has been among those to comment on the use of Aphex’s Heliosphan to promote another BBC quasi-science programme called Time (possible précis: Britons invented modern time, Robert Winston explains how it’s a bit of a drug too, etc). Though it was a transparently desperate measure to attach some cool to another doubtless duff digital offering, it’s always welcome to hear that track. Also, at Casa Sonica I have had the brilliant news that Mrs Truth is expecting twins, prompting not-quite-serious chat that one of them may be called ‘Aphex’ (and what, the other one ‘Thompson’?). All of which got me thinking of my favourite RD James pieces
ever (caveat – I have no knowledge of Drukqs or the Analords):DIGERIDOO
My entry to the Aphex oeuvre. While rave was heading for the jungle, for a while there seemed to be more potential in the Spiral Tribe side of things. I guess this was more part of that scene, as there were not enough signifiers in the way of catchy riffs or samples to make it really populist. This was a fluttering, menacing, manic if slightly schlocky 12’ from R&S – 160 bpm that built like a rave tune with extra brooding segueways. ANALOGUE BUBBLEBATH 1
. You could recover with this tune from the same EP as Didge, an effervescent piece with medieval undertones and led by a riff that reaches up the scale then comes back down to stunning effect. Somewhere between comedown and the rush. I make do with digital versions of both these days, as one of my most prized maxi vinyls was scratched to fuck by a girlfriend of a former housemate (mind you, he could have been conspiring as I always used to use his better room to zone out to Selected Ambient Works 1).
Then comes HELIOSPHAN
itself, off SAW1. This and Analogue Bubblebath are probably my two favourites. Think of it as an ascension, levitated by the rave riff of my hardcore dreams and a propulsively funky breakbeat. Play it out now and people will thank you. A lively Rhodes-like line drifted in and out, but was probably unnecessary. XTAL
. The first song off SAW 1 and, for many, this would have been the introduction to Aphex – how could you not be reeled in? An elegiac, again quasi-medieval riff, throwing you into ambiguous reverie, up against a downpitched funky drummer beat, but much better than that might suggest. I’d been through hardcore, now I was in bedsit hibernation, desirous of, whisper it, ‘intelligent’ or ‘sophisticated’ techno. This was the opener for what was only an ‘ambient’ collection by its general atmosphere of narcotic otherness.MINDSTREAM
rmx (of Meat Beat Manifesto). Like Heliosphan, this showed how effective only two major elements can be in driving DIY techno – in this case an industrial beat with a hyperactive top end against an extremely queasy melody, the parallax sometimes underpinned by a ghostly vox.QUOTH
and IF IT REALLY IS ME
conjure up a specific memory of the consolation prize and accompaniment to a trip back down the motorway after a failed date in Bucks. Two tracks back to back on the Polygon Window LP showed the effortless versatility of the artist we were beginning to think could do no wrong. One an intense percussive workout, the other a pensant piano-led piece amid a stuttering electro undercurrent. Great for the nightdrive.
By this stage there was so much stuff coming out on so many aliases the techno spotters had to go some to keep up. Luckily my second-year hovel was crammed with willing anoraks so we were kept fairly au courant
via Jumbo and Crash. Of the slew of non Polygon/Aphex stuff, 000890569
off Analogue Bubblebath 3with its diy breakbeat and big riffs was my favourite, rave for the megadog crowd, or, like me, for those that no longer went raving but sometimes wanted big pavlovian moments in techno.
And so many remixes. Some were throwaway, some were precious. In TIME TO FIND ME
, Aphex out seefeels Seefeel to come up with a haunting, glacial piece of ambient. See/feel synaesthesis was unlikely, as this was less of the out there, and more of the unthere. ON
. Also props for the Paradinas and Reload versions on the remix ep. A kind of dedication to Cornish rave, utilising the by-now similar tactic of a blunted, grunting industrial rhythm, this time underpinned by a cascading piano line. In 92/93 ‘faceless techno bollocks’ was all over the NME, and this got into the charts, helped on by a video of cut-outs of Ricky James down by the coastal caves.
If SAW 1 wasn’t really ‘ambient’, much of SAW 2 would certainly have met Eno’s description; compressed monosounds setting a specific usually, disturbing mood, and staying with it. Always remember the excitable techno girl’s review of it in the Leeds Student
– “it’s the new Aphex LP and it’s shit” (it did come out on brown vinyl). I did music stuff for Leeds Student but was not prepared to lick the shit of the editors to get the best stuff. Bits of SAW 2 were just rabid – the ice cream man’s coming to get you of Radiator – me and a mate roadtested it after a night of techno and speed downstairs at Basics and it didn’t work.
But there are five or six brilliant pieces, such as CURTAINS
... Beatless, It moved on fairly simple but disturbing minor-key melodies and took you to dark places. The occasional appearance of a softer low-end synth doesn’t relive the tension. Morris would lift many tunes from SAW 2 for his Blue Jam/Jam uncomedy, and for many Aphex fans this went a lot further than the more hyped first.
Long after that, on another side of sludgey brown vinyl, was LICHEN
. The rapture, pure and simple. A beautiful melody allowed to float in its divinity. See also Matchsticks. Sublime oneiric sequences from the twin.ACRID AVID JAMSHREAD
– off I care Because You Do. With this and the Donkey Rhubarb ep, D James seems to tap into trip hop/blunted beat/mo’ waxey stylings of the time – check Cow Cud Is A Twin. The difference was that James had the melodies to take the beats somewhere. None more so than the uplifting opener. Next Heap With also earns props for seeming to appropriate and outdo the grandiose stylings of 70s US films, proving again that James could take a generic sound and better it.ICCT HEDRAL
(Philip Glass orchestration off Rhubarb). By 95, the classical mainstream had noticed that Richard’s instrumentation was a bit special, and Glass weighed in with a lengthy treatment of this number from the above album.
A year later and the Richard D James album inspires hacks to come up with ‘drill n bass’. Listening to it now, many of the tunes are not so deranged, (though numbers like Girl Boy still impress). CORNISH ACID
was a very effective tune led by a relatively normal breakbeat and bolstered by acidic doings and scary synth lines. Ends with a botched note.
Then there’s WINDOWLICKER
, Possibly the most commercial sounding of all, passages of this could have fitted in with the French-style filtered house of the time. Fittingly this period saw Aphex earn the most exposure, Cunningham’s videos helping. By now this niche brand wasn’t so much of a secret.
Caveat 2 – I’m very far from being a completist and no doubt there are many other gems that stand out. Caveat 3, you’ll notice that I’ve gone for the more ‘musical’ numbers and less of the industrial workouts; that’s not to say that there wouldn’t be an illuminating compilation of some of those too. Peepshow’s Jez character uses his liking of Aphex as proof of his radical nature, but in time we’ll see Aphex appraised as not only an innovator for the never-shocked alternative crowd, but one whose compositions are not only regarded as classic but classical too. A musicologist’s dream, he has done so much to widen the range of any of the areas he has worked in, that a big Warp retrospective- cum-bestof would be an enormous boon and would certainly standardise my disparate collection of vinyl and disintegrating tapes of his work.
Or maybe someone can post a mix?