AFX, The Aphex Twin, Caustic Window, Bradley Strider, Dice Man… Richard D James is an elusive creature, as uniquely adept at hiding from hype as he is as creating it. But none of his endlessly mischievous media ducking and diving would be worth a tinker’s toss – and he wouldn’t still be here exciting speculation, in fact – if it weren’t for the fact that once the bullshit has subsided his music stands the test of time.
And while his winning of a Grammy might be pleasing to his accountant, and might give us a bit of fun as we watch EDM fans trying to puzzle out who and what he actually is, it’s been his recent haemorrhage of unreleased early music that’s been the real news event for Aphex lovers. As “user48736353001”, RDJ has now dropped a total of 155 tracks and counting, with running time longer than his entire “official” discography as Aphex Twin.
It’s a dizzying rabbit hole to jump down, but what’s most dizzying is that the quality is consistent – and it contains gems that are up there with his very best. People are already compiling their own albums from the glut, organising listening parties, and otherwise finding ways of navigating through it. And to help with that, we asked around a few people who have been inspired by early Aphex, including several who were there when these tracks were actually made. They told us plenty about how his music moved them, and one – Mike Paradinas – even saw fit to send us an exclusive track which he’d made way back when as a direct result of exposure to RDJ’s music.
MANUEL SEPULVEDA (Optigram design, Citinite label, Nitetrax show on NTS)
Richard, along with his DJ partner PK (Piers Kirwan), used to do a fortnightly techno and acid night at a club called The Bowgie in Crantock, Cornwall, and he would occasionally play his own tracks off cassette. I remember the first time we heard Richard play “Human Rotation”, it was his last tune of the night and we all went nuts. At the end we rushed over to the DJ booth to ask him what it was. He was really chuffed to see our reactions and I still remember his beaming face as he told us.
“Human Rotation” and tracks like “Analogue Bubblebath”, “Polygon Window” and the recently uploaded “Parking Lot” were on the first tape that he ever made for me and Tom Middleton (me and Tom along with Aphex illustrator Dan Parks went on to do the alternate fortnightly night at The Bowgie after Paul Guntrip of The Wag retired, and then Aphex’s night become monthly to allow for Grant of Rephlex’s new house night) and for many of us those early tracks are at the heart of our memories of living in Cornwall — going to raves, driving through country lanes, or just chilling at home with friends. I feel truly blessed and lucky to have been a part of that.
“They were unlike anything anyone else was doing… apart from me I guess!”
PANGAEA (Hessle Audio)
Getting beautiful SAWII vibes from this. I love the honesty of the working process in all of these, it’s pretty inspiring and motivational. The “Slo” version of “Red Calx” really could be a cut from Selected Ambient Works 2, it’s so lovely. Also my favourite film as a kid was Short Circuit, so it makes me happy hearing that “nova robotics” sample!
ADAM GOODHAND (Numbers)
Smoothly furious and un-relenting acid ear worm. The changes in pace and energy throughout this track are incredible. Only AFX can pull off so many different ideas in one track and still make it sound coherent and exciting. Come on you cunts lets have some aphex acid!
MIKE PARADINAS (Planet Mu supremo, and recording artist as µ-Ziq, Jake Slazenger, Tusken Raiders etc etc etc)
I never had any unreleased Aphex tracks, not early on. I heard what he released (2 EPs at that point) then Tom Middleton played me the tracks when I signed to Evolution. There was a definite sense that they were magical and AFX had a big aura around him from the very start. They were unlike anything anyone else was doing… apart from me I guess, but I started copying him once I heard “Isopropophlex” haha. He was definitely my first inspiration: I heard “Human Rotation” round Tom’s house, for instance, and made this track “Mucky Puppy” as a kind of response, a couple of weeks later.
The ambient stuff was maybe less well regarded by some techno heads because it was less unique, but Tom played me tracks from the Xylem Tube EP and Selected Ambient Works 85-92 before either came out and I felt lucky to have heard them – fully inspirational. Then between the ambient tunes and the hard ones were tracks like “BellBrk” had an alien feeling, a ghostliness, that I just loved. Later on after all this, I finally met Rich (late ’92, I think). Rich himself was always very proud of his new creations and would play whatever he’d recently made when you went round – I recognise several of these later (post-’92) tracks from what he’s uploaded. I remember loads more which I wish he would, although the rate he’s going, they’ll probably be up there soon too.
I think at one point Melodies from Mars [which was leaked a couple of years ago, and formed part of a phase of melodic, “funny” Aphex tracks along with Pardinas & RDJ’s Mike & Rich album] was going to be called Mr. Men, and each track was describing each character’s personality – and he kept tickling me while playing ‘Mr. Tickle’. In the end, Mr Tickle wasn’t on the leaked Melodies from Mars either – I’d not heard it since that time.
KONX-OM-PAX (Planet Mu, Display Copy)
This track is really beautiful. Ticks all the boxes. The melodies make me smile a lot. So many sound like demos to me, and I like that – I really like the live roughness of the older stuff. He just turns on the boxes and records live to cassette by the sound of it.
KING BRITT (Fhloston Paradigm, Sylk130, Scuba, Obafunke, The Nova Dream Sequence)
Bro… he was one of my heroes. I was record buyer for Tower Records in Philly in late eighties, early nineties, and I got the test press of “Didgeridoo”. Me and Josh Wink were blown away – we used to play it at all our parties, it was foundational. But then we heard “Analogue Bubblebath”, which is by far the best ever! I’m really feeling the Luke Vibert remix out of all this stuff he’s leaking now. I’m loving all of this stuff, because it demonstrates perfectly that he’s been so ahead of the curve that it’s all perfect for now. It’s like the blueprint. And what’s perfect about it is that it’s NOT perfect: it’s sometimes uneven, sometimes broken, and that’s important, because there’s too much precision in today’s electronic music.
TOM MIDDLETON (Jedi Knights, Global Communication, Cosmos and a million other guises)
The Bowgie Inn, West Pentire, near Newquay, Cornwall. The ‘one more tune’ Rich dropped around 12.22 am, late 1989 I think. He was known as PBOD (Phonic Boy On Dope) in those pre Aphex days. Spinning Detroit techno, Chicago acid, New York garage, UK rave, proto-jungle and electronica, Belgian techno and new beat. It was a sweaty old place, with a classic Turbo soundsystem.
“standing trembling in our Osh Kosh dungarees, Wallabees & Troops smoking from busting out the running man”
Who was there? An interesting bunch if you check their current credentials! Me, Grant Wilson-Claridge (pre Rephlex), Manuel Sepulveda (aka Optigram; sleeve designer for Hyperdub/Warp), Luke Vibert, Marcus Scott (label manager at Hyperdub). And what happened? After an ear bleeding analogue Roland drum machine and Synth assault of obscure white label imports, Rich closed the night with this insane twisted acid tech funk track that spun us right out from the start.
Imagine the collective shock as the track opens with birdsong and what sounds like a film soundtrack score (Sound Of Music – WTF!!!) then this nasty, evil squidgy acid sound backed by relentless 808 hand claps piles in, dropping into a heavy 808 electro-techno beat. The acid gets even nastier as the EQ and Filters are tweaked well beyond the factory preset allowances into sub and supersonic dog disrupting territory. Rich pumps the smoke machine and cranks the strobe into epilepsy induction mode. We’re going loopy on the floor.
Then shock number two, the track breaks to the hyper flanged voice of Julie Andrews explaining how to make songs using Do Re Mi… ahhh! ‘Mindphuqed’ by Rich! Back into an even more intense acid squelch breakdown, then slamming booty beats, then the track ends abruptly… House lights on – and he’s left us for dead standing trembling in our Osh Kosh dungarees, Wallabees & Troops smoking from busting out the running man, hair curtains soaked, eyes sore from the strawberry smoke. Completely floored, we approach the booth, Rich pulls out a TDK C90 tape from the deck, trademark manic grin on his face, and we realise it was his own production, made a few miles away in his bedroom.
He was road-testing the track. “PHUQ!”
We get chatting, discover we share the same birth date, he invites me to his place, and over the course of the next year or so he shares his productions on homemade C90 tapes with an elect circle of friends. I recall hearing “Analogue Bubblebath” for the first time, instant goosebumps, had it on rewind for about an hour. Rich shows me the tricks of the trade at his place, and engineers / sequences my first three tracks. I introduce him to Mark Darby at Mighty Force Record shop in Exeter, a new friend I’d played Rich’s tapes to. Mighty Force Records sign the Analogue Bubblebath EP. I design the stickers, we stamp and sticker the white labels. I lug boxes of MIGHTY001 up to London, dropping them around Soho for sale or return… they sell out in days. The rest is… well… the rest!
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