Dad, d’you like Aphex Twin?

Not the first question I was expecting last week. My 16 year-old and myself were in the car and, in a rare change from discussing the misfortunes of football (both our team – Kilmarnock – and the local U17 team he plays for), the chat turned to music. Future Sound Of London’s Papua New Guinea was playing, all rattling breakbeats, throbbing bass and ghostly samples, but despite my enthusing over it, he remained unconvinced. Nothing new there, to be honest. I can point out a dozen great songs during any car journey and he’ll shrug, unconvinced (unwilling more likely) to admit to liking his dad’s taste in music. The electronic sheen of FSOL’s track endured though, and it clearly set off a synaptic sequence in his brain. And then he came out with it. “Dad, d’you like Aphex Twin?

He’d already blindsided me a few months ago by unselfconsciously humming I’ll Be Your Mirror as we passed on the stairs. When I stopped, turned and asked if that was The Velvet Underground he was singing, he shrugged nonplussed as though it was the most natural thing in the world. “D’you know it, like?” he threw back, not even stopping for confirmation. Of course I did, and of course he knew I did, and of course he knew that I had a copy (3 actually) of “the banana album that it’s on.”

How d’you know about the Velvet Underground?” I asked.

I dunno. I just heard them somewhere and liked them. I like Beginning To See The Light too. And Can’t Stand It. And Pale Blue Eyes…(thinks)…There She Goes Again…’Ah’m waitin’ fawr ma ma-yan’…

Jeez. Turns out he knows them all and can do a passable Lou Reed into the bargain.

D’you remember when we were in New York last year, and I stopped to take a picture of the street sign near our hotel and you all laughed at me? Maybe you’ll get the reference now...”


When I was his age, I spent the time properly denying my parents’ record collection. Apart from Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home there was nothing much in there to shout about, although I did investigate it when no-one was looking, retaining some of the more interesting ones in the interests of cross-generational research purposes. He’s denying mine too, I think, but he knows far more of it than I’d ever have imagined. As teenagers, we had to dig deep, swap tales and stories and sometimes actual TDKs to gain access to the good stuff. Rake the record shops, sift through the shelves in the library, maybe occasionally get the loan of an album on promise of death if it was returned in less than the condition it was given to you in. Now, it seems, social media analytics throw all sorts of stuff in your direction. Act on any of its suggestions and a hundred more threads and recommendations will unravel, and all just for your ears only.

From the Velvets, he discovered The Strokes. Most teenagers love The Strokes, it turns out. Any aspiring local guitar stranglers look to them in the same way that we looked to the music of 20 years previously when we first started out. Watch out for the big Strokes renaissance when a wee local band breaks out and rides the crest of a scuzzy New York wave. It’s just around the corner.

Aphex Twin though. He’s so low profile, so uncompromising, so esoteric in a way that The Strokes and (nowadays) the Velvet Underground just aren’t. “How on earth did you find out about him?” I ask. “Tik Tok? Spotify? A video game? Somewhere else?

I dunno. He’s great music to study to. It’s longform and in the background and doesn’t distract you from what you’re trying to learn. It’s a bit like Minecraft music, just better. All the songs have strange titles…just numbers sometimes. I don’t know the names of the tracks I like. But I like what I’ve heard.”

Aphex TwinXtal

If it helps with the studying, no parent is going to complain about that, which is why, on Thursday night, our house was filled for an hour with the DIY ambience and womblike pulses of Selected Ambient Works Vol. 1, the pair of us headnodding around the living room, me the uncool dad playing him this new music that he thought was ‘his’, he the teenager, mortified at the thought of liking the same music as his dad.

Next week – “Dad, which Throbbing Gristle album should I buy first?”

(Answer: I dunno. He’ll probably be able to tell me.)

Get This!

Sound Aphex

Aphex Twin is a true pioneer of electronic music, a self-taught and home-schooled, hands-on manipulator of sound. His first keyboard wasn’t of the electronic variety, but the piano that the teenage ‘Twin regularly took apart in order to play and record the strings inside the case rather than the keys themselves sparked a curiosity in reworking sound that has continued for the best part of 40 years.

Part musician and part engineer, Aphex was confident enough to dismantle and deconstruct the instruments available to him and then reconstruct them into strange new sound-carriers. Utilising a heady combination of boxfresh ZX Spectrum and pure brainpower, he worked out a way to record the static from a de-tuned TV and turn it into exotic soundscapes. With ease, he went from bedroom prospector to the goldmine of techno, DJing at underground events around the south of England during its heyday before eventually making his own music that he’d segue into his playlists.

His debut album, Selected Ambient Works 85-92 is properly ground-breaking. On release, nothing quite like it had been heard. By late ’92, techno was in full flow and fell into two camps; novelty and nosebleed. The novelty stuff (such as Sesam E’s Treet) popped up like an uncontrollable rash on Top Of The Pops every other week. The nosebleed stuff occasionally punctuated the strange airwaves betwixt and between the Mudhoney and Misty in Roots records on the John Peel show, sometimes (they tell me) even playing at the correct speed. It was something I learned to tough out, as the rewards on the show far outweighed the odd filling-loosening clunker in-between. But you knew that already…

Aphex Twin’s album was purely electronic, but it was head music rather than hedonistic music. With massive nods to Brian Eno and only very occasional forays into ear-splitting nosebleed nonsense, it was an album in the true sense of the word; it ebbed, flowed, peaked and troughed, taking you on a journey. It made for perfect headphone music then and it still does now. Stick it on as your subway train rattles through Glasgow’s underground and it’ll make the journey truly cinematic. Cue it up for a 20 mile cycle and the subtle percussive parts will work their way into the outside mix, hi-hats complementing the smooth groove of a well-oiled chain making its way through the sprocket. The fact it was all jigsawed together on Aphex Twin’s strange collection of hybrid keyboards and sequencers rather than in a state of the art studio makes it all the more special and unique.

Aphex TwinXtal

The opener Xtal is fantastic; smooth-rolling ambience, ghostly, synthy vocals, a beat that’s almost a hip hop breakbeat and multi-layers of subtle percussion. There’s a real flotation tank depth to the bass too, making the whole thing airy and spacious and, well, magic.

The phonetically troubling Ageispolis builds on the opener’s blueprint with synth washes, wandering basslines and a little keyboard motif that the unkind amongst you might snigger at for being too close to pan pipe to take seriously. Listen if you will…

Aphex TwinAgeispolis

This variation of techno music was subsequently everywhere, with Leftfield and Underworld adopting the atmospherics and spirit for their own gain, St Etienne remixes bearing the undeniable stamp of the ‘Twin and every anonymous contributor to the CafĂ© Del Mar series taking their jumping-off point from Ageispolis especially.

All fine records and artists, but there’s something that makes Aphex Twin’s stuff just that little bit extra-special. Maybe it’s the punk spirit in him that resonates. Making such beautiful, insular music in an era when everyone around him was off their nut and dancing bare chested to 180 bpm bangers is to be applauded. Punk in spirit, hippy in execution, those early Aphex recordings still sound groundbreaking today.