Aphex Twin (born Richard David James on August 18, 1971 in Limerick, Ireland) is a Welsh-Cornish electronic music artist, credited with developing the genres of techno, ambient, acid, and drum and bass.
Richard D. James was born of Welsh parents Lorna and Derek James on August 18, 1971 in St. Munchins's Limerick Regional Maternity Hospital, Ireland. He grew up in Cornwall, England, enjoying, along with two sisters, a "very happy" childhood during which they "were pretty much left to do what they wanted." As a child, James was fascinated with electronics and robotics.
According to Benjamin Middleton, James started producing music at the age of 12. As a teenager he DJed at the Shire Horse in St Ives, with Tom Middleton at the Bowgie Inn in Crantock, and also along the numerous beaches around Cornwall. His first record was the 12-inch EP Analogue Bubblebath, the last two tracks of which were made with Tom Middleton.
In 1991 James formed Rephlex Records with his friend Grant Wilson-Claridge 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 Richard James released three Analogue Bubblebath EPs under the AFX name, two Bradley Strider EPs, and three Caustic Window EPs. Under the Power-Pill name he released the Pac-Man EP based on the arcade game Pac-Man. Under the Aphex Twin name he released the Xylem Tube EP and Didgeridoo, a fast-paced song designed to tire dancers at the end of a DJ set. These early releases came out on Rephlex Records, Mighty Force of Exeter, and R&S Records of Belgium.
Early in his career, 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, Blue Calx, The Dice Man, and Power-Pill. Local legend has it that James lived on the roundabout in Elephant and Castle, South London during his early years in the capital.
The first Aphex Twin album, Selected Ambient Works 85-92, was released in 1992 on R&S Records. John Bush of the All Music Guide described it as a "watershed of ambient music". Zak Brashill of Brighton & Hove 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". Critics also noted that the songs were recorded on cassette and that the sound quality was "relatively poor".
Warp Records pressed and released Selected Ambient Works Volume II in 1994. The sound was much less beat-driven than the previous volume. Except for one song called "Blue Calx", all of 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. To decipher song titles, listeners had to pair each numbered symbol with the correct image (for example, the first title, which is often labeled "cliffs", is realized by pairing the first symbol with the first image, which is that of a rocky cliffside). James stated in The Wire magazine and other media that these songs were inspired by lucid dreams and synesthesia.
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 in his later records. The album was a compilation of songs composed between 1991 and 1994, and represented a mish-mash of Aphex Twin's various music styles. This was Aphex Twin's last record of the 1990s to use mostly analogue synthesizer; later releases made more use of computers and software synthesizers. Aphex Twin collaborated with minimalist composer Philip Glass to make an orchestral version of one of the songs from this album.
In 1995 (primarily with Hangable Auto Bulb), he began releasing more material composed on computers, and embraced a drum and bass sound combined with nostalgic childhood themes and strange computer-generated acid lines. Aphex Twin's early adoption of software synthesizers predated the later popularity of using computers to make music. The late 1990s saw his music become more popular and mainstream, as he released the Richard D. James Album and two singles, "Come to Daddy" and "Windowlicker", which were shown on MTV and were cover features of music magazines including NME. The videos for both singles were directed by British artist Chris Cunningham and caused controversy on their release due to disturbing images and themes.
In 2001 Aphex Twin released his most personal album yet, drukqs, a 2-CD album which featured prepared piano songs influenced by Erik Satie and John Cage. 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 came out on his own Rephlex label. It was also rumoured that he had left almost all the album's tracks on an MP3 player that he accidentally left on a plane, and rushed its release to pre-empt an Internet leak.
In late 2004, rumours of James' return to an acid techno based sound were realised with the Analord series. This series concentrated on producing fully analogue pieces of music, written and recorded on analogue equipment and pressed to vinyl. James was very meticulous about the whole process of recording, mastering and pressing. However, label co-owner Grant Wilson-Claridge convinced James to release a digital CD, Chosen Lords, which included a selection from the Analord series, with some tracks slightly altered to improve the flow of the album.
For the Analord records, James used his extensive collection of Roland drum machines which he bought when they were still at bargain prices. He also used one of the rarest and most desirable synthesizers of his generation, the Synton Fenix, and the notoriously difficult to program Roland MC-4 sequencer (a sequencer with a reputation for excellent timing), as well as the famous Roland TB-303 for his trademark acid melodies.
James usually creates his own photography for his releases' artwork. Many of these photos show James' own face, grinning or slightly distorted in some way, as it can be seen in some of his videoclips ("Come to Daddy", for example). Towards the end of the second track on the "Windowlicker" single (commonly referred to as "[Formula]", "[Symbol]", or "[Equation]") a photo of James' face is revealed when run through spectral analysis. The picture illustrates his famous toothy, evil grin (with a spiral also visible at the end of "Windowlicker"). In addition to this, the cover of "Two Remixes by AFX" is actually contained only on the CD, encoded in SSTV format.
In 2006 he had 2 songs--Jynweythek Ylow and Avril 14th--featured on the Marie Antoinette soundtrack written and directed by Sofia Coppola. Also, in that same year, "Omgyjya-Switch7" was featured in the Alfonso Cuarón film Children of Men.
Aphex Twin is set to play at the All Tomorrow's Parties music festival in December 2007.
There are unconfirmed rumours that Richard D. James is now recording under the alias of The Tuss.
Richard D. James has released a large amount of material under various aliases. The following lists only his most notable releases.
James has stated in numerous interviews that he has no musical influences other than himself. He claims to have listened rarely to songs on the radio as a child, and that he is unable to read sheet music. When asked who he admired musically, he responded: "Kraftwerk, Guy Called Gerald, Derrick May, Mr. Fingers, 808 State, Lil Louis, Lidell Townsend, Bass Master Warriors, Noel Williams, Martin Hannett, J Dilla, Sten Hanson, Xenakis, Piero Umiliani, Brian Bennett, Squarepusher, Autechre, and Grace Jones."
At other times, James has said that he has listened to many bands and artists for inspiration and sampled Led Zeppelin for breaks. He signed fellow musicians and personal friends Tom Jenkinson (Squarepusher) and Mike Paradinas (µ-ziq) to his Rephlex record label, as well as Luke Vibert.
In the 1993 compilation album Artificial Intelligence, James contributed the song "Polygon Window" under his alias The Dice Man. The liner notes contain Q&As with all the contributors, including The Dice Man. His listed age is 17, and in response to why he contributed to Artificial Intelligence, he states, "from a want to hear quality electronic music that was longer than 20 minutes". He lists as his earliest influences: "Phonic Bod, Computer World, Mental Telepathy, Industrial Inc, Tomita, Tangerine Dream". His recent influence or inspiration was "everyday sounds that can be emulated / reconstructed electronically, quality techno, especially from Europe which overshadows the current hardcore pop crap". The 5 most influential electronic labels he listed were: "Rephlex, Arptran v Plastic, KK Acid, R&S, Fragile". He listed his top 5 electronic tracks as: "K7 Acid by XP4, Astro Blaster by Joyrex J5, Flow Coma by 808 State, Synth It by Revelation, Computer World by Kraftwerk". When asked to list his favourite electronic artist and why, he states, "AFX, mainly due to totally new ideas of percussion instead of the 909 etc". In reply to what is next for electronic music, he says "acid/techno, ambient/techno". Finally, when asked who is his music for, he replied "nice people with three ears".
Fans and journalists either coined or spread the genre names IDM and drill and bass to describe Richard's novel approach to dance music. Richard's own Rephlex Records label, which he co-owns with Grant Wilson-Claridge, prefers the term "Braindance".
James says of the 'intelligent dance music' label:
"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."
The London Sinfonietta has performed arrangements of his music, along with pieces by Boards of Canada, Squarepusher, and Mira Calix. 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.
Aphex Twin has said, "I don't really like rock & roll." Despite this, he has had an influence on rock bands like Radiohead. However, he has dismissed the idea of going on tour with them: "I wouldn't play with them since I don't like them."
The progressive rock band Tool lists Aphex Twin's music as an influence on their Lateralus album. When describing the bands that they enjoy, Aphex Twin was one of the few artists they all could agree upon.
The mathcore band The Dillinger Escape Plan has covered "Come to Daddy" on one of their EPs, Irony is a Dead Scene, that featured Mike Patton as vocalist. The jazz ensemble The Bad Plus covered "Flim" on their album These Are the Vistas.
In September 2006, OutKast member André 3000 acknowledged in a Mixmag interview that his music was partly inspired by Aphex Twin as well as Squarepusher, although he called his attempts to incorporate their sound into his work "feeble".
Sonny Moore (ex-lead singer of From First to Last) has stated he listens to Aphex Twin and has worn shirts with the Aphex Twin logo in various publicity photos. Daron Malakian from the band System of a Down stated in an interview that he listens to Aphex Twin, as well as Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess.
Aphex Twin provided all 3 of the tracks in the BBC's digital widescreen test transmission, broadcast on a loop in the UK between November 1998 and early 2002.
James described himself in the Guardian newspaper as follows
"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."
A majority of his interviews contain strange statements and non sequitur claims, some of which are unverifiable, including the following: he composed ambient techno music at the age of 13; he has "over 100 hours" of unreleased music (including songs on his answering machine that could be wiped away by leaving a message); he made his own software to compose with, including algorithmic processes which automatically generate beats and melodies; he experiences synesthesia; and he is able to incorporate lucid dreaming into the process of making music.
Some seemingly outlandish claims from interviews have been verified, however. James does own a tank (actually a 1950s armoured scout car, the Daimler Ferret Mark 3) and a submarine bought from Russia, and he lives in southeast London in a converted bank, which was formerly the Bank of Cyprus and then HSBC.
James professes to be highly experienced in electronics. His close friends have said that he built his own synthesizers and samplers from scratch in his early years, and that he has modified and circuit bent his equipment. 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."
By displaying changing patterns of color on the monitor (in the case of the Spectrum, as with many early personal computers, the display monitor was a television), the natural hum from the cathode ray tube was modulated, producing a semblance of melody.
Many songs include sounds from and references to the ZX Spectrum. For instance, "Carn Marth" from Richard D. James Album includes the tape loading noise of the game Sabre Wulf.
In the first half of 2006, James made two appearances in Future Music magazine. In issue 174 (released in May), he was featured after winning its remix competition. He entered under the name "Tahnaiya Russell" (probably inspired by a surreal artist of the same name who cites Aphex Twin as an influence in her biography) and his remix of a Luke Vibert track was deemed by Vibert himself to be the best of the submissions ("Relaxed and sophisticated, but with large balls and huge bass"). James revealed to the magazine that he had entered under the alias, but was unaware he had actually won, and the prize of sample CDs was instead awarded to runner-up Michael Stephens.
In issue 177 (released in July), James was interviewed by Future Music magazine, and discussed in surprising detail topics such as the software he uses, and his opinions on music today. However, the equipment list seems to be tongue-in-cheek due to the inclusion of relics and curiosities such as UPIC by Iannis Xenakis (although it is worth noting that labelmate Russell Haswell has used UPIC in a live context). The interview was originally announced as appearing in issue 176, released in June: the magazine's website stated, "This month sees the eventual arrival of the interview with Aphex Twin".