Aphex Twin Interview

AKA Richard D James

There’s a lineage that can be traced throughout the history of electronically composed music. It starts with mid 20th century pioneers Karl Heinz Stockhausen, Iannis Xenakis and Tod Dockstader and flows through melodic revolutionaries like Kraftwerk, Brian Eno and Eric Satie. Moving onto modern day Detroit techno geniuses like Derrick May and the Underground Resistance team and British legends like Autechre, the Skam Records label, B12, and Boards of Canada. However, this electronic bloodline would undoubtedly remain conspicuously incomplete without arguably the finest and most influential modern day electronic composer to come from these shores, Richard D James, AKA Aphex Twin.

Earliest Aphex Twin releases have become timeless classics and recent work is now gaining the appreciation it truly deserves. This man needs no discography outlined. You know the classics already. We’re talking ‘Selected Ambient Works Vol.1’, ‘Analogue Bubblebath’, ‘Didgeridoo’, ‘Windowlicker’, ‘Drukqs’, and his famous remix album ‘26 Mixes For Cash’. And that’s only skimming the surface of this ultimate back catalogue of a genuine virtuoso. James has spent 15 years turning isolated moments of extreme imagination into a consistent output of magical musical and technical experimentation. His unswerving circuit-bending hunger to try what’s new and visit sonic outposts yet unchartered remains unparalleled.

In 2005, under his AFX moniker, Richard D James released an immediately sought after collection of music through his imprint Rephlex that he shares with friend and business partner Grant Wilson-Claridge. Entitled the Analord series, these 41 tracks spread across 11 special pieces of vinyl were accompanied by an extremely limited embossed presentation binder and only sold to true fans through the Rephlex website. Despite being vinyl only, each of the 12 releases sold well into five figures, some selling as much as 25,000 units. Dedicated followers and music geeks alike went crazy for them. This work has now been presented in the form of one carefully selected CD album to give a newer, wider audience a chance to feel the layered analogue warmth and glistening acidic beauty of a legend’s latest ideas. On hearing this news I jumped to the notoriously difficult task of locating Richard and securing an interview.

Richard D James does not really do interviews. To meet him face to face is a rare occurrence, one that no doubt has to be earned through the building of trust. He does not like to speak on the phone, and insists on the very few interviews he will do to be conducted by e-mail. Oh, and you only get one shot at it. No revisiting questions, if your first lot are inappropriate in his mind, or just plain shit, he will ignore, playfully ridicule or will basically lie. In his own words he is “an irritating, lying, ginger kid from Cornwall who should have been locked up in a youth detention centre but just managed to escape and blag it into music.” To those that are close to him he is actually highly intelligent, decent and funny, however to those that are not, well, he just doesn’t care. And he doesn’t care what gets printed about himself.

Days spent researching, trawling forums, and speaking to those who do know him told me not to even bother asking about the played out subjects. Yes, he owns a converted bank, yes he also owns a tank (a Daimler Ferret armoured scout car), and yes, also a Russian submarine. He does indeed have over 100 hours of unreleased music to his name and has manipulated his own samplers, synths and software for his own use for years. He has been paid ridiculous amounts for ad campaigns and musical jobs, and likewise has also turned down some of the biggest names in pop. These subjects are all well documented. He has also recently moved to the Scottish countryside and at the time of interview was expecting a baby, who has by now been born, so tracking him down alone was going to be hard enough.

I sent off 40 hopeful questions, mainly focused on his music and designed to hopefully strike the right chords. He didn’t answer them all but I’m told what I got back was a lot better than most…

You said a few years ago that you believe most artists make their best music before they are recognised. Do you still feel this is the case?
No, I think generally speaking immediately after they have been recognised.

Was this the case with you?
I kept on releasing stuff that I’d made before I was signed and I still do at times now. But I’ve got so much material left from before I was signed and I just don’t know what to do with it all. It’s a lot of effort getting it together and I usually will always prefer to just make new stuff, so I never get around to it. I don’t want to give it to anyone else to do either; it’s got to be me.

You’ve said before that your own most innovative music shall remain unreleased, is this still the case and if so why?
Sometimes I love making music that I can’t hear anywhere else. I love filling the gaps that other people leave, even if it’s really subtle. That’s what buzzes me up. I like having time to develop the gaps. If I were to release some of that kind of stuff people would copy it, I would hear it and it would put me off developing it further. This has happened to me a lot. I wish I hadn’t released certain tracks because I wanted to do more like them but was put off by the copies. I feel like it’s been taken away from me.

Do you have a particular period where you feel your output that has been available to fans has been at its most prolific?
Yes there definitely were mad periods but I’m pretty much doing music most of the time, I’m obsessed.

Do you look back fondly on the times of ‘Didgeridoo’, ‘Analogue Bubblebath’ and ‘Selected Ambient Works’?
Yes I still really like all my old stuff.

Some people have said that your last full artist album ‘Drukqs’ was a contract breaker with Warp?
Rubbish, I spent longer working on that than anything else.

Would you say you are more self-critical or more self-congratulatory?
Good question. I think to be good at anything you have to be your most brutal critic but at the same time you can’t be too hard on yourself.

You said before that you’d like to gatecrash the British Top 10, is this still the case?
I don’t think I did but I withdrew ‘Windowlicker’ from sale for a short time as it was going to be number 1 or 2. Cowardly is one way of looking at it but I just didn’t want it happening.

What do you think of the charts, and the marketed band culture of now?
The only good thing is the production of hip-hop tracks, but I can’t complain, I’m not going in there and twatting producers out of the way at the moment anyway.

What do you think of people giving music away free now – do you still think there should be no copyright on art?
Yes I do. It’s easy for me to say because I’ve got enough money to live on but I do believe it’s not the artists that benefit from it most anyway.

Are you protective of your own music when it comes to people borrowing or blatantly copying sections?
No, I don’t care now. It’s flattering. I used to get angry but now I just try and listen to the stuff that’s copying me from someone else’s perspective and someone else only cares if its a good track or not. But it’s difficult sometimes when it’s so blatant. It’s a bit like trying not to move when you’re being tickled. The funniest feedback loop is when people make plug-ins that try to emulate what I do and then I end up using them – thanks!

You say you often change your set-up and the way you do things, what did you change and get into for the Analord series?
Most of it was sequenced on an MC4 and other analogue sequencers.

What machines are your favourites for creating those acid sounds?
Most of the Analord series wasn’t made on too much of my stuff, that’s to come later…

Who has been the collaborator you’ve most enjoyed working with?
Just mates. I like doing tracks with Captain Voafose.

Do you have a passion for other current music? How do you choose to digest it if you do, do you go out and listen to it live?
Completely, but mainly just at home on my own.

What environment, situation, or head state gets you going most for listening to your own music?
On my own with a spliff.

Do you still listen to the electro-acoustic revolutionaries like Xenakis, Parmigianni and Dockstader?
Yes all three of those were/are totally on track.

Would you like to leave their kind of legacy for future generations?
I’m not going to die.

Do you still push your mind and body in the same ways now as you did in your days of sleep deprivation?
I’m on 6 hours a night at the moment.

What difference does this make to your music?
Working at night is better because you don’t get interrupted.

I read that you were affected by Synaesthesia (when one sensation is represented by another, i.e. hearing music is represented in sight through colour). Does this still happen, and what happens to you when it does?
Well recently I’ve been getting REALLY strong sensations of smell with certain sounds I’m making. It’s fucking weird but I love it. I don’t even know if there’s a name for that…

Is there anything in music you haven’t done but wish you had, or hope you will?
I’d like to design a machine for Korg or Yamaha. There are loads of other things but I don’t like talking about things before I’ve done them. It takes the excitement away to do it then.

And outside music?
No, apart from to maybe form a community somewhere in the middle of nowhere. There’s still time yet I suppose.

What do you feel about city life versus country life?
Well I would find it hard to live in the country without the Internet, if the net existed like it does now when I was a kid I might not have left for so long.

Does it affect you in terms of making music?
Necessity is the mother of invention.

What are the latest innovations in music that you’d like to explore further?
Umm, surround porn?

What’s your word for today?
Avril Lasagne.

And for 2006?

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