient Works. A deal between Warp and TVT gave Surfing on Sine Waves an American release (James' first) by the summer. A second album was released that year, Analogue Bubblebath 3, for Rephlex. Recorded as AFX, the LP renounced any debt to ambient music and was the most bracing work yet in the Aphex Twin canon. On a tour of America with Orbital and Moby later that year, James clung to the headbanging material, to the detriment of his mostly unreplaceable gear. He later cut down on his live performance schedule.

In December of 1993, the new single "On" resulted in James' highest chart placing, a number 32 spot on the British charts. The two-part single included remixes by old pal Tom Middleton (as Reload) and future Rephlex star µ-Ziq. Despite James' appearance on the pop charts, his following album, Selected Ambient Works, Vol. 2, appeared to be a joke on the ambient techno community. So minimal as to be barely conscious, the quadruple album left most of the beats behind, with only tape loops of unsettling ambient noise remaining. The album mostly struck out with critics but hit number 11 on the British charts and earned James a major-label American contract with Sire soon afterward. During 1994, he worked on the ever-growing Rephlex stable, signing µ-Ziq (Michael Paradinas), Kosmik Kommando (Mike Dred), and Kinesthesia/Cylob (Chris Jeffs) to the label. In August 1994, he released the fourth Analogue Bubblebath, this one a five-track EP.

The year 1995 began with the January release of Classics, a compilation of his early R&S singles. Two months later, James released the single "Ventolin," a harsh, appropriately wheezing ode to the asthma drug on which he relied. I Care Because You Do followed in April, pairing his hardcore experimentalism with more symphonic ambient material, aligned with the work of many post-classical composers -- including Philip Glass, who arranged an orchestral version of the album's "Icct Hedral" on the August 1995 single Donkey Rhubarb.

Later that year, the Hangable Auto Bulb EP replaced Analogue Bubblebath 3 as Aphex Twin's most brutal, uncompromising release -- a fusion of experimental music and jungle being explored at the same time on releases by Plug and Squarepusher. In July 1996, Rephlex released the long-awaited collaboration between Richard James and Michael Paradinas (µ-Ziq). The album, Expert Knob Twiddlers (credited to Mike & Rich), watered down the experimentalism of Aphex Twin with µ-Ziq's easy-listening electro-funk. The fourth proper Aphex Twin album, November 1996's Richard D. James Album, continued his forays into acid-jungle and experimental music. Retaining the experimental edge, but with a stated wish to make the British pop charts, James' next two releases, 1997's Come to Daddy EP and 1999's Windowlicker EP, were acid storms of industrial drum'n'bass. The accompanying videos, both directed by Chris Cunningham, featured the bodies of small children and female models (respectively) dancing around, all with special-effects-created Aphex Twin faces grinning maniacally.

James released nothing during the year 2000, but did record the score to Flex, a Chris Cunningham short film exhibited as part of the Apocalypse exhibition at London's Royal Academy. With very little advance warning, another LP, Drukqs, finally arrived in late 2001. Although James continued making frequent DJ appearances, he released no more material until 2005, when Rephlex issued the first installment in a lengthy, 11-part series of 12" singles titled Analord. The singles' minimalist acid techno harked back to his Caustic Window/Analogue Bubblebath material of the early '90s. Chosen Lords, a CD compilation of some of the Analord material, appeared in April 2006. James continued to DJ and play live, and in 2009 the Rushup Edge LP appeared under the performer name of the Tuss; although James and Rephlex denied that it was his work, rumors persisted that it was yet another Aphex pseudonym. Additional rumors during the late 2000s promised official releases from James, but they proved unfounded.


Richard David James (born 18 August 1971), best known by his stage name Aphex Twin, is an English electronic musician and composer. He founded the record label Rephlex Records in 1991 with Grant Wilson-Claridge. He has been described by The Guardian as "the most inventive and influential figure in contemporary electronic music". His album Selected Ambient Works 85-92 was named as the best album of the '90s by FACT Magazine.

Aphex Twin has also recorded music under the aliases AFX, Blue Calx, Bradley Strider, Caustic Window, Smojphace, GAK, Martin Tressider, Polygon Window, Power-Pill, Q-Chastic, The Diceman, The Tuss, and Soit-P.P.

Aphex Twin has released recordings on Rephlex, Warp, R&S, Sire, Mighty Force, Rabbit City, and Men Records.Cite error: There are <ref> tags on this page, but the references will not show without a {{reflist}} template (see the help page).


History1.1 Early years1.2 Early career: early 1990s1.3 Gaining success: 1992–19951.4 Prepared piano, laptops, and more DSP: 2000–20031.5 Synthesizers and drum machines: 2004–present


Early years[edit]

Richard David James was born in Limerick, Ireland, and grew up in Lanner, Cornwall, enjoying along with two older sisters, a "very happy" childhood during which they, according to James, "were pretty much left to do what [they] wanted". He "liked growing up there, being cut off from the city and the rest of the world". James attended Redruth School, located in Redruth, Cornwall.

According to musician Benjamin Middleton, James started producing music at the age of 12. As a teenager he was a disc jockey at the Shire Horse Inn in St Ives, with Tom Middleton at the Bowgie Inn in Crantock, and also along the numerous beaches around Cornwall. James studied for a National Diploma in Engineering from 1988 to 1990 (aged 16 to 18) at Cornwall College. Talking about his studies, James has said that "music and electronics went hand in hand". James graduated from college; according to an engineering lecturer, however, he often had his headphones on during practical lessons, "no doubt thinking through the mixes he'd be working on later".

Early career: early 1990s[edit]

In 1989 James met and befriended Grant Wilson-Claridge when working as a DJ on alternate weeks at the Bowgie pub, near Newquay in Cornwall. Wilson-Claridge was intrigued by James' sets and was surprised to discover that James was playing tapes of his own music. When he noticed this, Wilson-Claridge suggested that they press up some records. In the beginning, committing Aphex Twin’s recordings to vinyl was a way of making music the duo's friends wanted to hear. Due to their geographical dislocation they did not have access to the music they wanted to hear and so they decided to create their own.

James' first release was the 12-inch EP Analogue Bubblebath on Mighty Force Records in 1991. It was first released under the moniker Aphex Twin, later changed to AFX. The track "En Trance to Exit" was made in collaboration with Tom Middleton, also known as Schizophrenia. The EP got on the playlist of Kiss FM, an influential London radio station, which helped the release to become a success.

In 1991, James and Wilson-Claridge founded Rephlex Records to promote "innovation in the dynamics of Acid — a much-loved and misunderstood genre of house music forgotten by some and indeed new to others, especially in Britain".

Between 1991 and 1993, James released two Analogue Bubblebath EPs as AFX, and an EP under Bradley Strider, Bradley's Beat. James moved to London to take an electronics course at Kingston Polytechnic, but at the time admitted to David Toop that his "electronics studies were already slipping away as a career in the techno business took precedence". After quitting his course, James remained in London and released a number of albums and EPs on Warp Records and other labels under many aliases including AFX, Polygon Window, and Power-Pill. A number of James' tracks (released under the aliases Blue Calx, The Dice Man, and others) appeared on various compilations. Local legend has it that James lived on the roundabout in Elephant and Castle, South London during his early years in the capital - in fact, he lived in a nearby disused bank.

Gaining success: 1992–1995[edit]

The first full-length Aphex Twin album, Selected Ambient Works 85–92, was released in 1992 on R&S Records. It received high ratings and praise from critics. John Bush of Allmusic described it as a "watershed of ambient music". In 2002, Rolling Stone wrote of the album: "Aphex Twin expanded way beyond the ambient music of Brian Eno by fusing lush soundscapes with oceanic beats and bass lines." Pitchfork Media's review called it "among the most interesting music ever created with a keyboard and a computer". Critics also noted that the songs were recorded on cassette and that the sound quality was "relatively poor".

In 1992, he also released the EPs Xylem Tube EP and Digeridoo (first played by DJ Colin Faver on London's Kiss FM) as Aphex Twin, as Power-Pill the Pac-Man EP based on the arcade game Pac-Man, and two of his four Caustic Window EPs. "Digeridoo" reached #55 in the UK Singles Chart, and was later described as foreshadowing drum and bass by Rolling Stone. "Digeridoo" was recorded initially for the benefit of FIZZ-BOMB (at the Shire Horse, St Ives, Cornwall). These early releases came out on Rephlex Records, Mighty Force of Exeter, and R&S Records of Belgium.

In 1993, James released Analogue Bubblebath 3. He also released a single titled "On"; his second Bradley Strider EP, Bradley's Robot; two more Caustic Window EPs; and his first releases on Warp Records, Surfing on Sine Waves and "Quoth" under the alias Polygon Window.

Warp Records pressed and released a follow-up to Selected Ambient Works 85-92, Selected Ambient Works Volume II in 1994. The sound was much less beat and melody-driven than the previous volume. All the track names were described with pie chart symbols, each of which was meant to be paired with a corresponding image in the album jacket, with exception for one song, which was named "Blue Calx". To decipher song titles, listeners had to compare the length of each track with the size of each pie chart symbol. For example, the first title, which is often labelled cliffs, is realised by pairing the first symbol with the first image, which is that of a rocky cliffside. James claimed in The Wire magazine and other media that these songs were inspired by lucid dreams and synaesthesia. Other releases are a fourth Analogue Bubblebath; GAK, derived from early demos sent to Warp Records; and Classics, a compilation album that includes "Digeridoo" and the Xylem Tube EP.

For his 1995 release, ...I Care Because You Do, James used an image of his face for the album cover, a motif that would continue on many of his later records. The album was a compilation of songs composed between 1990 and 1994 and represented a mish-mash of Aphex Twin's various music styles. This was James' last record of the 1990s to use mostly analogue synthesizers. He commissioned Western classical-music composer Philip Glass to create an orchestral version of one of the songs from this album, "Icct Hedral", which appeared on the Donkey Rhubarb EP.

Prepared piano, laptops, and more DSP: 2000–2003[edit]

In 2001 Aphex Twin released Drukqs, a two-CD album that featured computer controlled piano songs influenced by Erik Satie and John Cage. Many of the tracks' names are written in the Cornish language (i.e., 'jynweythek' translatable as 'machinemusic'). Also included were abrasive, fast, and meticulously programmed computer-made songs. Rolling Stone described the piano songs as "aimlessly pretty". Some reviewers concluded that Drukqs was released as a contract breaker with Warp Records—a credible guess, as James' next big release was released on his own Rephlex label. James claimed to interviewers he had accidentally left an MP3 player labelled "Aphex Twin—unreleased tracks" on a plane, containing a large set of new songs, and rushed the album release to preempt an Internet leak. He also released a short EP titled 2 Remixes By AFX the same year as Drukqs. It featured two remixes, the originals being from 808 State and DJ Pierre. In addition, there is one untitled third track that consists of an SSTV image, which consists of mostly of high-pitched sounds, which can be decoded to a viewable image by proper software such as MultiMode (for Macintosh) or MMSSTV (for Windows).

Synthesizers and drum machines: 2004–present[edit]

In late 2004, James released his Analord series, an 11-part series of EPs with 42 total tracks, initially averaging 2–4 tracks per EP. The series was created by playing and sequencing analogue and digital electronic music equipment such as synthesizers and drum machines. The series was recorded on magnetic tape and then later pressed on vinyl.

James was meticulous about the whole process of recording, mastering, and pressing. James has said Rephlex Records was strict on quality control, trying out various pressing-plant companies until they felt it sounded perfect. To James' ears, vinyl or tape is better than digital, as no two copies are the same. However, label co-owner Grant Wilson-Claridge convinced James to release a CD compilation, Chosen Lords, which included 10 selected tracks from the Analord series. For the Analord series James used his collection of vintage synthesizer and drum machines, some of which were quite rare by that time. Some record inserts have pictures of rare synthesizers like the Synton Fenix, and the notoriously difficult-to-program Roland MC-4 sequencer, as well as the Roland TB-303.

In 2007 media reports indicated that Aphex Twin was recording under a new alias called The Tuss. Rephlex Records has denied that Aphex Twin is The Tuss, but Aphex Twin fans and the media have ignored Rephlex's denial and The Tuss is treated as yet another Aphex Twin project; further evidence being provided by the fact that all Tuss tracks are published in the BMI Repertoire under the name JAMES RICHARD DAVID.

Twenty more tracks were added to the Analord series in December 2009, only available through download from the Rephlex Records website, such that each EP now contains up to 9 tracks.

In an October 2010 interview with British magazine Another Man, James stated that he had completed 6 albums, one of which was a remake of the unreleased Melodies from Mars, originally produced around the time of Richard D. James Album. In June 2011, he spoke to Spanish magazine EL PAIS. When asked about the 6 albums, he answered 'More than 10 or 11 are already compiled, and many more songs are orphans.' He also revealed that a new album 'will show in a while' and that the reason it has been so long since his last album was that he was waiting for a divorce from his wife.Cite error: There are <ref> tags on this page, but the references will not show without a {{reflist}} template (see the help page).


Background details1.1 Artwork1.2 Braindance1.3 Influences1.4 Influence on others1.5 Intelligent dance music1.6 Aphex Twin's press1.6.1 Stockhausen vs. The Technocrats1.6.2 ZX81 competition1.7 Equipment1.7.1 Hardware1.7.2 Software

Background details[edit]


James' own face, grinning or distorted in some way, is a common theme in his album covers, his music videos, and the songs themselves. According to him, it began in spite of Techno producers who chose to conceal 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.

—Aphex Twin

The cover of ...I Care Because You Do features an unsettling painting of James, while the cover of Richard D. James Album presents a close-up photograph. His face is transplanted onto other people's bodies in the music videos of "Come to Daddy" and "Windowlicker". Near the end of the second track of the "Windowlicker" single (commonly referred to as "Equation"), a photo of James' face is embedded as a steganogram which is revealed when run through spectral analysis. Another embedded image of James, along with collaborator Tom Jenkinson, appears in the third track of 2 Remixes by AFX, "Bonus High Frequency Sounds", encoded in SSTV format, with text relating to the release.

James has used his own photography for some of his releases, such as the elaborate album sleeve for Selected Ambient Works Volume II.


Richard's own Rephlex Records label, which he co-owns with Grant Wilson-Claridge, coined the term Braindance in 1991 to describe Aphex Twin's music. Rephlex Records' official definition of Aphex Twin and his followers' music is quoted as follows: "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."

Braindance applies to forward-thinking electronic music that can appeal to the mind as well as the desire to dance and party. Examples including Ed-DMX's Breakin' records label, µ-ziq's Planet-mu label, the Aphex Twin EP Come to Daddy and Astrobotnia Parts 1, 2 & 3.


In 2001, The Guardian described James' musical lineage as Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage, Kraftwerk, Brian Eno and May.

In acknowledgment of another influence, James released Music from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, a compilation of music recorded by the pioneers of BBC Radiophonic Workshop, which included artists such as Delia Derbyshire, on his own label, Rephlex Records.

Aphex Twin has said, "I don't really like rock & roll." Despite this, he has mentioned being a fan of Led Zeppelin, citing them as a source of "great breakbeats", as well as Pink Floyd for their psychedelic music.

Influence on others[edit]

The London Sinfonietta has performed arrangements of Aphex Twin tracks. In 2005, the orchestra Alarm Will Sound released Acoustica: Alarm Will Sound Performs Aphex Twin. The album consists of acoustic arrangements of some of James' electronic tracks. He has also had an influence on rock bands like Radiohead. However, he has dismissed the notion of going on tour with them: "I wouldn't play with them since I don't like them."

Despite his previous comments, he premièred new music alongside Radiohead guitarist/composer Jonny Greenwood in a 2011 collaboration with Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki. The animator David Firth has much of his work influenced and soundtracked by Aphex Twin.

Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk has also mentioned Aphex Twin (particularly his song, Windowlicker) as an influence on their work.

In recent interviews, former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist and solo artist John Frusciante has stated that he thinks Aphex Twin is 'the best thing since sliced bread' and his recent albums and EPs, Outsides and PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone for example, have been heavily influenced by him.

Intelligent dance music[edit]

The term 'intelligent dance music', or IDM, was coined in August 1993 by the IDM mailing list based at hyperreal.org, as a term to describe the sound pioneered by the Warp Records Artificial Intelligence Series. The series featured Aphex Twin tracks (under a different pseudonym), as well as early productions from labelmates such as Autechre and LFO. The usage of this term spread in the USA and on internet messageboards, but the term is still a source of controversy and derision amongst the artists and fans, including Aphex Twin. As of October 2011 the list is still active.

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.

—Aphex Twin
Aphex Twin's press[edit]

Describing himself in an interview in The Guardian, James has said: "I'm 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."

James said he composed ambient techno music at the age of 13; he claims to have "over 100 hours" of unreleased music, and to have made his own software to compose with, including algorithmic processes that automatically generate beats and melodies; in addition he claims to experience synaesthesia, and that he is able to incorporate lucid dreaming into the process of making music.

He lives in southeast London in a converted bank, which was formerly the Bank of Cyprus and then HSBC. Contrary to popular opinion, however, he does not own the silver structure in the centre of the roundabout at Elephant and Castle. This is, in fact, the Michael Faraday Memorial, containing a power transformer for the Northern Line, which James jokingly claimed to be buying in an interview with The Face magazine in 2001. Some of these rumours are hard to confirm as he has been known to spread mistruths in the prankster tradition, making such claims as only sleeping two to three hours a night.

Stockhausen vs. The Technocrats[edit]

In November 1995, The Wire published an article titled "Advice to Clever Children". In the process of producing the interview, a package of tapes containing music from several artists, including Aphex Twin, was sent to Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Stockhausen commented:

I heard the piece Aphex Twin of Richard James (sic) carefully: I think it would be very helpful if he listens to my work "Song of the Youth", which is electronic music, and a young boy's voice singing with himself. Because he would then immediately stop with all these post-African repetitions, and he would look for changing tempi and changing rhythms, and he would not allow to repeat any rhythm if it varied to some extent and if it did not have a direction in its sequence of variations.

Aphex Twin, a fan of Stockhausen, responded:

"I thought he should listen to a couple of tracks of mine: "Digeridoo", then he'd stop making abstract, random patterns you can't dance to".

ZX81 competition[edit]

Richard claims to have produced sound on a Sinclair ZX81 (a machine with no sound hardware) at the age of 11:

When I was 11, I won 50 pounds in a competition for writing this program that made sound on a ZX81. You couldn't make sound on a ZX81, but 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.

Alesis QuadraverbCasio FZ 10Casio SK-1EMS Synthi 100Elka SynthexThree Korg MS-20sOberheim Matrix 1000Roland 100mRoland MC-4 MicrocomposerRoland MKS-80Roland SH-101Roland TB-303Roland TR-606Roland TR-707Roland TR-808Roland TR-909Synton FenixSequential Circuits Studio 440UPICYamaha CS 5Yamaha DX1Yamaha GX1Serge Modular
AudacityAbleton LivePro ToolsCubaseLiveSliceMaxReaktorReCycleSuperColliderLogic Pro

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