Selected ambient Words 1992-1995: Life with the Aphex Twin
I wrote this piece for my book "Drawn in Stereo". I'm reinstating it on the internet here. I keep meaning to write more...
I first met the Aphex Twin on Surbiton High street, early summer '92. I had just
graduated from Kingston, along with the classmate sitting on the pavement next to him,
a graphic designer we called "Nobby".
Nobby's ambition was to be a robot. Stakker Humanoid was his 7am wake up call.
He designed the iconic Aphex logo (hand drawn in marker), which Richard bought the
rights to for £500, by turns honourable and savvy.
By summer’s end I was living below him on Southgate Road, then a no mans land
between Dalston and Islington. Nobby, myself and two college mates took the
downstairs, whilst Richard lived upstairs with his delightful girlfriend Sam, a pretty
Cornish flower child. Across the road was a crack den.
That first year was relatively civilized. Initially, I had no idea of the magnitude of
Richard's talent but, working in my room below his home studio, it was soon
unquestionable. The "Techno Mozart" by 21.
I'd recently worked for Saint Etienne, and when I mentioned him, their jaws dropped.
They asked if I could get him to remix them; I couldn't get him to do anything, but I did
pass on the request and he obliged.
After a year on Southgate Road, we were turfed out by our landlords, deposits
withheld. Filth, Damage.
We decamped (sans Nobby) to nearby Stoke Newington (36 Clissold Crescent), all thrown together in a
terraced house, with Richard recording in a tiny cockpit at its heart. Here things took on
a grimier cast. He was now famous and the house was abused by a stream of visitors,
like a techno Lord of the Flies. The vibe was 3am Eternal - always in a smoky murk,
none of us had jobs to rise for.
Music poured out of him, hunched over tweaked analogue gear, a beige Mac, and a
DAT machine. One such machine, which had failed, was swiftly splintered and strewn
over the garden path, a taster of the chaos within.
Day and night the sound of a mammoth with it's balls on fire would rip through the
house at blood curdling volume. Soon the neighbours lodged a petition. When that
failed, they lobbed stones at the windows. This brought an air of siege paranoia to the
place. One flat mate installed 2 inch wide iron bars on all the windows. A less fragrant of
our order caught Scabies, something I thought had died out with street urchins and
Rickets. We all itched along to the doctors to find that, miraculously, we'd avoided the
The landlord, Mr Hussain - who punctuated every sentence with "as it happens", said
nothing of the decline and kept cashing the cheques.
I made a shaky video for Elastica in my bedroom which came 2nd in some NME award.
Richard's video for ON, directed by Jarvis Cocker won. Deservedly so, as it happens.
We all made exceptions for Richard, he never did the dishes. One of the myths about
him, which I believe, is that he could lucid dream music - a total connection to creativity.
The white heat.
He conjured all hues of Heaven and Hell, with an infinite sonic palette. One day, sick
with food poisoning I retched the ghosts of every meal I'd ever eaten. He recorded my
heavings to add to some horrific creation.
In the wake of Dummy by Portishead he made a slew of beautiful, haunting music that
sounded like a celestial ice cream truck.
He wasn't hampered by any need to please others, be famous or wealthy. At one point,
mid 90's, Madonna wanted to work with him. He ignored her people, finally she phoned
him to get the short answer. One of the later remixes he did for cash was a limp
Lemonheads song, he didn't bother listening to the track, just pulled some random tune
from his enormous stockpile. He told the record company that he'd compressed their
entire song in to the sound of a hi hat! Did I mention he was a genius?
By late '95 the neighbours upped their bombardment of the house in protest at a set of
earsores that Richard was spinning. He was gleeful of the havoc.
I left for less challenging territory.
Soon after Richard did the honorable thing and bought an old bank to live in, with a
vault for a studio.