Richard David James was born in 1971 in Ireland. The critics refer to him as the most creative and influential artist in modern electronic music. When he was 20 years old he founded Rephlex Records together with Grant Wilson-Claridge in order to promote the underestimated, incomprehensible and partly unknown house music genre – acid techno according to him.
James grew up in Lanner, in Cornwall (England). He started his adventure with music when he was only 12 years old. During his teenage years he worked as a DJ. He studied engineering at Cornwall College between 1988 and 1990. When asked about his studies he answers: “music and electronics are inseparable”.
The first part of the name Aphex Twin derives from a musical equipment manufacturer, the second “Twin” – commemorates his older brother, Richard, who died a moment after he was born.
In order to describe the music created by Aphex Twin (actually impossible to categorise), his own music production company – Rephlex Records – introduced the term “Braindance” in 1991. Braindance “… includes the best elements of all other genres such as traditional, classical, electronic, modern, pop, industrial, ambient, hip-hop, electro, techno, break beat, hardcore, ragga, garage, and drum and bass music. Braindance refers to the future electronic music, which both stimulates the brain and triggers a willingness to dance.
Aphex Twin is also one of the main representatives of IDM (Intelligent Dance Music), a genre created at the beginning of the 1990s and popularised by Warp Records music production company and a series of Artificial Intelligence records.
Career beginnings (1990s)
Working as a DJ in 1989 James got to know Grant Wilson-Claridge. Wilson-Claridge was intrigued by the sets played by Richard at the Bowgie pub in Newquay, Cornwall. When he found out that those thrilling sounds are composed by the DJ himself he decided to help the young artist.
James’ career started after Mighty Force Records released his first album EP Analogue Bubblebath in 1991. At that time he moved to London to study electronics at Kingston Technical College. However, he soon gave that up and devoted himself entirely to his musical passion. In the beginning he released his albums under the pseudonym Aphex Twin, later transformed into the abbreviation AFX. He also performed as Polygon Window, Caustic Window, The Dice Man.
On the way to success (1992-1995)
The first full Aphex Twin album Selected Ambient Works 85-92 was released in 1992 by R&S Records. It earned very favourable reviews from the critics. John Bush from All Music Guide considered it a breakthrough in ambient music. Others wrote about one of the most interesting musical mixtures of keyboard and computer.
Richard David James, encouraged by its success, released the second part of Selected Ambient Works Volume II through Warp Records in 1994. This one was significantly poorer as far as beats and melodic threads were concerned. The names of the pieces were enciphered in a circular diagram, and a picture on the record sleeve was allocated to each of them. In order to read the title of a piece you had to connect the symbol from the diagram with the matching picture which formed a kind of a puzzle together. James admitted in an interview for The Wire that the record was inspired by day-dreaming, seeing sounds or listening to smells, a particular synesthesia.
In 1995 James released the album I Care Because You Do. He put a picture of his face on the record sleeve, which soon become a very characteristic motif for him, used for later records and videos. The record I Care Because You Do was a compilation of pieces composed between 1990 and 1994, constituting a melange of the many musical styles that Aphex Twin had experimented with. It was the last album of the 1990s where James used an analogue synthesiser. Upon James’ request one of the pieces from this record, Icct Hedral was transformed into an orchestra version by a modern composer Philip Glass.
Jungle, DSP and laptops (1995-1999)
In 1995 James started to create music by computer, connecting jungle style with the nostalgic melodies of childhood and computer sounds. These were pioneering projects: at that time using a computer for making music was not as popular as it is nowadays. Very soon his works met the tastes of popular culture fans and the record Richard D. James Album was classified into the mainstream. In 1996 James composed two songs in the pop music genre, Come to Daddy and Windowlicker, which found their way to the MTV hit charts. Both singles evoked a lot of controversy, mainly due to the images appearing in the videos.
“Prepared” piano, laptops and even more DSP technology (2000-2003).
In 2001 Aphex Twin released the double record album drukqs where he included pieces inspired by the works of Erik Satie and John Cage – whose idea of a “prepared” piano is used. The songs are very coarse and fast, made with unusual precision by the computer. The names of the pieces are in the Cornish language. It was the last record released by Warp Records, the next ones were released by Rephlex Records musical production company founded by James at the beginning of his career.
Synthesisers and drum machines (2004-2008)
In 2004 James returned to his early fascination with the sounds of the acid techno genre. In these climates, thanks to synthesisers and drum machines he started working on the new record. New pieces were recorded on vinyl records. The precision that James employed in his recordings earned him great recognition. The musician wanted to obtain ideal sounds and he regarded this quality as the main objective of his musical production company. Despite believing that vinyl sounds are much better than those recorded digitally, on the advice of Grant Wilson-Claridge, his friend and co-founder of Rephlex Records, he released a digital CD Chosen Lords with acid techno music.
Apart from music, additional areas of activity are photography and audio-visual arts. James uses these among others in videos, where his transformed or deformed face usually appears (e.g. Come to Daddy). The author of many of them is his close friend Chris Cunningham, whose brave ideas shock public opinion.
Among early influences Richard D. James mentions, among others, Phonic Boy, Computer World, Mental Telepathy, Industrial Inc. When asked about inspiration he answers that he derives from “the sounds he hears every day and which he can reconstruct electronically and also from good techno music – especially European, which is currently overshadowed by hardcore-pop junk”. James’ works were also influenced by numerous creators of the avant-garde trend such as Kraftwerk, Karlheinz Stockhausen or John Cage.
Aphex Twin is a creator who exerts a significant influence on other artists very often working on completely different musical levels. His pieces have been performed by, among others, the London Sinfonietta ensemble and Alarm Will Sound, and his works are esteemed by the musicians of cult band Radiohead.
The media inform us that Aphex Twin has been recently recording under the name of The Tuss. Although Rephlex Records denies the fact, fans and media recognize their idol and treat The Tuss as another James’ project.