“I surround myself with equipment and just follow my feelings on the machines…” A 21-year-old Aphex Twin looks to the future [December 1992]
Having composed his first electronic symphonies as a precocious teenager (as catalogued in Selected Ambient Works 85–92), by the time the early 90s rolled around, Richard D James, aka Aphex Twin, was already making waves in the nascent IDM scene.
In December 1992, Mixmag caught up with the then 21-year-old, alongside ambient maestro Mixmaster Morris, in the latter’s flat, following a notorious The Shamen gig at Brixton Academy that made it into the Daily Star, where reporters were offered “horrific drugs – including ecstasy, acid, speed, dope and magic mushrooms”.
For the purposes of the interview, the only narcotic that James seems to be affixed to is his Nintendo Gameboy, with Morris doing much of the talking, discussing the benefits of digital sampling (“The sampler changed my life,” he explains), early releases such as Space Is The Place on Rising High Records, and where his Irresistible Force nights fitted in with the clubbing topography of the time.
The article does offer a tantalising glimpse, however, of Aphex Twin in his formative years – at the time of the interview, the Rehplex label was just a few releases old, while his own catalogue featured just four EPs.
“After matching rhythms and sounds by sampling, mixing wasn’t that difficult,” the Limerick-born, Cornwall-reared producer says of his early DJ sets. “When I was DJing I used to mix my own stuff in, but never used to tell anyone. No one noticed until they came up to the decks to see what this strange music was. Then they saw the decks were empty and the stuff was on tape.”
There’s also an amusing explanation of how Digeridoo, one of Aphex Twin’s early classics (released on R&S Records in 1992), was created.
“The parties we used to throw in Cornwall and on the beaches after hours mainly got local youths and travellers,” he explains. “The travellers never had any money, and used to pay in grass, we had a box at the door and they used to throw their weed into it for us. They would also play their digeridoos at the back of the club and I knew I had to get that sound into a track.
“One of the clubs we used to do had this problem in that we had to shut at 2am, but the atmosphere was so mad that no one wanted to go. So I decided to make some music that was so fucking and that it would blow their minds and they’d be ready to leave. Digeridoo was one of those tracks. There’s another four that I haven’t released, they’re too mad.”
And as for the future? As the interview shows even back then, James was eager to push the boundaries and adopt an idiosyncratic approach to music creation.
“I’m working with metal instruments, metal tubes with my own circuits to make new sounds,” he explains. “The first thing I wanted to with my music was make it completely original. I didn’t want to make a track that used anyone else’s sounds, even the drums. I don’t want sounds that some Chinese bloke has programmed into a black box so I’ve been customising and building my own equipment.
“I surround myself with equipment and just follow my feelings on the machines. I never remix anything, if it’s not working I turn the sampler off and scrap it.”
The full interview can be found below, click each page to open in a new window.
[Main picture taken from Aphex Twin’s Facebook page]