In honor of his first album in 13 years, Richard D. James AKA Aphex Twin was recently interviewed by Groove Magazine. As it was the 25th anniversary of the publication (as well as a similar number of years that Aphex Twin had been releasing music), they decided to try something new. Instead of simply having an interviewer sit down with the artist and ask only what the magazine wanted to know, they collected questions from 25 DJs and producers worldwide, all of them former Groove cover stars. James answered each question without fail and it truly allows for a new look into the mind of this elusive music maker. We’ve listed some choice selections from the interview below, but make sure to check out the full article on the Groove Magazine website.
Richie Hawtin: Do you think growing up with these landscapes being on the somewhat most isolated tip of the British isles [Cornwall, ed.] paved the way for your musical style and passion to remain somehow isolated and anonymous?
It’s more trippy in nature. When I moved back to Cornwall after I had lived in London, I had this kind of fantasy about wild, beautiful nature. And it is, when the weather is nice, but it’s probably a fuckin scaring nature with the wind, the lightening and stuff. and it is also trippy. I also think that this feeling of being isolated has formed my outsider perspective.
Tim Sweeney: How has the process of making music changed for you over the years?
It hasn’t really changed. I’m probably just better in recognizing different moods now. You are just recognizing what mood you are in and then do the right things accordingly. There’s a time when it feels right to fix my equipment, tidy my space up and get ready to work. Every hour of the day is good for certain things. Imagination, for example, is always better in the night, so basically after midnight. The morning – when you get up, have a coffee – is best for finishing things.
Mate Galic: How did you switch from using hardware to using software for making music – and maybe back again? Has that changed the way you write music?
This is the guy from Native Instruments, right?. For me Traktor is like the beginning, but you could do so much more with it. You could make it more complex but also simpler. For example, they have got these two screens with the wave-forms. But basically all you need is one screen with the wave-form of the tracks you’re playing in different colours so you can put them on top of each other. Then you can mix without even listening.
On the new album it’s all hardware actually. It’s no computer on any tracks basically. There’s maybe a few plug-ins and half of it is sequenced on the computer with the other half being sequenced with hardware. The reason I prefer to work with analogue synths is – for me it’s like a mathematical thing when you come down to it. Basically a computer can’t do distortion, everything on the computer just sounds perfect, which is nice if you want to make perfect tracks, but if you don’t, then you’re kind of stuck. Of course you can sample, you can record things and you can create sounds, but I really prefer to make sounds on synthesizers.
I used to like to make music on a laptop. When I started to do it, it was almost impossible and I really liked that, because it was so difficult to make music on a laptop. There were almost no programs. So you had to put programs toegther, the first one I used was Max/MSP. There weren’t really any plug-ins or anything like that. But I really liked it. Now, it’s really easy.”
François K: As you’re getting into a phase of your career where you’re finding yourself among often much younger DJs and producers: Do you sometimes feel it is important to pass some of your ideas and techniques to those who are curious about them?
Yeah, totally, it’s really important, I think! If people want to know, I’m not protective anymore about ideas. So, if someone wants to know, it’s fine. But people have to find me, it’s quite far away where I live in Scotland (laughs). I always tell people, if they’re asking me something. But I don’t really like to go into specifics like equipment or technical things. If I would teach, it would be purely philosophical. Because I don’t want to make someone good at using Traktor or whatever, I wouldn’t want to limit him to that. You want people to come up with something new and maybe make you learn something.
I have two children and they ask me all the time. They’re totally interested in music. They are six and eight and they’re just asking me more and more details. What software to use? How did I get this sound?
Gernot Bronsert (Moderat): Who is ‘Rubber Johnny’?
Chris Cunningham– who did the video – should answer that question. But it’s him who’s playing the guy in the wheelchair. I would like to work with him again, but he lives in Los Angeles now. I’ve talked to him several times, so there might be something happening. I remember him telling me he made a zombie film and then he decided not to release it, because there was another zombie film coming out. I think he’s too sensitive.
Nicholas Jaar: Have you ever had a ghost, a spirit or an accident speak directly to you through making music or while making music?
Yeah, I always felt a presence or something. I don’t know what it is, maybe it’s just a human conditon, but it always feels like the gods are looking on us and are like: ‘Ah, let’s make him do this’. And it’s really weird, because the other day I got stoned and went to bed, and I had the biggest intense feeling of someone watching over me.
Kristian Beyer (Âme): Did any of those tracks on the MP3 player you lost ever resurface on the internet?
No, thankfully not! But the story is totally true, I left it on the plane. I think there were 80 unreleased Squarepusher tracks on it as well. I felt really bad about this.
Darshan Jesrani (Metro Area): Have there been any funny examples of people biting your style?
In the beginning it was quite hard to accept this – you can get obsessed by it. But now it’s fine. I think Bochum Welt is someone who did well. He’s producing some stuff similar to Ambient Works, but his own kind of sound as well. Some of those are a bit like: ‘Yeah, I could put my name on a couple of those, maybe.’ Coldplay was the weirdest one, where I thought it sounds like me. They probably haven’t even listened to me. They have probably only heard someone that has heard me. Also some of the soundtrack of the Minecraft game. My kids were playing that and I thought that sounds pretty much like some of mine. And then this guy ‘Notch’ [Markus Persson, ed.], who made that game bought one of my records on eBay for $40,000. My kids loved it. They told all their friends in school. That was pretty cool.
Joe Goddard (Hot Chip): Is the story about you hiring Captain Birdseye (aka Captain Iglo) for a boat party and giving out acid true?
No, but I want to do this! It’s one of many undone ideas.
Luciano: What are your thoughts on the explosion of “EDM” worldwide, but especially in the US, and all those massive LED light shows with only one guy performing on a stage?
It’s fine. I actually don’t care what people are doing. I just care about what they’re actually playing. It doesn’t feel related to anything I’m doing. This guy Skrillex, I’ve only heard about his tracks because my kids played them. It sounds like he has a good grasp of technology. I think it’s pretty poppy, isn’t it? It’s too poppy for me.
Bonus question — Skrillex: Do you still own your tank and if so, can I come visit to you, try it out and drive it?
He can come, yeah! It’s still at my sister’s house in Wales. It still works! Amazing old technology, when things were designed and they lasted forever. So, it’s 50 to 60 years old and it sounds fucking amazing.