Generations of fans gathered in one harmonious setting inside The Barn stage at Field Day on Saturday night for the return of Aphex Twin. What followed was an idiosyncratic musical odyssey that only Richard D. James could provide, charting his 26 year discography, interspersed by his own influences within the realms of IDM, electro, ambient, techno and breaks. A lot to condense in two short hours.
What felt like a video game in the realms of electronic music was completed with stunning finesse. There was nothing he neglected in a musical sense. The set was fuelled with bipolarizing, emotional curveballs and the stage filled with alarming visual glitches of the crowds faces fixated upon the bodies of a selective bunch, including Jeremy Kyle and Neil Buchanan (that guy from Art Attack) – as well as politicians past and present with the ever so sinister Aphex smile.
It had everything from sounds that made you feel like you were skipping through inter-dimensional wormholes to the end of the world soundtracks exhibited by tracks like W3C’s remix of Minciisha Leraksti and Chino Amobi’s ‘Warszawa’. Tempo even exceeded the terrifying 200bpm mark, spiraling the crowd into a psychotic mental state in the apex of a dystopian novel. By contrast, the set was still peppered with moments of beauty and clarity, seamlessly bridging an assortment of quintessential Aphex styled cuts leaving the crowd between moments of empathic emotion and shell-shocked stillness, standing in upright admiration of what they were beholding. Roy of the Ravers’ lullaby ‘Emotinium’ provided a peak moment, as well as some early Warp mastery from his Polygon Window alias, Audax Powder.
Not only was this a two hour euphonious expedition that made us forget that society even existed but it was also an immense education into wider dance music history, much of which Aphex Twin has existed through. The last hour was polished surges through early Plasticman on Aphex’s own Rephlex imprint, then charmingly providing some jungle from DJ Dextrous & Rude Boy Keith. As the two-hour mark approached, the set was concluded with more perplexing modular roughness, which could have been designed by Aphex himself through his advanced hand made laser gun.
During a time where it’s so important for people of different age groups and interests to come together, Aphex Twin create a unison of pure musical bliss, which a wounded London needed greatly on Saturday night.
Watch the full set, recorded live by NTS.
It’s one thing to be familiar with the music of Aphex Twin, but it’s another thing entirely to be familiar with what a two hour set of his actually means, both sonically and culturally.
It was only when making our way over to the Barn – Field Day’s main stage – that it became clear nearly 75% of the festival attendees were also trickling their way to the headliner. The stage itself was inside a giant hanger that, according to the Field Day website, can house up to 14,000 people which is the majority of the festival’s capacity. Such an event only continued to garner hype, continuously reaffirmed by the endless stream of older gentlemen in Aphex t-shirts; clearly veterans but, given Aphex Twin’s elusiveness, have probably not seen him as many times as their worn out garments might suggest.
To have a London day festival be populated with mostly people over 25 was a fantasy, but certainly not an expectation. The crowd delivered in more ways than its age, by not doing what many large festival crowds do: collectively become wasted half an hour into the headliner set that it becomes drowned out by chatter. As Aphex Twin began, the magnitude of his presence became clear, the full scale of the stage production started warming up, and the sound had almost certainly gone up just a couple of notches. It’s unlikely that I’ll ever be convinced of “bigger is better” at a music event like that again, but standing at the back looking through the crowd at the smoke and monolithic visual effects rig, I was saying to an imaginary Field Day representative, “Ok, I understand now”.
Electronic music acts brings with them their individual tropes and connotations. Jeff Mills carries the shiny sci-fi techno, engrained in Detroit futurism; a message of hope for humanity informed by Asimov and Marvel Comics. An adult fantasy that looks over the present day economics and hardships, and argues that through technology and advancement, humanity will endure.
Aphex Twin however, is the cyberpunk, heavily modified, worn out synthesizer. The label has long since eroded, the small light bulbs dead, the rear casing removed, exposing the labyrinth of wires totally rearranged for more insidious, abstract purposes. Every so often, Richard D. James emerges from his Cornwall fortress and with his array of modified machines, brings the thunder. His live set up enables him to construct a narrative of texture. Rather than making track selections based on tempo, style or energy, he connects each track through an unknown force that is entirely his own but makes up a set that is unmitigated pandemonium. The one overriding feature I can safely pin onto his sets are the heavy references to 90’s rave culture. He even, as part of the effects rig, had a camera with a bright light constantly filming members of the front row, only to have their faces projected up top, with James’ famous face from Come To Daddy overlaid.
It was Armageddon. It was like the last rave on earth. It was like being inside the last functioning piece of machinery as the last drop of power flowed through its circuitry, grabbing the last remaining electrons, and smashing them together in a fit of dying rage. The set finished, and I wanted the world to end with it.