Aphex Twin


Richard D. James was born a poor white genius in the ghettos of Cornwall. The D in his name stands for Dick short for Richard. His father was a tin miner, his sisters were sisters and Richard grew up with an interest in electronic equipment, hip hop and sniffin petrol. He took an electronics course at Kingston Polytechnic in London, but dropped out after a year. By this time he already had a stack of customised gear, a backlog of mad tunes on tape and a couple of records 'Aphex Twin EP' and 'Analogue Bubblebath' released through the local Exeter label, Mighty Force in the second half of 1991.

"Richard D James" is what happens to a nice Cornish lad.

Richard D James has been called a weirdo. And yet if you pan through the already weighty matter of his back catalogue, what stands out is that compared to the figurative artifice of the accepted High Street genres, from straight rock to straight jungle, his music has a naturalistic quality and emotional directness, which the historically obedient forms lack. They are weird, not Richard.

"The relationship is just between me and what I do. That's it" says Richard. And if you're careful, in listening to the astonishing freshness of his compositions, you might find yourself accepting the notion that James is dissociated from technology of music and can't give a fuck about where his music came from or where it's going. "I don't think there's any one rule for music and art" said Richard.

There are three areas of human endeavour where child prodigies occur - mathematics, chess and music. It is thought that there is a neurological link which explains this phenomenon. Richard D James is wicked at music, top at chess and has managed himself through a labyrinthian half decade of wheels, deals with multiple record labels and alias activities. His records have come out under a miasma of aka's, from Polygon Window to Soit:PP, from Caustic Window to GAK. Richard does the sums. It has been said that mathematics is the destination of true psychedelia. It has also been said that Richard was "a bit of a handful to his mother".

Although early records from Richard D. James, such as "Analogue Bubblebath" and "Digeridoo" lead him to being linked to the techno dance scene of the early 90s, James was always a tangential presence. He has said: "It's like me and my music are totally isolated from anything really". His DJ sets have always cut against the grain. As a remixer, he has been frankly disruptive. Although his first album, 93's "Selected Ambient Works 85-92" and "Surfing On Sine Waves" (as Polygon Window) located him as one of 'ambient' music's leading lights, the genre degenerated so swiftly that by the time "Selected Ambient Works II" came out in 94, he was on his own again.

Much of the confusion about the phenomenon of Richard D James arises from the fact that his instincts as an artist encompass both pop and high art attitudes and evil humour. His phase of making music from a lucid dream state bothered pop, where it would not have caused the Surrealists to blink. His dreams of homebase megawatt sound systems are pure mainstream rocker. His "Ventolin" single, which used his asthmatic condition as a sonic subject was pure woofer in avant garde clothing. Then again, DJing with a food blender against the needle and sandpaper on the turntable was full on Dada tactics, but it sounded like raw heavy metal. Surfing on the style aisles of creative endeavour, Richard D James annoys people because he likes to.

It is the business of the truly wicked to funk with conventions.

For many merely curious onlookers, personal, ephemeral and circumstantial concerns have obscured the content of James' work. This is unfortunate because the mistaken presumption that his music was 'difficult' has been undermined with each successive release. As the broader picture emerges RD James has shown himself to have the depth, sincerity and cohesion of a great modern composer. He has said: "I never take the piss out of anything I do creatively because I wouldn't be worthy of existence if I did things like that."

DJ James' 95 indie number one album "I Care Because You Do" knocked sceptics sideways with a dazzlingly multi-faceted display of jagged edge beats and tones, ranging from hip hop'n'classical through viral microsonics, to breakbeat aggro and pure orchestral melody. In the ears of the avant-gardies he confirmed his status as a bit of a boy, by joining forces with Philip Glass on the 95 single "Icct Hedral".

Through his own Rephlex label, Richard James nurtures the talents of some of the talents of some of the most far out (-ziq) and the far fetched (The Gentle People) artists on the existence scene.

Shit happens. And then something astonishing happens. In 1996, Richard releases an album called "Richard D. James" which is not about himself, but which takes careful note of himself. There is childhood and geography and memory bubbling up through the beats and distortion. His signature is larger this time. In the serene summery kind of toy train ride that "Fore Street" might be, in the synth pop in food blender of "Cornish Acid", in the paedo'n'bass recorder group sounds of "To Cure A Weakling Child" and the festive snow mitten smitten strings of "Goongumpas" and on to the churchy stained glass mesh of breakbeats in "Yellow Calx" and the stun-jungle stungle fear and chilling of "Carn Marth" there is a beautifully refracted suggestion of how the West Country might feel if it landed in New York after a long time in Stoke Newington. Messed up but excited perhaps.

"Richard D. James LP" is like eating Chinese food off the belly of an art insect. Only more lovely. It is a wonderful rush of performance drum'n'bass, oriental hop hop, nursery rhapsodies in pink, religious epiphanies and melting boundaries. It loudly confirms that James really is whoever he thinks he is. Mad for it like a cow in clover, his capacity has expanded to take on more moods, more tones and more contradictory textures. And yet the level of craftsmanship remains as high as ever. On it's own, the chamber orchestra'n'bass royale single and album track "Girl/Boy Song" is a sufficiently dazzling virtuoso piece to place James in a shit free field entirely of his own.

"Richard D. James LP" is snappy songs, teasey listening, a brilliant portrait of the autist.

In the past the phenomenon of Richard D. James has been compared to James Joyce, Brian Eno, Debussy, Throbbing Gristle, Paul Shutze, Gustav Holst, Wagon Christ, Peter Greenaway, Erik Satie, 4 Hero, Mantronix, Jeoff Koons, Mantovani, Derrick May, Damien Hirst, Omni Trio, Ken Ishii, Mikey Nyman, Phil Glass, Derek Jarman, Mouse On Mars, Panasonic, Mark Rothko, Ennio Morricone, Jimi Tenor, Wish Mountain, Barnett Newmann, Sabres of Paradise, Photek, Kraftwerk, John Cage, My Bloody Valentine, Main, Thomas Koner, Avro Part, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Joe Bach, Marcel Duchamp, Holger Czukay, Jamiroquai*, Wagner, Mozart, Turner, a weird beard Cornish twat, Jimmy Cauty's bowels and the Clangers.

In the future everything else'll be compared to him.

"Life's a gamble, Jim" says Richard.

*chart act fronted by Richard in a bad hat.

...by Roger Morton