The world is ready for the tripped-out sound of Aphex Twin again, but what do we really know about the pioneer of contemporary electronic music?

The world is ready for the tripped-out sound of Aphex Twin again, but what do we really know about the pioneer of contemporary electronic music?

Richard D. James – the warped brain behind electronic noise project Aphex Twin – is known to go a bit ham on the old self-mythology. Surreal stories – about pet ferrets that live in personally owned army tanks, dj sets comprised of sandpaper, entire albums (Selected Ambient Works II specifically) inspired by lucid dreams, stillborn brothers of the same name, embryos and genius music machines – surround the Cornish composer like rogue planets in a self-created solar system.

So as the artist prepares for the release of his sixth studio album Syro on September 23 – his first in 13 years – we thought we’d dig out some lesser known maybe-truths about the mad savant.

He’s into Gabba

According to a 2001 interview in German music magazine Groove, James has a penchant for the fast-paced ‘Rotterdam techno’: “I like the aggression. But I usually don’t like it when it’s totally distorted. I like controlled aggression. I think this is more effectively. When somebody just fucks around with the volume level on the mixer, that’s not really frightening. But something like the new Squarepusher stuff, I consider this way more disturbing ’cause it’s totally wicked. But it’s not distorted at all, it’s crispy. But it has bigger intensity. You can feel the spirit, the motivation behind it and that’s more brutal. That’s the difference between a lunatic getting mad at a mall and takes his knife and a serial killer who’s calculating and cold-blooded. The serial killer is more frightening.”

He has his own record label

James launched Rephlex Records in 1991 with friend Grant Wilson-Claridge. According to ‘The Rephlex Manifesto’, published around their genesis, Rephlex aims “to demonstrate to the rest of the world that British dance music can be entirely original. In the main, we plan to disregard the all-too-common breakbeat and resist the laziness of sampling other people’s work. We also want to show that you can make a kick-ass drumbeat without preset drum machine sounds.” The label invented the term ‘braindance’ to describe the otherwise uncategorisable output of Aphex Twin and Rephlex Records. The official definition is as follows: “Braindance is the genre that encompasses the best elements of all genres, e.g traditional, classical, electronic music, popular, modern, industrial, ambient, hip hop, electro, house, techno, breakbeat, hardcore, ragga, garage, drum and bass, etc.”

He’s a Chris Morris fan

According to a Guardian interview in 2001, James thinks Chris Morris – whose Bafta-winning film Four Lions satirises much of the hypocrisy and surrealism of the British jihadist movement – is the ‘best comedian of all time’. Says James in the interview: “He’s amazing, that geezer. I don’t find any of his stuff offensive. A lot of my friends watch it with their hands over their mouths, like, ‘God, that’s so shocking.’ I just find it normal. Every single person has twisted thoughts that they’re just too scared to tell anyone about.”

He’s good at chess

“Chess has all the beauty of art – and much more,” said Duchamp – who eventually gave up art to concentrate on chess – in an interview with Time in 1952. “It cannot be commercialised. Chess is much purer than art in its social position.” Known to be something of a recluse, James – who now lives in a small (population: 300) village in Scotland – seems to also have a thing for the little figures of strategy. “Well, I don’t know if I’m good,” he told Space Age Bachelor Magazine in 1999, “But compared to someone who’s shit, I’m good. I love it. I can get right into it. Concentration’s not a problem. As long as I’m somewhere nice, and not distracting. I can’t play Chess with the TV on. That’s well fucking irritating. But I can play it when I’m listening to music. I’m rubbish when I’m stoned though. I just make really crap mistakes.”

He doesn’t believe in God

James grew up in Cornwall and apparently hung out on the beach with the surfers, taking drugs, bored by the lack of nightlife. According to an interview published in Select, 1995, he was once messing about on the beach and the undertow from a freak wave dragged him out to sea. His friends walked on up the beach, unaware that Richard was drowning. For about five minutes he struggled against the tow, convinced he was about to die, knowing that the only way to get back in would be to surf on a wave. Just as he was ready to give up, another wave washed him back onto the beach. “I’ve been close to death about a hundred times,” says James in the interview. “I almost drowned a few times and I’ve had more than 15 serious car crashes. It’s nice to speculate about [the afterlife], but I’m just too old-fashioned.”