Twenty Five In Ten: A Focus On Aphex Twin


This week marked the twenty fifth anniversary of the quite spectacular "Selected Ambient Works 85-92". Largely regarded as one of the most influential electronic albums of all time it has since gone on to capture the hearts and imaginations of producers and listeners alike from across the world. Whilst the likes of "Windowlicker" and "Come To Daddy" epitomised the spirit of oddball electronics, "Selected Ambient Works" drew upon traditional references from an era in which Detroit and Chicago led the way. 

Richard David James has since gone on to produce some of electronic music's most innovative pieces, however, a soft spot still exists for the lush textures and melodic twists which first presented themself to us back in 1992. 

Aphex Twin will appear at Field Day this summer, headlining the new Barn area it will be his first show in the UK in many years. We reflect back upon the years gone by and highlight his signature sound below…

10/ Yellow Calx [Richard D. James Album, 1996]

Our first cut is taken from the fourth Aphex Twin album. By this point, James had started to embrace the possibilities of digital composition, allowing for the complex, lightning-fast drum programming of ‘Yellow Calx’, inspired by his good friend Luke Vibert. Laid over a glacial melody, an unlikely synthesis is achieved between patience and restlessness. James’ music of contrasts has rarely been so apparent.

9/ Blue Calx [Selected Ambient Works Volume II, 1994]

‘Blue Calx’ is the only named track on SAW II, and also one of its clear standouts. It’s also one of the few tracks with drums on this sprawling ambient masterpiece, although the beat is barely there, a steady tick accented by occasional hits seemingly emanating from the depths of some underground cave network. It opens ominously, but the synths shift the mood towards something more serene. A world away from the chaos that James is arguably most associated with, SAW II represents his most cohesive and focused statement.

8/ minipops 67 (source field mix) [Syro, 2014]

aka the Aphex comeback single, and an easy highlight off Syro, James' first Aphex Twin album in 13 years (that's ignoring the Analord series under his AFX moniker). ‘minipops 67’ feels in some ways like a spiritual successor to 'Windowlicker' – the depth and clarity with which it punches, the way it shifts through different phases. Not least James’ approach to vocals, as android chatter turns to sinister lullaby.

7/ 4 [Richard D. James Album, 1996]

The opening track of the jungle-inspired Richard D. James Album, arguably the Aphex masterpiece. Similar to ‘Yellow Calx’, except here the rapid breakbeats are more fluid, allowing the emphasis to fall on that sticky bubblegum melody. The sound of yesterday's future, today.

6/ Analogue Bubblebath [Analogue Bubblebath, 1991]

A crucial part of the wild, woolly and utterly unverifiable Aphex mythology. Allegedly made when James was just 17, 'Analogue Bubblebath' is proof that his melodic gifts were in evidence from the very beginning. New age whale song floats over gentle piano chords, while acid house gurgles drop in and out of the mix. Unassuming brilliance.

5/ Ventolin […I Care Because You Do, 1995]

This industrial clanker is unusually focused for an Aphex track, and all the more powerful for it. Perhaps James had picked up a thing or two from remixing Nine Inch Nails that same year. ‘Ventolin’ opens with a high-pitched screech that never abates and becomes almost unbearable towards the end of the track. We're hoping this one becomes part of his new live set, through our eardrums are praying for the opposite.

4/ Avril 14th [Drukqs, 2001]

Even by James’ standards, Drukqs was a difficult, intimidating record, especially for those who had recently discovered his more pop-leaning music via MTV rotation. This delicate, plaintive piano miniature nestles near the centre of the album – the calm in the eye of the storm. Pastoral and comforting, it displays James’ incredible skill for crafting emotionally charged melodies. Kanye even sampled it as the basis for his 2010 track 'Blame Game' (James later claimed that West "tried to fucking rip me off").

3/ Come to Daddy [Come to Daddy, 1997]

Later dismissed by James as a joke that turned into something huge, ‘Come to Daddy’ has little of the subtlety found elsewhere in his work, but easily makes up for this through sheer terror. It’s just as abrasive as ‘Ventolin’ but this time with added velocity. And yeah, it’s difficult to hear ‘Come to Daddy’ without remembering the iconic Chris Cunningham video.

2/ Windowlicker [Windowlicker, 1999]

The highest charting Aphex Twin single… can you imagine something like this getting anywhere near the charts today, let alone to #16? Jesus. ‘Windowlicker’ is an absolute blast and refuses to stay still, evolving over the course of the track from filthy porno funk to demented lounge groove to throbbing electro. James’ music means a lot of different things to a lot of people, but this is arguably the definitive Aphex Twin song, despite sounding precious little like anything else he ever recorded.

1/ Xtal [Selected Ambient Works 85-92, 1992]

This week marks the 25th anniversary of Selected Ambient Works 85-92, the most beloved Aphex Twin album. ‘Xtal’ opens with soft synth pads anchored by a kickdrum that’s absolutely drenched in echo. The textures are just glorious throughout – from the cassette hiss to the ethereal female vocal, the track feels like it’s been shot in soft focus. What really seals the deal is not just one but two of James’s most instant and beautiful melodies.

Field Day 2017 takes place 3rd June in Victoria Park, London. Tickets available right here.

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