Bassic Groove InterviewAphex Twin, Polygon Window, Caustic Window, AFX, and Blue Calx are all aliases for one person: Richard D. James. This young English guy's drive to work seems unstoppable. He only sleeps a couple of hours a night because otherwise he doesn't have enough time to do everything he wants to do. The huge amount of releases that have meanwhile been written to the bank account of the young musician prove this drive to work, and, for now, there doesn't seem to be an end to it.
Hilversum, Netherlands. Friday night. We seem to be the last in a long line of journalists who have been bothering Richard with their questions all day. Richard is "hot." The recognition of his deviant style doesn't come exclusively from the dance scene, but also from alternative Dutch magazines like Oor and Obscene. After the release of two striking albums (Selected Ambient Works and Surfing On Sine Waves) it became even more clear that there was more to Richard than to the many "four beats and a beep" musicians that normally supply the food for the dance floor.
One of the more curious features of his style are the many strange and new sounds that his records contain. These sounds originate from his self-constructed and modified instruments. Some of these machines are very old because nowadays Richard lacks the time to build any new ones. He's been busy enough repairing his creations. "Sometimes I feel more like a technician than a musician because, lately, I've been spending more time running around with a soldering bolt than making music." We ask him where he got his technical know-how: "When I was twelve I started making tape loops on old tape recorders that I found at junk shops. By making several tapes and synchronizing them, I could create the strangest sounds." One year later, he bought his first synthesizer, and, thanks to an electronics course he took in high school, he started to modify his Roland. When his technical knowledge increased, he started building a sampler which only worked for two months. The sounds it produced were nevertheless bizarre enough to save. Meanwhile Richard works in several studios, one in Cornwall, two Rephlex studios in London, and as Grant Claridge of Rephlex now claims, they now also have a secret underwater location: a cave which is only attainable by monorail. Richard's Cornwall studio is where his valuable (and irreplaceable) self-made and modified equipment is, and there he makes the raw material for his new tracks. His more regular synths and drum machines are in London, although most of these machines have also been modified. Here the Cornwall material is worked out and made suitable for release. The use of conventional synths has been abjured by Richard. "I got a little sick of the idea of using the same machines and sounds as other people and meanwhile I have collected so many sounds that I can go on for years."
Sounds & Tools
It appears that Richard regularly goes looking for strange sounds with a portable tape recorder. Every sound he likes, he saves on tape. Many of his machines cannot be played by a keyboard, but just make sounds that can be manipulated by filters and power interruptions. All these sounds end up in an archive of sorts, but he always tries to erase them once he has used them on a track, to avoid repeating himself. Because he works in different studios there's a small difference in style, although Richard doesn't speak of "Cornwall" and "London" tracks. The difference in style of his many aliases is also getting more vague. In the future he wants to make tracks under only one name, preferably on his own label Rephlex. "I've learned a lot working for different labels. They promise you a lot of money, but don't live up to their agreements." Rephlex Records was started by Grant Claridge and Richard to serve as an outlet for the many sonic experiments that have to counter-balance the uninteresting techno nowadays. This is a familiar motivation that we can also find with the people from Blackdog and Infonet. The packaging, too, is consistent with the Rephlex philosophy. Different vinyl colors, brown or white paper bags or bubble bags, they'll do anything to make it look different. The next thing will be a project by Grant which will be a 7" a 10" and a 12" called Universal Indicator 3. And what do those numbers stand for on Analogue Bubblebath 3? "That's a confusing joke. They are our postcodes, phone numbers and dates of birth mixed up. Many of my tracks don't even have a title, but we're thinking about making an info sheet with titles of the Caustic Window and AFX tracks for our fans."
It is possibly one of the more well known tracks by Aphex Twin. It seems to have been made to scare off persistent party people. The beats are way over 150 beats per minute. "Friends of mine used to organize regular after parties at the beach in Cornwall, but they always had trouble to make the people leave at the end. So they asked me to make something to shake the people out of their XTC trance, a track to end the party with a big bang!" Besides "Digeridoo" there appear to be five more tracks from the same session on the shelves, but Richard says that for now they're too "dangerous" to release! Nevertheless one of these tracks will probably be on the Joyrex J5 EP.
That bring us to Richard's release plans. R&S will bring us one more 12" and a remix album of Selected Ambient Works. After that there will be a new album, distributed by Warp. Richard is also a very popular remixer. Soon there will be a remix of a Jesus Jones track to join the remixes of Curve, Meat Beat Manifesto and St. Etienne. "I don't have to like the originals to make something beautiful of it. I get even more satisfaction from the fact that I can make something horrible into something really nice." You can guess what he thinks of bands like Curve and St. Etienne. The bands approached him, not the other way around!
The interview is coming to an end. Ten minutes later Richard will explain on Dutch radio that Aphex Twin is a one man project nowadays. While they're playing some tracks he did live earlier from DAT, he falls asleep to his own music. It's been a long day indeed.
Written by: Rene Passet & Joost De Lyser, Bassic Groove Magazine