Following on from the release of his latest EP Orphaned Deejay Selek (2006-2008), Getintothis’ Ste Knight takes a seizure inducing look back at Aphex Twin’s top 10 tracks.
Richard D. James is somewhat of an enigma. The mysterious Cornish producer sparks continuous rumours in the electronic scene, some more ridiculous than others. There’s one thing for certain though, this prolific maestro of machine music has created some of the most inspired tracks of our time. His latest offering, Orphaned Deejay Selek (2006-2008), sees his AFX moniker return after a 10 year hiatus – his last under this name being the twisted acid series, Analord.
James’ music has been impossible to pigeonhole throughout his 25 year career. He’s brought us ear-grinding drill and bass, zen-inducing ambient techno and straight-up blistering noise. It is his continued ability to push the boundaries within electronic music production, however, that make Aphex Twin such a joy to listen to regardless of the sounds coming out of the speakers.
He’s also somewhat of a joker. He’s been known to play a set using a sanding disk on the decks, and during the 90s he took great joy in telling journalists that he drove round in a tank (for the record, it’s actually an armoured car but regardless, the journos lapped it up). He has made tracks using spectrographic images of his own face, and confused fanboys the world over by releasing tracks under various aliases and then completely denying it was him who wrote them.
One half of the duo that launched the IDM pioneering braindance label Rephlex Records, James has been responsible for putting out some of the most far-out sounds dance music has ever heard, so crank the sound up to eleven and prepare to have your mind melted and your eardrums assaulted as you check out Getintothis’ Aphex Twin top ten tracks below.
10. AFX – Crying In Your Face – Analord 04
Despite the somewhat bouncy acid bassline that Crying in Your Face kicks off with, there’s still an air of melancholy that surrounds the track. This could be in part down to the minor notes in the bassline melody itself, but almost certainly is related to the heavily vocodered vocals on the track (“my friends aren’t supposed to die”). Whatever anyway, this is a cracking little slab of electro and make no mistake, and it still carries RDJ’s hallmark sound such as the sudden reversal and re-reversal of the drum programming.
9. Polygon Window – Polygon Window – Surfing on Sine Waves
Some lush ambient techno from the Twin here under his Polygon Window guise. The bassline is brooding and menacing, dropping out a third of the way through to give way to some haunting synthesised strings as the drums syncopate and skitter away briskly throughout the track, only to open the bass back up again. The whole album is a great listen but this opening track really sets the tone as its feet are firmly planted in both camps which seem to split the album in half, one being the ambient side of James’ brand of techno and the other being the hard, abrasive side.
8. Aphex Twin – Green Calx – Selected Ambient Works 85-92
The 1992 Aphex Twin album Selected Ambient Works 85-92 is lauded by many as the finest ambient techno album on the planet. Potentially this is true, but this top ten would be pointless if we populated it with tracks from that album alone. With that in mind we’ve plumped for Green Calx as the standout track from this album. It’s got the trademark squelchy bass that only acid can produce, which is perfectly in line with the energetic percussion on the track. There’s even a train sample – Choo-chooo!
7. The Caustic Window – Clayhill Dub – Joyrex J9
James’ Caustic Window was one of the earlier names by which he went, and as such it makes sense that the track released under this name sets the precedent sound for what he would later start creating. The track is straight up dub, with an understated junglist beat and a bassline that’s going to totally fuck your subwoofer so we recommend getting yourself on the Richer Sounds website for a new one…
6. Aphex Twin – Run The Place Red – Smojphace EP
Technically this isn’t so much an Aphex Twin track as it is a remix. Released by The Bug on his outstanding industrial dancehall album Pressure, Aphex gives the original a complete gabba drill and bass hosedown which works perfectly with Daddy Freddy’s MCing on the track. This is Aphex Twin at his undiluted best, fucking stuff up the way only he can and turning a dancehall track into a completely filthy breakcore beast.
5. Aphex Twin – Bucephalus Bouncing Ball – Come To Daddy EP
Bucephalus Bouncing Ball does not make for easy listening. It is hard, abrasive, industrial and very uncomfortable. That is, up until about the 2 minute mark, where the track takes a sudden playful turn, eschewing the sound of a million ball bearings being thrown down the stairs for an almost nursery-rhyme inspired synth to take the centre-stage. That doesn’t last long though as the ball bearings make a return for the end of the track alongside blippy laser sounds and other glitchy electronics. Perfect!
4. Aphex Twin – Avril 14th – Drukqs
A fucking beautiful piano recital may seem unlikely in the middle of an album that makes quite difficult listening. Not with Aphex Twin as Avril 14th is bang in the centre of his 2001 album, Drukqs. Even a robot would have trouble not breaking down into tears of joyous beauty when listening to this track. If you think you recognise any of this it’s because Kanye West sampled it. The wanker.
3. Aphex Twin – Didgeridoo – Classics
Aphex Twin enters full on drum and bass mode with his track Didgeridoo from the album Classics (although it was first released as a single in its own right). Very reminiscent of the time, the track has rave breakbeats combined with the sound of a didgeridoo as the bassline. There’s also undoubtedly a nod towards the likes of 808 State here as there’s tonnes of ‘nature’ samples in there similar to those at the start of the track Pacific State, namely birds and other jungle-y cretins. This is 7 minutes of sheer 90s brilliance. Incidentally none of the didge on this track is real – Aphex synthesised the lot.
2. Aphex Twin – Come To Daddy (Pappy Mix) – Come To Daddy EP
As famous for Chris Cunningham’s nightmarish video as it is for the track itself, Aphex Twin’s Come to Daddy is probably one of the most famous dance tracks of this generation. Evil in every single way, from the pounding drum and bass drum beat, to the terrifying nursery-rhyme interlude, the feedback filled screams of utter lunacy and the cries of I want your soul/I will eat your soul – this track is Aphex Twin.
1. Aphex Twin – Windowlicker – Windowlicker EP
Windowlicker. What can we say? Aphex Twin’s 1991 breakbeat infused glitch-hop anthem is perfect club fodder. Erol Alkan once played this track in the theatre at Chibuku and the whole room went completely fucking apeshit. Quite rightly because this track has got everything – the low tempo hip-hop percussion, the haunting vocal oohs and aahs and the powerful saw-tooth lead synth that blows your headphones in the final quarter of the track, Windowlicker deservedly takes the number one spot in this top ten. Let’s also not forget the video to the track, again produced by Chris Cunningham, which featured Richard’s warped face superimposed onto all manner of people’s bodies – MTV viewers at the time would have been loving this.