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Aphex Twin

+ {AFX} + {Polygon Window}

One of several techno/ambient artists to emerge out of the acid/trance scene of the late 80s (The ORB, ORBITAL, WILLIAM ORBIT, et al orb), the single-handed nu-techno pioneer captured the minds and souls of the rave and experimental drum ’n’ bass crowd – all night Saturday, all day Sunday. For a decade or so, the artist commonly known as APHEX TWIN produced a sporadic string of albums (and burning hot 12-inch singles) only to disappear from the limelight in 2001. Then, without a blip or a bleep for 13 years (bypassing nearly a dozen Analord-titles 45s), the master finally re-surfaced from his London lair to unleash the highly-regarded, Syro, set.
Born Richard David James, 18 August 1971 in Limerick, Ireland, RDJ began his precocious electronic tinkering at an early age. Isolated in the wilds of south west Cornwall (Lanner, to be exact), in true bedroom boffin style, the cherubic 14 year-old made his first recordings using customised analog synths. From disc jockey to college graduate with a National Diploma in engineering, Richard and fellow turntablist Grant Wilson-Claridge (from his days playing nights at a pub in Newquay), set up their own outlet, Rephlex, to introduce house music to an English audience.
Credited to The APHEX TWIN, his first release was the 1987-recorded `Analogue Bubblebath’ EP, released in September ’91 on the small independent Mighty Force Records. Incidentally, the classically-trained Tom Middleton (aka Schizophrenia of GLOBAL COMMUNICATION) popped up on third track, `En Trance To Exit’. The 12-inch created something of a buzz, although it was the sinister, 7-minute `Digeridoo (Aboriginal mix)’, A-side of the `AnalogBubblebathVol2’ (credited to AFX) which had legendary dance label Apollo/R&S chasing the DJ’s signature.
Pertaining to be compiled from tapes and samples going back several years, the hour-long SELECTED AMBIENT WORKS 85-92 (1992) {*9} was nevertheless regarded as a watershed in the infinite world of nuovo techno/ambient music. Almost cinematic in structure and texture, samples for `Green Calx’ varied from JOHN CARPENTER and PiL segments to slices of the RoboCop OST. Reports that his cat had chewed up bits of the tapes, only added awe and legend to the bubbly bpm beauts such as `Ptolemy’, `Xtal’ (with that airy-fairy female vox), the 9-minute `Tha’ and `Pulsewidth’. Fresh tracks, including `Polynomial-C’ and `Tamphex’, also became dancefloor/house faves, while his “Caustic Window” series of 12-inchers kicked off another un-masked spread around this period.
Signing to Warp Records, under the pseudonymous POLYGON WINDOW moniker, James again stepped up to the mark with SURFING ON SINE WAVES (1992) {*8}. The set spawned the punishing rhythmical workout of `Quoth’, a subsequent single; its dark intensity recalling rebellious rave rouser, `Digeridoo’. From the `Polygon Window’ opening track, to the funky-mouthed `UT1-Dot’, to his introspective days hidden between `Redruth School’ and `Portreath Harbour’, James was surfing his own web.
Fans of AFX and rave itself could be forgiven for bypassing several of the man’s limited-edition releases; ANALOGUE BUBBLEBATH 3 {*6} and `Analogue Bubblebath 4’ EP, duly released on his own Rephlex Records in 1993 and 1994 respectively.
By this point, James was something of a cause celebre among the press, the indie papers surprisingly vocal in their support. With previous single releases, APHEX TWIN had missed out on a Top 40 spot by a small margin, but 1993’s `On’ gave him his first chart hit, reaching No.32. Another piece of SELECTED AMBIENT WORKS VOLUME II (1994) {*7} nearly cracked the Top 10, the double-set comprising numerous untitled tracks concentrating on darker, more avant-garde material. This went down none too well with the critics and a backlash started to boomerang.
Silencing at least some of his detractors with …I CARE BECAUSE YOU DO (1995) {*7}, the Top 30 record featured equally dark but more consumer-friendly fare, reflecting the then current penchant for trip hop. Showcasing the almost industrial `Ventolin’, the scariest and weirdest track to ever venture into the Top 50, plus his orchestral manoeuvre in the pits, `Next Heap With’, his hardcore appeal (probably the property of The PRODIGY) was judged as uncharacteristic.
With 1996’s eponymous-esque RICHARD D. JAMES ALBUM {*7}, the former boy wonder explored drum ‘n’ bass textures replete with lush strings and the requisite exotic electronica. A curious experiment, right down to his juvenile approach on vocal track, `Milkman’, his inspiration was down to recent Rephlex conspirator SQUAREPUSHER. For messing with the minds of his once-proud fanfase, the unhealthy highest position of 62 was Richard’s reward.
Having already caused a little controversy with his weirdo, thrash-core `Come To Daddy’ video/single in ‘97, APHEX TWIN took a break until 1999’s Chris Cunningham-directed `Windowlicker’. This time around the video/promo shoots saw his head (with big earrings) superimposed on to the body of a well-endowed bikini-clad model. Still, his first new track for a few years and no accompanying album (even in the pipeline), it cracked the Top 20.
RDJ kept a low profile in between the release of the aforementioned single and his long-awaited double-disc, aptly-entitled DRUKQS (2001) {*6}. The set, which was borderline between the man’s “Selected Ambient” material and his long-gone previous album, was apparently never going to see the light of day as these were private tracks stored on his laptop. But a hacker downloaded them from the internet, forcing a very miffed James to issue what seemed like a random collection of sprawling tracks. Not in any particular order, and all with incomprehensible titles, the Top 30 entry was a staggering work with all the usual ‘Twin motifs and twists. Opener `Jynweythek Ylow’ was reminiscent of (Windowlicker’s) `Nanou’, with its eerie/childlike, wind-up toy home-made piano sound. `Omgyjya Switch 7’, on the other hand, sounded like James had sampled 2000 different kung fu fights and stuck them together to create one big techno brawl, whilst avant-garde, Erik Satie-like piano pieces such as `Strotha Tybhe’, `Avril 14th’ and the beautifully simplistic `Kesson Daslef’, would not have sounded out of place at a classical convention. The album, despite this display of raw, sometimes misplaced skeletal work, received mixed reactions from critics who were expecting the man to issue something slightly more consistent.
Forsaking the APHEX TWIN nom de plume for a while to concentrate on his Rephlex roster of other artists, his fanatical following had to be content with his Analord series of 12-inch singles. Counting 11 in total over five years, all were compiled for one hour-long album, CHOSEN LORDS (2006) {*7}. Not quite Aphex (but what exactly was?) the rise of Scots BOARDS OF CANADA and others of that ilk, bowed to the man, but were also happy he was out of the way.
Testing interest by way of sporting an APHEX TWIN logo high over London in August 2014, rumours were er… flying that maverick James might be ready to resume his Warp-ed career. A comeback album, SYRO (2014) {*8}, proved this prophecy was indeed not just hyperbole. Consisting of knotty twists of elasticated rhythms, siding with experimental techno, drum ’n’ bass and fractured funk, the hour-long sixth set planted itself firmly high in the UK (and US!) charts. Not a million cosmic miles from BOC, but with a canny confidence to deliver non-frenetic tracks a la data sequences (example the 10-minute `XMAS_EVET10 – 120 thanaton3 mix’ inside square brackets to confuse basic web designers, no doubt), APHEX TWIN breezed it. The simplicity of `produk 29’ toyed with becoming a jazz-rock fix, while the speed-driven, Saturday night, 152.97bpm `CIRCLONT14 (shrymoming mix)’ and the 163.97 bpm `s950tx16wasr10 (earth portal mix) competed with the ENO-like Sunday morning ambience of closing piece `aisatsana’ and `minipops 67 (source field mix)’. Better than “Drukqs” – not even maybe. Outtakes from his previous planetary missive, the strange COMPUTER CONTROLLED ACOUSTIC INSTRUMENTS Pt.2 (EP) (2015) {*6} woofer and tweeter’d its way into the Top 40.
Hot on its chart heels was the AFX-sporting ORPHANED DEEJAY SELEK 2006-08 (2015) {*6}, an athletic 27-minute mini-set of snarling samples submerged in demonic dance vibes. All but `Midi pipe1c sds3time cube/klonedrm’ (eh!) and the funk-driven `NEOTEKT72’, were electro-techno earworms for the jittery or manic depressive down the disco.
Positively prolific and pulsating, the single-minded APHEX TWIN duly went into cosmic EP/mini-set overdrive (and the UK Top 20) with the acid/ambient-pop of CHEETAH (2016) {*6}. Opening with the Ld Spectrum-enhanced `Cheetah2’ and bypassing a few nightmarish beeps and drones, the gloopy `CIRKLON1’ and `CIRKLON3’ cement mixers took up a good quarter-hour, something that i-robots in another dimension will never get back.
© MC Strong 1995-2004/GRD-AS/MCS // rev-up MCS Nov2014-Jul2016

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