I’m just some irritating, lying, ginger kid from Cornwall who should have been locked up in some youth detention centre. I just managed to escape and blag it into music.”- Aphex Twin, reported by The Guardian newspaper
In case you don’t know (in which case: gutted!) Aphex Twin is the main working alias of British experimental electronic musician and composer Richard David James. Born in Limerick, Ireland, in August 1971, James is revered for his hugely influential and innovative work across an array of musical styles, released under a bewildering number of pseudonyms 1 since the early 1990s. He has put his music out via a multitude of labels (notably Warp, Rephlex, R&S, Planet Mu), as well as operating and releasing for his own excellent Rephlex label, which sadly closed for business in 2012.
Aphex Twin’s music has been influential across the boundaries of genre, being performed acoustically by Alarm Will Sound and The London Sinfonietta, as well as resulting in collaborations with acclaimed composers Krzysztof Penderecki and Philip Glass. With celebrity approval from artists such as Daft Punk, John Frusciante (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Madonna, Thom Yorke (Radiohead), and Wes Borland (Limp Bizkit), Aphex is a rare beast indeed, and the world is all the better for it. Here we highlight thirteen classic tracks from Aphex Twins’ vast catalogue – we hope this can be a springboard to enlightenment for those previously unaware of the man and his work.
Aphex Twin’s the Fucking Daddy
1. AFX – ‘[aphex1995ab5t01]’ (1995)
Taken from 1995’s officially unreleased ‘Analogue Bubblebath 5’, ‘[aphex1995ab5t01]’ is a vital piece of driving melancholy, perhaps longer than it needed to be, but quite lovely nonetheless. What makes this track for me is the minimal yet effective use of strings to create a roomy sadness, backed by that repetitive bass squelch.
2. 808 State – ‘Flow Coma [Remix By AFX]’ (2001)
This remix of British old school legends 808 State is a demented cutup filter mash AFX-style, effortlessly managing to combine the funk with the glitch. Featuring alongside a mix of DJ Pierre’s ‘Box Energy’, on 2001’s ‘2 Remixes by AFX’ (released on Rephlex’s short-lived MEN sublabel), ‘Flow Coma’ is welcome at any party, and is an absolute beast of a tune.
3. AFX – ‘Isopropophlex’ (1991)
‘Isopropophlex’ (taken from the ‘Analogue Bubblebath 1’ EP, first released by the Mighty Force label) is underpinned by a hypnotic filtered kick, and is a queasy yet powerful track, lurching onward into the darkness. The track is one minute shorter than the version later appearing on the 1992 ‘Digeridoo EP’, and was also included as part of the ‘Classics’ compilation (where it was retitled ‘Isopropanol’). It makes use of the “Flowers that bloom in the warmth of the sun…” sample later used in the video edit of Aphex’s 1997 banger ‘Come To Daddy’ too.
4. Aphex Twin – ‘Alberto Balsam’ (1995)
An absolutely lovely midtempo song from 1995’s breakthrough ‘…I care because you do’ on Warp. All breathily longing and entrancingly reverberant, ‘Alberto Balsam’ harnesses gentle synths and simple real-sounding percussion samples (including what seems to be a squeaky chair) to full effect. Here Aphex displays an assured and contemplative mood.
5. DMX Krew – ‘You Can’t Hide Your Love (Aphex Twin Hidden Love Mix)’ (1997)
Taking one of DMX Krew’s trademark Eighties-homage electropop songs, here Aphex ratchets up the bouncy lushness, distilling the cheesily accurate stylings of the original piece until we’re left with a golden slice of drill and bassy Eighties lovestruck brainpop. Exquisite, and also included on the ’26 Mixes For Cash’ compilation on Warp.
6. Nine Inch Nails – ‘At The Heart Of It All (Created by Aphex Twin)’ (1995)
This weighty reimagining of American stadium industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails is the first Aphex track I can recall owning, and is a doozy at that! Powerful and purposeful, mournful foghorn brass blares despair over seriously heavy factory beats, calling a machine Great Cthulhu to a bleak celebration. Part of the ‘Further Down the Spiral’ Nine Inch Nails remix album, released on 1995 by Nothing/Interscope/TVT, the mix later featured on the ’26 Mixes For Cash’ compilation (Warp, 2003).
7. Mescalanium United – ‘We Have Arrived (Aphex Twin TTQ Mix)’ (1992)
One of several Aphex remixes of legendary German hardcore originator Marc ‘The Mover’ Arcardipane’s ‘We Have Arrived’ (the 1989 original is considered to be the first ‘hardcore techno’ track) to be released in the ’90s, pumping up the dance with a punishingly brutal take on the original’s coldly hypnotic rhythms. Also included on 1995’s must-have ‘Classics’ compilation.
8. AFX – ‘Digeridoo (Aboriginal Mix)’ (1991)
An early underground hit for Mr. James, ‘Digeridoo’ is a meaty slab of punishing prototrance (not like that) techno breakbeat, originally released as part of the ‘Analogue Bubblebath 2’ EP on Rabbit City Records. With distortion destined to smash many a dancefloor, the track was also included on 1994’s ‘Digeridoo EP’, released on Belgium’s R&S Records, and the ‘Classics’ compilation.
9. AFX – ‘Cuckoo’ (1994)
In 1994 Rephlex released ‘Analogue Bubblebath 4’, and for my money (what little of it there is), ‘Cuckoo’ is its keeper track, channelling as it does the best of chiptune’s racial memories with a strident and emotionally rewarding arrangement, all melodious warmth and optimistic potential. The greatest Eighties children’s TV theme there never was, ‘Cuckoo’s nostalgic purity ticks all the boxes.
10. Baby Ford – ‘Normal (Helston Flora Remix By AFX)’ (1998)
British techno legends Baby Ford receive the AFX treatment here, as stutteringly processed vox collides with shuffling electro bass, propelled by dominant breakbeat action into some phat four to the floor. There’s some beautiful effects work going on here, with Richard’s usual hyperdetailed edits layering to form a fluidly kinetic whole, catching the casual listener off guard with its loose-feeling yet strictly orchestrated playfulness. Originally part of Baby Ford’s 1998 release on Rephlex, the ‘Normal EP’, this was also included on the ’26 Mixes For Cash’ compilation on Warp.
11. Caustic Window – ‘Joyrex J4’ (1992)
Utter phatness and orgasmic basslines, ‘Joyrex J4’ is an urgent techno banger, kicking along against clanging snares and raw doom electro, as Aphex flexes his dancefloor chops to devastating result. This one is genuinely included as one of my all-time top ten desert island discs.
12. Aphex Twin – ‘Flim’ (1997)
Naive at first glance, ‘Flim’ is a fragile flippity-flop of a tune, falling over and in to itself, with heartbreaking strings and subdued yet proudly defiant synths. A marvellous counterpoint to the ferocious ‘Come To Daddy’, on which EP this track first appeared.
- Confirmed Aphex Twin pseudonyms include: AFX, Blue Calx, Bradley Strider, Caustic Window, The Dice Man, GAK, PBoD (Phonic Boy on Dope), Polygon Window, Power-Pill, Q-Chastic, Smojphace, Soit-P.P, The Tuss, and The Universal Indicator. ↩