It seems somewhat strange that a man who would describe himself as “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.” And yet others would refer to him as “the most inventive & influential figure in contemporary electronic music.” But this all makes sense if I say we’re talking about Richard D. James, or Aphex Twin, a name now so steeped in folklore it is hard to discern the myth from the man. I gave it a shot though, at the Warehouse Project.
Aphex Twin was headlining the Thrasher line-up at this year’s Warehouse Project. A slightly unusual choice given previous Thrasher’s dubstep-centric line-ups, but it was a pretty well-received choice. When I arrived 1st thing I noticed was that this was definitely the oldest crowd I had seen at WHP in 2012.
A swarm of old ravers and hippies had come out for a rare event on the Manchester scene, although there were some young faces amongst the sea of Warp t-shirts, showing that the kids haven’t all succumbed to Guetta & Co just yet. It was also the quietest night I had seen this year, by quite a way. The cynic in me thinks people had bought tickets purely to sell on the Aphex name, and had swamped the market. I was offered at least 4 tickets in the days preceding the gig.
Second thing I noticed was there was some seriously dry music going down. I’d arrived too late to catch our own Illum Sphere (whom I was assured was well up to his usual high standards), and this Moths guy was doing his best to kill any prior atmosphere with extremely ambient material (even more painful as he replaced the excellent Koreless on the bill). I could only describe it as like being in between bands at a gig, where everyone is just stood around not really giving a fuck. This trend continued with Zavoloka barely raising a smile, let alone a fist, from a bored crowd.
Maybe it was my fault for not bombing 2 grams of MDMA and getting absolutely off my box, but I seem to recall the last Aphex Twin WHP gig I saw featured support from Luke Vibert, who absolutely destroyed the place with breaks & jungle and, in my opinion, upstaged & outshone Aphex Twin himself. Maybe Mr James had told them to hold it down, but I doubt he’s that concerned about other musicians.
It came as a massive relief when the main man snuck on stage and started before anyone had actually noticed. The volume increased, as did the tempo, and (lo-and-behold!) percussion patterns started ringing through the air. The restless crowd, denied a starter, was being fed the main course and boy were they all hungry!
The next 90 minutes of Aphex Twin was a true sonic journey, gradually building-up tempos and frequencies through multiple genres & sounds; from acid house and techno, through to a final 20 minutes of frenetic 808s, jungle breakbeats; executed with expert precision and timing. I could feel the surge of energy each time the tempo began to rise.
Whilst my ears were being seduced the visual show was no less appealing. Aphex Twin has a long affiliation with visual accompaniment; from his Chris Cunningham-directed music videos through to embedding photos of himself within his music. The visuals tonight were as excellently twisted as expected; throbbing Aphex Twin logos, distorted images of celebrities & sporting icons with their faces replaced by that of our host DJ, spread over four huge screens, combined with lasers and flashing lights. It was a fitting combination to the proceedings.
Following on from this absolute audio-visual delight was a set from one of this year’s WHP residents Hudson Mohawke. Sadly, someone gave him the same brief as the other support acts because the lights were turned back down and the energy in the room plummeted. Half the crowd left after Aphex Twin but I wanted to stick around to see Zomby, who had the very last set of the night. Unfortunately the extent to which our listening experience had switched meant I couldn’t take it any more and we left. Maintaining a degree of energy is key to any night and, although it would always be tricky to warm up for (or follow on from) a genius such as Aphex Twin, at least give it a go! Maybe go and listen to Luke Vibert and get some pointers.