It started with a set of co-ordinates. Overlaying an aerial view of Manchester, a teaser video on Aphex Twin’s social media channels offered “53.4757 N – 2.2266 W” alongside a date: “September 20, 2019”. Cryptically announcing Richard D. James’ first ever curated show, the video spread like wildfire, with the electronic music press spiralling into an excited frenzy. Naturally, tickets are now selling like wonka bars – just 18% remain at the time of writing this. If you’re on the fence as to whether to buy one, here’s a journey through Aphex’ eclectic output. It might just nudge you in the only sensible direction.
Synonymous with the IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) genre, Aphex Twin is one of the most celebrated electronic musicians of all time. Since his earliest releases in 1991, he has, time after time, pushed the envelope of what can be accomplished with electronic equipment. Released in 1992, his debut album Selected Ambient Works 85-92 is regarded as the pinnacle of ambient techno. Seemingly unbounded by time, its heady, otherworldly atmospheres were – and still are – unlike anything else in the electronic music landscape.
In the years following, James released a slew of music under various aliases and through a variety of labels (with Warp being the official home of the Aphex Twin material). After a further ambient album – Selected Ambient Works Part II – came a bold change of pace. 1995’s I Care Because You Do introduced a new, mischievously freakish style which incorporated abrasive drum ‘n’ bass beats and acid melodies. It also introduced a new, playfully sinister aesthetic, hallmarked by a now-legendary maniacal grin. Then came 1996’s Richard D. James, and a more thoroughly-realised vision of James’ wildly inventive – almost childlike – sound.
In the year following, James moved from fringe to mainstream notoriety with the hilariously terrifying Come to Daddy, which was matched in popularity by 1999’s futuristic drug-pop banger, ‘Windowlicker’. This led to a further change of pace: 2001’s Druqks. Therein James presented a gorgeous new soundworld, occupied largely by prepared piano and electro-acoustic experiments. The delicate ‘Avril 14th’ shone particularly brightly, taking on a life of its own through usage in TV and film.
By the mid 2010’s, Aphex Twin had infiltrated popular culture to the point where a fluorescent green blimp adorned with his logo triggered rabid excitement over imminent new material: 2014’s Syro. From loping breakbeat to frenetic drum’n’bass to balls-to-the-wall techno, this highly melodic album gazed towards the 90’s whilst remaining utterly contemporary. There followed two great EP’s – the future-leaning Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments, Pt. 2. and back-to-basics Cheetah – before another round of mysterious street advertising in 2018. This foreshadowed the release of the intoxicatingly glitchy Collapse EP, whose intricate and meticulous tracks remain Aphex’s most recent material.
It’s been two years since Aphex played in the UK. His set at Field Day 2017 offered a sensory overload in which music, noise, lasers and terrifying visuals combined to gradually unhinge the crowd. On the 12 screens surrounding James, wildly contorted images of royalty, former prime ministers, TV personalities and – uncannily – crowd members flashed blindingly to the music, which throughout took wildly unexpected, usually harrowing turns. The entire experience was insane, and clearly the work of a singular creative mind. Accordingly, reviews were littered with phrases like “spine-tingling” (The Guardian) and “difficultly brilliant” (The Telegraph), with critics struggling to capture in words the mind-bending, face-melting rollercoaster they’d been on.
Fancy riding it yourself? With the likes of Nina Kraviz, Aleksi Perälä and Lee Gamble supporting Aphex at Mayfield Depot this September, this event is the jewel in the crown of The Warehouse Project 2019. Don’t miss it.