Richard James was a bit of an electronics prodigy, building and customizing his own machines from an early age. He began recording experiments in the mid-80s and has since developed a sound in geographical isolation from the specialist record shops and pirate radio stations that have shaped and styled dance music. The result is a truly experimental and innovative body of post-acid electronic music, ranging from full-on industrial noise through to slow groovy breakbeats and ambient drones.
Aphex’s first release, Analogue Bubblebath #1 (1991) featured Schizophrenia (aka Tom Middleton, half of ambient/techno duo, Global Communications/ Reload) on one side -- the only release on which the two worked together. Played regularly by Colin Dale of London dance music station Kiss FM, it created an early cult following. Aphex followed this up with a second 12" release, Analogue Bubblebath #2 (1991). Its A-side, at 160bpm, was faster than anything else around at the time, while the two tracks on the flip sounded so weird that nobody could even work out what their correct speed was.
Both Analogue Bubblebath records were white-label releases, but a track from each, along with a couple of new tracks, were now released by R&S as a single, Digeridoo (1992). This was followed by another 12", Xylem Tube, before the release of the Selected Ambient Works 85-92 album, a compilation that included material he had recorded when he was 14 years old. On signing to Sheffield-based dance label Warp Records, Aphex released Surfing On Sine Waves (1993), under the alias of Polygon Window, and Quoth, a clear-vinyl single that was deleted the same day.
Aphex’s indefinable musical genre was now attracting a considerable following in the British press, and people ranging from Japanese artists to the likes of Jesus Jones and Saint Etienne queued up to be remixed by him. A minor commercial breakthrough occurred in late 1993 with the UK Top 40 hit single, On, with its highly impressive though conceptually simple video featuring an English seaside bay and plenty of stop-frame animation.
The third Aphex album, Selected Ambient Works #2 (1994), was not well received - critics did not take to its long moody drones and distant melodies - but his next album, I Care Beacuse You Do (1995), more along trip-hop lines, met with a far better reception. In the meantime, he released the undercover single, GAK (1994), supposedly sent to Warp by a mystery musician in 1989.
Aphex has continued to put out releases on Warp, has provided soundtracks for TV advertisements, and has even been sought after for film soundtracks. As a result, his own Rephlex label has been able to release more challenging and experimental works, like Analogue Bubblebath #3 (1994). Nicely packaged in a brown paper bag, it contains an information sheet of places of interest to visit in Cornwall, with an Aphex perspective on each. One cut, entitled 0180871, has a different track on each channel of the stereo - you choose with the balance control, and a horrible clashing noise results if both channels are played together. He remains eager to test sound boundaries: when DJing, he has spun discs of sandpaper and other textures, and on his 1995 single Ventolin he incorporated the sound of asthmatic inhalers.
The Hangable Auto Bulb EP later in the year reinforced Aphex Twin’s position as master of the merciless. Expert Knob Twiddlers (1996) on the other hand, was a lightweight, easier-to-digest collaboration between James and Michael Paradinas (µ-Ziq) with the album credited to Mike & Rich. Richard D. James (1996), took him back to the experimental once again, following up with the 1998 Come To Daddy EP (boosted by the scariest video of all time) and 1999’s Windowlicker single (boosted by one of the foulest-mouthed intros in video history). © Rough Guides