The Return of Aphex Twin
After 13 years in the dark, British electronic musician Richard D. James – a.k.a Aphex Twin – has made his triumphant return.
The electronic scene exploded into manic ecstasy when Aphex announced the album, Syro, and released the convolutedly-titled single, “minipops 67[120.2][source field mix].” The song immediately sparked heated discussions online regarding whether or not it falls under the classic Aphex Twin sound.
Syro has since been released to a glowing critical reception – and with promises of even more new material on the horizon. But for new and old fans of the mysterious weirdo alike, what is it that defines the Aphex Twin sound? And what is with all the hype surrounding a pale, red-haired, now middle-aged Brit with a ponytail and high geek factor?
From Early Origins to Techno Raves
Richard D. James began making ambient music at age 12. By 14, James was programing his own software while DJing various clubs and raves. Impressive in itself, what really earned James his name was his experimental style, which through the ages has made him one of the most renowned and sampled producers in electronic music.
Aphex Twin’s 1992 debut album Selected Ambient Works 85-92 came at a time when rave and techno gradually took the underground by storm. Massive privately organized raves were held in deserted fields and parking lots for a young audience who danced the night away, largely under the influence of narcotics.
Out of that scene emerged a subcultural wave of distorted, crackling sounds and stumbling beats that constantly changed direction and rhythm just when you thought you had it figured out. Often referred to as ‘Analog Acid Techno,’ this was the wave Aphex Twin gained true notoriety through, though he has shed specific labels during his career.
Twisted, Disturbing, Anxious, Provocative – and Ingenious
James has released music under a sea of pseudonyms, but he is still most famous for his Aphex Twin moniker. His 1999 EP Windowlicker is particularly noted, with the instantly recognizable cover where his own head is photoshopped onto a busty woman in bikini.
This shock-valuable act has become something of a visual trademark for Aphex Twins – the use of his own face. On album covers, promotional materials and in music videos, Richard D. James’ head is often presented in a twisted, disturbed and anxiety-provoking ‘smile.’
His music can be similarly classified as distorted, discomforting, anxiety-ridden – but first and foremost it’s considered ingenious. Like a machine gun, he shoots relentlessly one round after another, forcing listeners to their knees, while pulling apart classic music structures and turning his own work on its head.
The pioneering Brit is of course capable of softer, gentler sounds.
Among other releases, his debut album is a good place for the novice Aphex Twin listener, collecting a numbers of relatively restrained tracks that won’t overly-assault the ears right away.
Aphex Twin doesn’t make music that appeals to a wide audience, yet he’s managed to capture a huge fan base and is often referred to in godly terms as a musical savior and ruler. He’s earned this status precisely because of his time-tested ability to shake foundations and immersively capture listeners in his complex universe of sound that interchangeably moves feet and and lifts eyebrows.
Welcome back Aphex!
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