Richard David James (born 18 August 1971), best known by his stage name Aphex Twin, is a British electronic musician and composer. He has been described by The Guardian as "the most inventive and influential figure in contemporary electronic music", and is the co-founder of Rephlex Records with Grant Wilson-Claridge.
James was born in Limerick, Ireland and grew up in Lanner, Cornwall, UK, with two older sisters, in a "very happy" childhood during which they "were pretty much left to do what [they] wanted". He enjoyed living there, feeling apart from nearby cities and the rest of the world. James attended Redruth School in Redruth, Cornwall, and claimed to have produced sound on a Sinclair ZX81 (a machine with no sound hardware) at age 11: According to musician Benjamin Middleton, James began producing music the following year. As a teenager he was a disc jockey at the Shire Horse Inn in St Ives, with Tom Middleton at the Bowgie Inn in Crantock and along the beaches around Cornwall. James studied at Cornwall College from 1988 to 1990 for a National Diploma in engineering. About his studies, he said "music and electronics went hand in hand". James graduated from college; according to an engineering lecturer he often wore headphones during practical lessons, "no doubt thinking through the mixes he'd be working on later".
In 1989, James befriended Grant Wilson-Claridge when they were working alternate weeks as a DJ at the Bowgie pub near Newquay, UK. Wilson-Claridge was intrigued by his sets, and when he discovered that James was playing tapes of his own music he suggested that they make records. At first, putting Aphex Twin’s recordings on vinyl was a way of making music the duo's friends wanted to hear; because of their geographic isolation they could not access the music they wanted to hear, so they decided to create their own. James' first release as Aphex Twin, later changed to AFX, was the 1991 12-inch EP Analogue Bubblebath on Mighty Force Records. The track "En Trance to Exit" was recorded with Tom Middleton, also known as Schizophrenia. The EP made the playlist of Kiss FM, an influential London radio station, which helped it become successful.
In 1991, James and Wilson-Claridge founded Rephlex Records to promote "innovation in the dynamics of Acid — a much-loved and misunderstood genre of house music forgotten by some and indeed new to others, especially in Britain". From 1991 to 1993 James released two Analogue Bubblebath EPs (one without a band name on it, one as AFX) and an EP, Bradley's Beat, as Bradley Strider. Although he moved to London to take an electronics course at Kingston Polytechnic, he admitted to David Toop that his electronics studies were being evacuated as he pursued a career in the techno genre. After leaving school James remained in London, releasing albums and EPs on Warp Records and other labels under a number of aliases (including AFX, Polygon Window and Power-Pill); several of his tracks, released under aliases including Blue Calx and The Dice Man, appeared on compilations. Although he allegedly lived on the roundabout in Elephant and Castle, South London during his early years in the city, he actually lived in a nearby unoccupied bank.
The first full-length Aphex Twin album, Selected Ambient Works 85–92, was released in 1992 on R&S Records to critical praise; John Bush of Allmusic described it as a "watershed of ambient music". In 2002 Rolling Stone said about the album, "Aphex Twin expanded way beyond the ambient music of Brian Eno by fusing lush soundscapes with oceanic beats and bass lines." Pitchfork Media called it "among the most interesting music ever created with a keyboard and a computer". However, critics noted that the songs were recorded on cassette and their sound quality was relatively poor.
In 1992 James also released the Xylem Tube EP and Digeridoo (first played by DJ Colin Faver on London's Kiss FM) as Aphex Twin, the Pac-Man EP (based on the arcade game) as Power-Pill, and two of his four Joyrex EPs (Joyrex J4 EP and Joyrex J5 EP) as Caustic Window. "Digeridoo" reached #55 on the UK Singles Chart, and was later described by Rolling Stone as foreshadowing drum and bass. He wrote "Digeridoo" to clear up his audience after a rave. These early releases were on Rephlex Records, Mighty Force of Exeter and R&S Records of Belgium.
In 1993 James released Analogue Bubblebath 3; a single, "On"; his second Bradley Strider EP, Bradley's Robot; two more Caustic Window EPs and his first releases on Warp Records, Surfing on Sine Waves and "Quoth", as Polygon Window. Warp Records released Selected Ambient Works Volume II in 1994, with a less beat- and melody-driven sound than the previous album. The track names were described with pie chart symbols, each of which was meant to be paired with a corresponding image in the album jacket (except "Blue Calx"). To decipher the titles, listeners had to compare the length of each track with the size of the pie-chart symbols; for example, the first title (often called "Cliffs", is realised by pairing the first symbol with the first image (a rocky cliffside). James said in The Wire magazine and elsewhere that the songs were inspired by lucid dreams and synaesthesia. Other releases were a fourth Analogue Bubblebath; GAK, derived from early demos sent to Warp Records and Classics, a compilation album with "Digeridoo" and the Xylem Tube EP.
For his 1995 release ...I Care Because You Do James used an image of his face for the album cover, a motif which would be repeated on many of his later records. The album was a compilation of songs composed between 1990 and 1994, a melange of Aphex Twin musical styles. This was James' last record during the 1990s to emphasise analogue synthesizers. He commissioned Western classical-music composer Philip Glass to create an orchestral version of "Icct Hedral" (a song on this album), which appeared on the Donkey Rhubarb EP.