They thought I was the only one"I've always been into banging things," says Richard James, better known in the ambient and techno worlds he dwells in by the handle, Aphex Twin. The eccentric artist's fondness for things colliding, however, goes far beyond mere drum sounds. Contradictions abound in the musical and philosophical prism from which James views his morning toast. Hailed by several critics as the only genuine prodigy that the rave scene has produced, he's also been assailed as the kind of crackpot-idiot savant that some critics still feel the misunderstood genre deserves. A quick once- over of the Aphex Twin rumor checklist reveals a refreshing litany of mercurial musings. He cites no influences, though feasts up to buying well over 3,000 records in the last three years. Heralded as the heir apparent to studio masters Kraftwerk and Brian Eno, he's made most of his critically acclaimed tracks from the confines of his bedroom. He readily admits to a preference of only wanting to remix other artist's "shitty tracks," while purposely destroying some of his own best works. And last, but not least, he has been known to drive a Ferret Armored Scout Car (kind of a layman's mini- tank) through an occasional front door, now and then. Bang, Bang.
His new Elektra album, I Care Because You Do, continues his groundbreaking assault on the senses. James mines his previous obsession with organic sounds, as well as new territory. He even spun off the temporal collaboration with the legendary composer Phillip Glass on the eerie "ICCT Hedral." The chameleon-like James is more used to collaborating with his own different personalities, having performed under many different pseudonyms (Polygon Window, AFX, The Dice Man, to name a few) in his career. He's been having a go at tapes, knobs and effects boxes since the age of 12, never satisfied with the store bought sounds the wizardry produced. "When I bought my first synthesizer I really didn't like it," says James. "l thought it was a piece of shit and I really didn't have any money to buy anything better so I had to go about tweaking it. I just started with basic alterations, but as the years went by the alterations got bigger and bigger." That bit of understatement doesn't do justice to the massive library of sounds James has produced over the years. Experimenting with everything from vacuum cleaners to blenders, critics have worked overtime trying to describe the results. At one D.J. stint he performed in New York, he had people dancing to the blissful sounds of sandpaper and a food-mixer.
"I guess you can say I'm a modified Brian Eno," James told one writer recently, "though I never heard any Brian Eno before I started making records." Instead, the young James unwittingly was challenging the staid 'musical rules' that most people took for granted. With a precocious "Cat in the Hat" sensibility he's bucked the conventional wisdom as to what makes sound appealing in the first place. He studied electronics at school, learning to build circuits from scratch. This lead to his penchant for homemade noise boxes, which James would unleash during his first D.J.'ing stints as a teenager. Many critics credit him with making "Acid" tracks 2 or 3 years before the scene first exploded in Chicago. "When my friends first heard the house stuff from Chicago, they couldn't believe it," says James. "They thought I was the only one doing it."
James' first release as Aphex Twin was "Analogue Bubblebath" (he's also known for schizoid song titles) on the Mighty Force label. It became a sort of a cult favorite for the underground club scene in Germany. But it was in 1992, with the release of the speed-barrier mind-fuck anthem "Diggerido," that his reputation as a crazed technoid of the first magnitude began to spread. The Cornwall, England native (the town where the legend of King Arthur supposedly started) began to conjure up a myth of his own.
Rumors abounded about this new Tek-head. Stories were rampant that he never slept, that he favored artificially induced mind altering states before he'd even turn his tape recorder on and that he had hundreds and hundreds of hours of music stored in his computer from somnambulist work binges brought on by those altered states. The legend was born. Remix work poured in. James was notorious for leaving the original tracks virtually unrecognizable, all the more reasons for many dance music critics to hail whatever he touched as mini-masterpieces in themselves. He's sliced up sides for a varying range of artists, everyone from Jesus Jones, to Meat Beat Manifesto, to the Lemonheads. He even admitted to NME about the latter: "The doorbell rang (it was the courier) and I realized I'd forgotten, so I just told him '15 minutes', went upstairs, found an old track, taped it of and gave it to him."
The British press began to find his candor refreshing. With post-punk clones pretending to thumb their noses at the music industry by smashing guitars and diving through amps, James had sort of become their 'post-post' modern rebel. One that's not merely content to bite that hand that feeds him, but to show that such big gulps are expected of any pop star who's ever made it to the now obligatory long in the tooth stage. The 'record caper' is how he likes to refer to it. 'I make records because I don't want to hold a job," he states whenever he can. He's quick to point out, however, the difference between making music, which to him is something of a bodily need, and putting out 'records', a system he's been contemptuous of from the start. This type of provocation started at an early age. One of James' earliest memories is 'mucking' with the strings of his mother's piano. His parents would implore him to play the keys, but James insisted on plucking the innards. Something he's devoted himself to ever since.
His most critically acclaimed release was 1992's Selected Ambient Works 85-92. Once again ahead of the curve, James traded in the blinding speed of hard edged techno for a much more sublime direction. He then signed with the feisty independent label Warp Records, transforming himself into Polygon Window for the 1993 album, Surfing On The Sine Waves. The follow up single later that year, was even more eccentric. James utilized sounds he gathered from his day job digging tunnels, calling the single, "Quoth". Showing his ever- present flair for the dramatic, he say fit to delete all the sounds that went into making the L.P. on the day it was released. Signed to Sire records in 1993, James released Selected Ambient Works Vol. II in the spring of 1994. More somber in it's tone than any previous work, the album shocked a lot of his more hard-core fans, but helped cement yet another building block in the fun house style maze that has mapped James' career. The New York Times referred to it as "classical music for the next millennium."
Which brings us to I Care Because You Do. The range of James' current soundscape is breathtaking. Featuring titles like "Wet Tip Hen Ax", more surprises are in store for those who think they've seen just about everything from Aphex Twin. The album delights in the juxtaposition of sounds, from the floating opener, "Acrid Avid Jamshred," to the bass-heavy "The Waxen Pith." James' knack for striking a duality between noise and ambiance shears through every track. "ICCT Hedral," is an ominous sounding, almost cathedral-like cut that seems to confirm the New York Times assessment of Aphex Twin's place in pop music: forever future bound.
The artist himself, who says "people are just blood and electricity," doesn't spend too much time thinking about what's up next, though he did dedicate the first single from the album "Ventolin," to England's asthma sufferers. His quirky philosophy extends to his own mortality, as well. "I'm obsessed with sound," he says. "I'll be making sounds until the day I die."
Written by: Junglizt, 1996, Junglizt Records