One forgets Aphex Twin post 1999. He caught the cusp of the mainstream with ‘Come To Daddy’ (1997), solidified that position with ‘Windowlicker’ (1999), then seemingly disappeared.
Having released a series of amazing albums on Warp Records, his place in electronical musical history was already assured prior to 1999. Starting with ‘Analogue Bubblebath’ on Mighty Force Records in 1991, Aphex made music well left of the mainstream and arguably put Cornwall on the map – at least as far as acid inspired music was concerned. Progressing to Apollo Records in 1992, he released ‘Selected Ambient Works 85–92’ which contained seminal tunes like ‘Pulsewidth’, which was then followed up with ‘Digeridoo’ (1993) on his own label REPHLEX, further solidifying his place in (what was then) contemporary electronic music.
REPHLEX released ‘Selected Ambient Works Volume II’ in 1994. An album which in this authors opinion surpasses its predecessor in terms of production technique and atmosphere. The track ‘Blur’, which was later used on the end credits of the Season 3 closer of the Sopranos is a prime example.
Moving to Warp Records in 1994, Aphex dropped, ‘…I Care Because You Do’ which contained relatively smooth tracks like ‘Alberto Balsam’ and also quite beautifully abrasive ones such as ‘Start As You Mean To Go On’.
Indeed, so left field was ol’ Rich, that contemporary pundits felt compelled to label his music (and those of his Warp label brethren), ‘Intelligent Dance Music’ or IDM. A term which he and others of his ilk – such as Autechre – hated and condemned.
He followed up this album with the Richard D. James Album, in 1996. This album can be seen as the antecedent of later above ground hits such as ‘Come to Daddy’ and effectively coined the ‘drill and bass’ genre that lesser people such as Squarepusher would then mine to their own benefit. As one of the first people to create music using soft synths and computers, Aphex would write his own algorithms and programs to create his beats and a truly distinctive sound. There was nothing like this around at the time, and I vividly recall hearing this album at a friend’s place after school in 1996, and songs such as ‘Cornish Acid’ and ‘Milk Man’ remain as odd and amazing now as they did then.
In collaboration with µ-ziq, he then put out ‘Expert Knob Twiddlers’, which was a fantastic album of left field techno that sounded a little like the B-52s on a shite load of acid and pills. This is beautifully demonstrated by the track ‘Reg’ which was long a favourite of mine to play with the windows down whilst stuck in traffic jams, if only to annoy the people around me.
Aphex went on the road not long after and I was lucky enough to see him play in January of 1997. In complete contrast to all other acts at the time which played behind banks of keyboards and equipment, he instead lay on his side on the floor of the stage with only a laptop, whilst making the biggest sounds I have ever heard and two men dressed as bears sporting his face wandered around the audience. Nowadays, most acts stand behind a laptop and do sweet fuck all at a gig, but in 1996/1997, NO ONE used computers… Let alone on whilst laying on their side as a form of performance art and this gig still ranks as one of the best I have ever seen.
In 1997, ‘Come to Daddy’ appeared with a truly evil looking video directed by Chris Cunningham. The clip showed an old lady being harassed and chased by a bunch of Aphex Twin faced kids whilst walking her dog round a council estate [incidentally, the same one featured in Clockwork Orange], before a devil man bursts out of a TV and screams at her… As I write this, it seems silly, but the first time I saw this clip I was loaded and it seemed pretty damn scary and confronting. In fact it was this clip that pushed Aphex Twin out of the IDM shadows and into the mainstream glare of Top 40 chart listings, although he himself stated in an interview with Index Magazine in 1991 that, it “…came about while I was just hanging around my house, getting pissed and doing this crappy death metal jingle. Then it got marketed and a video was made, and this little idea that I had, which was a joke, turned into something huge. It wasn’t right at all”
‘Window Licker’ released two years later, refined the central themes and sounds of ‘Come To Daddy’. The roughly hewn jungle inspired tunes of only a few years before were replaced by the slickest of slick snare sounds and software synth patches. Aphex himself sings on it (albeit heavily compressed and distorted) and there is a fantastic bass drop towards the end which to my mind validates the entire tune.
Again, a Chris Cunningham video was made and is utterly hilarious. A parody of then prevalent gangster aesthetic, this video needs to be seen to be believed and I would personally give a nut just to get a full version of the non-released Aphex hip hop tune that is played from the 1:02 mark in the video.
Sadly after hitting number 16 in the British pop tune charts with this, it seems Aphex didn’t know where to go and he disappeared from sight.
Turns out, he went back to his roots, left Warp Records and started releasing music directly on vinyl again under a different name. Analord.
Between 2004 and now, the Analord series has comprised around 60 tunes of uncompromising quality and power. Emotional, atmospheric and well made, the Analord series as a whole is entirely worth tracking down and devouring. I probably would have never have discovered it myself, but was lucky enough to see Aphex again in March 2012. He came out and played a number of amazing tunes that showed he was not only still making music, but fucking smashing everyone else who dared try to assume his throne. The following tune, which he played as an opener, is my entire reason for this post. Play particular attention to the piano drops, the build up at 3:40 and the awesome outro from 4:40. He is the Analord.
Thanks for reading.
Written and posted by Horatio Cornblower. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.
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