Richard D. James, a.k.a. Aphex Twin, AFX, Polygon Window, Caustic Window, Blue Calx, The Diceman, GAK, Power-Pill, Q-Chastic

Early Life

He was born on 18th August 1971, in Ireland, but was raised in Truro, in Cornwall, England (some sources incorrectly give Cornwall as his birthplace). As is well known by now, his middle initial distinguishes him from his older brother, Richard James, who died at birth in Canada, and to whom he also pays homage in his most frequently-used recording title, Aphex Twin, as well as on the cover of his Girl/Boy EP, which features his brother's gravestone.

One of his earliest memories is of plucking the strings of his mother's piano, and he claims that as a child he never listened to music, and, in fact, that he wishes he had never bought a single album in his whole life, feeling that it is not good to be influenced by what other people have done. He liked "making noises and banging on things", and began to record himself at quite an early age. In an effort to create different and unique sounds he began to construct his own instruments and customize his synthesizers, always pushing at the boundaries of what was possible for him, a trend that has continued throughout his career.

Musical Style
"It sounds really arrogant, but my music's my favourite music ever. I prefer it to anyone else's."

He began to play DJ sets at parties while still a teenager in Cornwall, when 80's Acid House was making a big impact. He would slip a couple of his own tunes in every now and again, and he wrote the manic track 'Didgeridoo' especially to close rave-type events: "I wanted to have some tracks to finish the raves I used to play in Cornwall, to really kill everybody off so they couldn't dance any more". His first actual release was the Analogue Bubblebath EP, which included 'Didgeridoo', but he first made a major impact in 1992 when Selected Ambient Works 85-92 was released. Along with the Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld, it defined the genre of Ambient Techno and established Richard's reputation among the intelligentsia of techno music.


One of the advantages of being a child prodigy is that, being so obviously, amazingly talented, you get to do things your way no matter what anyone else thinks. In fact, one of the ways you know you are on the right track is if people are telling you you're wrong. Richard has always held to this attitude - he went through a phase once of releasing parody singles with a more mainstream sound (for example, Come to Daddy, which sends up Prodigy-style dark techno), purely with the intention of getting on Top of the Pops so that he could laugh at all the mainstream musical nonsense involved in getting him there. He is famous for baiting and teasing his audiences, and interviewers very often ask him about a concert he once gave in which he dropped a microphone into a food mixer and scratched a stylus on sandpaper. Richard has this to say about it:

"It started off at a club called Disobey, around the corner from where I live...They asked me to DJ, but since I couldn't really play any records, I just played some sandpaper. Thought that would be a good laugh. They really got into it and invited me to go to America to do it again. It was only supposed to be a one-off, but they wanted to pay me and take my friends, so I did it. I just mixed some sandpaper together for a bit and then played a food mixer and threw it at someone. I hit the bloke on the head, and I thought I would get sued for that, but he wanted me to sign it afterward. He said, 'I will keep this food mixer forever.'"

For someone who is so creative and driven, and who describes making music as "a bodily need", Richard is completely unpretentious and down-to-earth in interviews. He never tries to make out that he is a great genius, even if the interviewer is flattering him outrageously, and he despises bullshit more than anything. He has been known to tell lies in interviews if he doesn't like the way it is going, but he does this as a joke, meaning it to be found out later to make the interviewer look stupid.

After the success of his first album, Richard was in great demand as a remix artist, a job which he almost always hates, but takes on because it is a good way to make money. He claimed once that he only remixes songs that he dislikes, with a partial exception being Beck's Devil's Haircut, which he described as "Okay, quite average". His remixes most often sound nothing at all like the original, a fact which leads to a funny story. Apparently he had agreed to remix a song for the Lemonheads, but had forgotten to do it, probably out of apathy. A representative of the Lemonheads' record label called out to his house one morning, getting him out of bed, and Richard asked him to wait in the sitting room while he went upstairs "to find the track". While upstairs, he found an old piece of music that he recorded years ago, nothing to do with the Lemonheads, and taped it off. He returned downstairs, money and music changed hands, and the man left. Richard has never heard from the Lemonheads or their label again, and doesn't think they noticed.

"I'm just some irritating, lying, ginger kid from Cornwall who should have been locked up in some youth detention centre. I just managed to escape and blag it into music. {If I hadn't} I'd have gone to jail for computer hacking...I'm a really good hacker, but I'm not a sensible person"

With the advent of complex computer technology for creating music, Richard no longer finds it necessary to physically construct instruments to obtain the sounds he is looking for, and his self-titled Richard D. James Album was his first to be created entirely, or almost entirely, on computer. He regarded this not as an end in itself, but the first steps in the direction of a new art: "It's more of a progression, I'm getting more skillful with the machines." His latest album, Drukqs, fuses the eerie ambience of his earlier work with the crazed, computerized sound of his more recent work, creating a sound which is, simply, utterly unlike anything else. Many people try to imitate Richard's sound, but no one can match the emotional and musical depth and complexity of his tracks, and the unity of his albums, which can be listened to as stories, each track elaborating on or building on or contradicting the last. He seems to have found a way of making electronica in which technological innovation doesn't interfere with the deeper musical aspects.

Truth and Falsehood

There are many strange stories about Richard D. James - some true, some false, some self-exaggerated as a joke. It is true that he bought an old, decommissioned army tank, but false that he drives it all over Cornwall scaring sheep. It's true that he bought an abandoned bank vault to live in because it had good acoustics. It's also true that he bought a submarine, which he describes as "totally pukka!" It's true that he said he would stop making music, but false that he actually has. It's true that he does a lot of drugs, particularly psychedelics, but false that he is high when he makes his music ("I'm never under the influence of drugs when I make music. Whenever I have been, it's always been totally rubbish."). It is true that he doesn't need much sleep, but untrue that he never sleeps (in fact, he states that his album Selected Ambient Works II was mostly composed in lucid dreams, when, upon waking, he would run to his studio to record the sounds he had just heard).

Without question one of the most interesting figures in modern music, Richard D. James has been compared to Mozart both for the originality of his music and the scale of his output (he has been known to record 4 or 5 tracks in one day, and to release multiple albums in a single year). He has influenced almost everyone in ambient music, including many outside that genre (apparently, Radiohead cite Richard as a major influence in their recent change of direction). A few years ago he said in a press interview that he was going to start making music for himself again, without releasing it, and he seems to have been true to his word, as Drukqs is his first album for 5 years. He currently lives in Cornwall in a commune-like setup with several friends, and reports of his musical death have been greatly exaggerated.


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