Richard D. James is back and we couldn’t be happier. To celebrate, we’ve scoured YouTube to find the quintessential clips you need to see, to prepare yourself for the return of Aphex Twin.
Warning: not for the easily shocked
We may currently be in the midst of an intense PR offensive from Aphex Twin (that PR offensive involving a blimp and putting a picture on deep web) but some of you may be reading this wondering: ‘why should I give a monkeys about this middle-aged computer nerd?’
That middle-aged computer nerd just so happens to be a pioneer of electronic music with the ability to make you rethink your musical preconceptions. Just ask Thom Yorke. Let WOW247 walk you through the weird history of Richard D. James in five jaw-dropping videos.
John Peel ‘Sound of the Suburbs’
The late John Peel put together this series for Channel 4 entitled ‘Sound of the Suburbs’ – where the DJ would travel to some of the more provincial areas of the United Kingdom and speak to musicians there.
In this particular episode, John travels to Cornwall to talk to Richard D. James about his sound and the mighty county of Cornwall in general. A particular highlight of the video is a close-up of a Cornish shop window selling kitchen rolls whilst Peel narrates over the top, declaring “they have nothing”.
As for the interview itself, it’s beautifully British in that both parties clearly respect each other but are nervous to express those feelings out loud. Richard also admits to taping John Peel’s shows off the radio, to which the DJ replies that they’ll discuss that later on.
One of a series of videos made in partnership with director Chris Cunningham, the ‘Rubber Johnny’ concept started as an idea for a television advert for Aphex Twin’s 2001 album drukqs but soon became a short film in its own right.
Cunningham developed the concept from an idea of how a raver would evolve and morph as they danced to electronic music. The five-minute film shows ‘Johnny’ – an unfortunately built alien being, who seems unable to communicate until a sedative turns him into a shape-shifting dancer. The strange figure of ‘Johnny’ dances you through an eerie nightvision lighting – which gives the whole thing a classified Area 51 tape feel.
The track featured is ‘afx237 v7 (w19rhbasement remix)’ – a reworking of a track from drukqs by Cunningham himself.
Even with all the strange and disconcerting imagery that the Aphex Twin/Chris Cunningham partnership had created in both ‘Rubber Johnny’ and ‘Come To Daddy’ – the eleven-minute long video for ‘Windowlicker’ is perhaps the most near-the-knuckle.
Set on the streets of Los Angeles (far away from kitchen roll shops in Cornwall), the video features two gentlemen cruising the streets in search of some female company, equipped with some of the foulest mouths in the history of music videos, before being outdone by a slick Richard D. James and his satanic limo. ‘Windowlicker’ is as much a glorious celebration of R & B music videos of the time as it was a total mockery of it.
The video had to be heavily edited pre-watershed due to the language and the general tone, which suggested that you were watching something that was the work of the devil. It speaks volumes that the ‘Windowlicker’ video, although created in 1999, still genuinely feels uncomfortable to watch by present-day standards.
Cunningham’s work on the videos became a pivotal part of the Aphex Twin brand for a more mainstream audience, but the glossy presentation was possibly something that didn’t sit so well with Richard D. James – who was so desperate to avoid attention that he pulled ‘Come To Daddy’ from general release so that it would plummet out of the charts.
David Firth’s ‘Fat Pie’ cartoons rose to fame when the internet still felt like a lawless Wild West; his animation style was crude and untrained but had this comic element that garnered him a big fan base. Firth’s animation felt like a more natural fit with the spiky Aphex Twin sound, equally jarring and difficult.
‘Milkman’ is perhaps the most fitting partnership of two strange minds, as one of the oddest Aphex tracks is paired with the simplistic illustration style of Firth. Things get weird.
Alarm Will Sound ‘4’
It’s easy to get lost in all the visual craziness and audio insanity that Aphex Twin has created over the past two decades, so maybe it’s quite fitting to end on something that highlights his ability to programme something beautiful.
This cover of the track ‘4’ from the Richard D. James Album is by orchestral group Alarm Will Sound and just highlights how these frantic electronic pieces can be made to sound like unearthed classical gems.
Alarm Will Sound’s commitment to creating a live tribute to songs originally put together in the realms of possibility of computer software is commendable, not to mention the fact that they even keep in the ‘pretty good?..yep’ sample that Aphex Twin fans know so well.
Desperate for more Richard? Read the quotes from his recent interviews about new album Syro.