If you told any local Aphex Twin fan that he was coming back to play a set after two decades, you would probably receive some curse words combined with an amiable “Get outta here.” Yet, it finally happened. Much has changed in the last two decades: there weren’t any Coachellas or Ultras, Enron was booming, and Donald Trump was making cameos on Home Alone 2. Regardless, Richard James, aka Aphex Twin, made an unforgettable stop to the bereaved and cynical fans in a Brooklyn warehouse last Thursday.
He played at the Avant Gardner–a large warehouse that was converted to a venue space in Brooklyn that is as massive as it is impressive. With 90 minutes before the show started, the line to get in was already lengthy and seemingly endless as more and more fans gathered around the venue for a memorable night. The line was moving quickly and eventually broke up into people either going inside or standing in the merchandise line. Like the tickets, the shirts sold out in a matter of minutes.
The first hour-and-a-half of the show was sans performer; a soundtrack of reggae, dub, and vocal samples from old-time British radio played gently through the columns of speakers. The display of lights at the Avant Gardner trickled a hazy purple like some nebula deep in space. The visual production team teased the crowd by quickly turning on the numerous LED panels before they went black again. Aïsha Devi took over and brought a special live set; both singing and playing tremendous, thundering bass in a Björk-like fashion.
Another hour went by before Richard James started. The panels abruptly turned on and displayed the signature Aphex Twin logo. Soft ambient tunes rang out while the crowd started to grasp the brevity of the show and the madness that was about to ensue. It was difficult to actually see Richard. The decks were dark and his face was obscured by his laptop, like some faceless villain from an Orwell novel. While the ambient started to fade away, more head-bopping tunes followed before James played like an Apache warplane in the desert. He went through a paroxysm of sounds that glitched and rang in his legendary fashion. James transitioned from acid, techno, jungle, drum and bass and large breaks of sounds that were almost indescribable. Much of his set contained unreleased tracks.
The crowd, in full shock and awe, savored every single second of his 90-minute set. They bursted out in laughter as the visual display grew weirder. A cameraman on his team recorded the first row of attendees whose faces were projected onto the LED screens. The faces were warped and peppered with psychedelia, so much so that their former identity was forever contorted, like the cover of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. James paid homage to New York by showcasing a visual display of cultural icons: Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, the crew of Seinfeld, and The Notorious B.I.G. Obviously, all the images were warped and flickered negative while a fleet of lasers blasted the Avant Gardner.
Towards the end of the set, James went fully ballistic and played a showstopper that was both hazy and cognitively easy to grasp. It was as if you had a rave inside an industrial slaughterhouse. A jackhammer of drums assaulted the speakers, hi-hats rained blood, and bass pulsated violently before some clearly danceable drum and bass appeared.
The set ended at 12:45 am. At a certain angle, you could almost see James wave and smile. 25 years of anticipation for a little bit over a 90-minute set. To say it was worth it, is an understatement. Conditions were about perfect in every capacity. If James doesn’t play New York City again until the year 2034, it will be worth it knowing he’ll deliver the same expectations to his dogged fans.
On April 10, NASA successfully took the first ever photo of a black hole. In more ways than none, Aphex Twin is similar to the cosmic phenomena. He absorbs sounds with such density, it makes the finished product so warped and distorted that its ends are as vague as its origins. Get too close, and you’ll be devoured.