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Aphex Twin

Aphex Twin (born Richard David James on August 18, 1971 in Limerick, Ireland) is a British electronic music artist, credited with pushing forward the genres of techno, ambient, acid and drum and bass.


Early life

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 Lanner, Cornwall, England, enjoying, along with two sisters, a "very happy" childhood during which they "were pretty much left to do what wanted." "I liked growing up there, being cut off from the city and the rest of the world." The children studied in Redruth School, Cornwall.

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.

From age 16 to 18 Richard James studied the National Diploma in Engineering from 1988 to 1990 in Cornwall College. He passed the course, although he listened to his mixes on his headphones during the practical lesson.

Early career: Early 1990s

Aphex Twin's 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, James released three Analogue Bubblebath EPs under the name of AFX, 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.

Gaining success: 1992-1999

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". Rolling Stone magazine 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. Despite one song also having the name "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.

Music sample:
  • "Ageispolis" (file info) — play in browser (beta)
    • Sample of "Ageispolis" from the album Selected Ambient Works 85-92.
    • Problems listening to the file? See media help.
  • "Ventolin (Video Version)" (file info) — play in browser (beta)
    • Sample of "Ventolin (Video Version)" from the album ...I Care Because You Do.
    • Problems listening to the file? See media help.

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. Aphex Twin collaborated with minimalist composer Philip Glass to make an orchestral version of one of the songs from this album, Icct Hedral.

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.


Music sample:
  • "Jynweythek" (file info) — play in browser (beta)
    • Sample of "Jynweythek" from the album Drukqs.
    • Problems listening to the file? See media help.
  • "Vord Hosbn" (file info) — play in browser (beta)
    • Sample of "Vord Hosbn" from the album Drukqs.
    • Problems listening to the file? See media help.

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. Richard told the interviewers he had left almost all the album's tracks on an MP3 player that he accidentally left on a plane with "Aphex Twin - unreleased tracks" written on it, 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.

Music sample:
  • "Fenix Funk 5" (file info) — play in browser (beta)
    • Sample of "Fenix Funk 5" from the album Analord 10.
    • Problems listening to the file? See media help.
  • "VBS.Redlof. B" (file info) — play in browser (beta)
    • Sample of "VBS.Redlof. B" from the album Analord 11.
    • Problems listening to the file? See media help.

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.


See Richard D. James discography


The Aphex Twin Name

The name "Aphex Twin" is derived from Aphex Systems Limited, a brand of audio signal processing equipment. It is used with permission, as was recognized on the back sleeve of his Richard D. James and Drukqs albums. He has explained in interviews that the 'Twin' is in memory of his brother, also named Richard James, who died during child birth.


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 "", "", or "") 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.


Aphex Twin is set to play at the All Tomorrow's Parties music festival in December 2007.

There are unconfirmed rumours that James is now recording under the alias of The Tuss.


Richard D. James's influences

Age 17 Aphex mention his 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". In reply to what is next for electronic music, he said "acid/techno, ambient/techno".

Richard was influence by Chicago house, and Detroit techno pioneers like Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson and also Brian Eno for ambient music. Ambient + Detroit techno = Ambient techno.

For house and acid house influences include the Guy Called Gerald, Mr. Fingers, 808 State, Lil Louis.

Avante Garde music is a big influence including Kraftwerk, Can, Neu!, Tangerine Dream, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Tod Dockstader, Xenakis, Piero Umiliani, Parmegiani, John Cage

The french man Erik Satie for his piano works and his innovation ideas for furniture music (precursor to ambient music).

On the death of BBC Radiophonic Workshop Electronic Musician Delia Derbyshire Richard mention her in NME magazine as a hero of his.

From Hiphop, J Dilla. From Warp Records (same label), Autechre, LFO. Recording Engineers/Producers: Noel Williams, Martin Hannett. Synthesizer: Gershon Kingsley

Lidell Townsend, Bass Master Warriors, Sten Hanson, Brian Bennett, Grace Jones."

Richard signed fellow musicians and personal friends Tom Jenkinson (Squarepusher), Mike Paradinas (µ-ziq), and Luke Vibert (plug) to his Rephlex record label. From 1994 these were influence by drum and bass and jungle_music. Their drum and bass was faster and faster and more complicated so fans of Rephlex records call it Drill and bass (Drill instead of drum).

Later Hellfish & Producer and Venetian Snares from µ-ziq's planet-mu influence Aphex Twin for noise and gabber.

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.

Influence on others

Richard's own Rephlex Records label, which he co-owns with Grant Wilson-Claridge, describe Aphex Twin's music as "Braindance".

Fans of Aphex Twin made an internet discussion list in August 1993 to talk about Aphex Twin and Warp Records. It was called the Intelligent Dance Music List. From then fans from the internet have called Aphex Twin IDM to describe Richard's novel approach to dance music.

Perfect Sound Forever: Another term that's been used to describe your work is 'intelligent dance music.'

"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

The London Sinfonietta has performed arrangements of Aphex Twin. 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 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.

Aphex Twin's press

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."

Aphex Twin said he composed ambient techno music at the age of 13; he has "over 100 hours" of unreleased music; 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.

James owns a tank (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.

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.

ZX Spectrum Competition 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.

Luke Vibert remix competition

In May 2006 the artist Tahnaiya Russell (a surreal artist who cites Aphex Twin as an influence in her biography ) won the remix competition in Future Music magazine. Tahnaiya Russell's remix of the 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"). Richard 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.


SynthDrum MachineSamplerSequencerSoftware
Roland SH-101Roland TB-606Casio SK-1Roland MC-4Reaktor
Roland TR-303Roland TR-808 Atari STMetasynth
Yamaha GX1Roland TR-909
Synton FenixRoland R8  UPIC

Richard D. James studied electronics in Cornwall College and Kingston Polytechnic in London. He built his own synthesizers and samplers in his early years, he has also modified and circuit bent his equipment. James programmed his personal music software algorithm also.

UPIC by Iannis Xenakis

Citations and references

  1. ^ The Face magazine
  2. ^
  3. ^ Ben Middleton talking about Aphex Twin on early usenet
  4. ^ AFX - Analogue Bubblebath
  5. ^ The Rephlex Manifesto
  6. ^ BBC Aphex Twin
  7. ^ BBC Aphex Twin
  8. ^ interview by David Toop
  9. ^ list of aliases
  10. ^ Review by Rolling Stone magazine
  11. ^ Review by All Music
  12. ^ Cover of NME March 20, 1998
  13. ^
  14. ^ Synths, drukqs and rock'n'roll FairfaxDigital, January 9, 2004
  15. ^ The Aphex Face, retrieved on 23 May 2006
  16. ^ ATP Official Website
  17. ^ Article on The Tuss in The Guardian
  18. ^ Rephlex - the Record Label BBC - h2g2, August 28, 2002
  19. ^ V/A - Braindance The Milk Factory, May, 2001
  20. ^ IDM list
  21. ^ Drill and
  22. ^ Perfect Sound Forever interview Perfect Sound Forever by Jason Gross, , 1997
  23. ^ Interview with Morgan Hayes and David Horne, March 2, 1997
  24. ^ Radiohead - Kid A by Rhys Tranter, 17 June 2003
  25. ^ Aphex Twin Interview Kludge Magazine by Arturo Perez, March 16, 2002
  26. ^,3605,563163,00.html
  27. ^ "Aphex Twin: Mad Musician or Investment Banker?" Don Anderson, Space Age Bachelor Magazine, Date unknown
  28. ^ The Face John O'Connell, The Face, October Issue 2001
  29. ^ "Aphex Twin Wins Music Remix Competition" We Are The Music news post
  30. ^ Aphex Twin interview 'In Future Music