Aphex TwinRichard David James (born 18 August 1971), best known by the stage name Aphex Twin, is an English musician. He is best known for his idiosyncratic work in electronic styles such as techno and ambient music in the 1990s, and has also been associated with the electronic subgenre known as intelligent dance music. In 2001, Guardian journalist Paul Lester called James "the most inventive and influential figure in contemporary electronic music".
Raised in Cornwall, James began performing as a rave DJ at local clubs and free parties in the late 1980s. In 1991 his debut EP Analogue Bubblebath was released on Mighty Force, a local independent label, winning him acclaim and a cult following. James co-founded the independent label Rephlex Records the same year. He attracted wider praise for his 1992 debut album Selected Ambient Works 85–92, released by Belgian label Apollo. He signed to the UK label Warp in 1993, and his music became increasingly well known with the charting albums Selected Ambient Works Volume II (1994) and ...I Care Because You Do (1995), and singles "On" (1993), "Come to Daddy" (1997), and "Windowlicker" (1999). The latter two singles, accompanied by music videos directed by Chris Cunningham, brought James attention in the US market.
James has also recorded under aliases including AFX, Caustic Window, and Polygon Window. After releasing the Aphex Twin album Drukqs in 2001, James spent the following years releasing music mostly 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. He returned as Aphex Twin in 2014 with the album Syro, which won the Grammy Award for Best Dance/Electronic Album. He has since released further charting EPs, including Cheetah (2016) and Collapse (2018).
Early lifeJames 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 Cornwall, where he lived in Lanner while attending Redruth School in 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".
1989–1991: Cornish free parties, Rephlex Records and first releasesIn the late 1980s, James became involved in the Cornish free party scene, putting on raves at "secret coves along the coast and behind sand dunes". Parties were also known to take place at Gwennap Pit. They mainly attracted local youths and travellers, with entrance donations taken in cannabis. The tight-knit community would also put on nights at small clubs in towns around the county, including St. Ives, Porthtowan, and St Austell. James would later refer to this scene as the "best he's ever been involved in".
James started a regular DJ slot in 1989, playing alternate weeks at "Fizz-Bomb", held at The Bowgie nightclub in Crantock. There he met Tom Middleton and Grant Wilson-Claridge. Impressed by James' music, Middleton played a tape James had given him to another free party organiser in Exeter, who eventually convinced James to release a record on his fledgling record label Mighty Force Records. Similarly impressed, Wilson-Claridge suggested they use some money he inherited to create a record label to release James' music. He and James founded Rephlex Records in 1991.
James' first release was the 12" white label 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. It 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' first album Selected Ambient Works 85-92. In 1992, as word of his 12" records spread, James started performing at London techno events like formative club Knowledge, held at the SW1 club in London's Victoria, and the influential night Lost.
In 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 the techno genre.
1992–1995: Selected Ambient Works, I Care Because You Do and early success
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. John Bush of Allmusic would later describe the release as a watershed moment in 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 charting "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 the EP Quoth, as Polygon Window.
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 and Moby at venues across the Western 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 synesthesia. 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.
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.
1996–2000: Richard D. James Album and Come to Daddy
Richard D. James Album, James' 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' use of jungle elements, suggesting 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". 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 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.
2000–2009: Drukqs, Analord and the TussIn 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 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 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. Unfortunately 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
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 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 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 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 influencesWriting for AllMusic John Bush describes James as a "pioneer of experimental techno" who has "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". In a 1996 review, The Independent's Angela Lewis called him a "maverick of 1990s electronica [who] exemplifies the finest traditions of British pop mischief". According to Fact James has "carved out his own space in the history of electronic music" across several genres, 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". In 2014 review in the Financial Times, Ludovic Hunter-Tilney described James as a "musical maverick" noted for "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 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 synesthesia and utilised lucid dreaming as a means of developing compositional ideas.
In a 1993 interview, James praised Terry Riley's 1964 composition In C and minimalism, music with which he'd been recently acquainted. 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. When James began programming faster breakbeats in the mid-1990s, he named friends and fellow musicians Luke Vibert and Tom Jenkinson as influences. 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:Intelligent dance music (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' 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 pseudonymsJames' 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. 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 legacyWriting 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 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 Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante have expressed admiration for Aphex Twin or cited him as an influence.
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 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.
Personal lifeJames has been known to make "wild and essentially unverifiable claims" about his personal life in interviews, including the claim that he inherited the name of a dead older brother. He has described 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." In a 1993 interview, he claimed to only sleep 2 to 3 hours per night. In the mid-1990s, James bought a disused bank in the Elephant & Castle area of London, where he claimed to live in a converted bank vault. He falsely claimed in a 2001 interview to have bought the steel structure in the centre of the Elephant Square 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 1950s-era "tank" (technically a Daimler Ferret Mark 3 armoured car), complete with working machine gun, which he claimed to drive around Cornwall in lieu of a car.
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. , he lives in Scotland with his two sons—from his first marriage—and his second wife, a Russian art student.