I did “Balls” in the wintertime and I started playing it out in the end of December. I recorded my set for my SiriusXM show. People were hearing it on [the show], and they were doing a lot of social media [queries]: “Hey, what’s this?” As soon as I really started sending it out to my friends, that’s when the ball really started to roll. When someone like Carl Cox is playing it and people are taking a YouTube clip, or I gave it to Sven [Vath] and he was playing it every night. I think Richie [Hawtin] told me that Sven was closing all of his sets in his Australian tour with it. That is when it really started to happen. Not when I was starting to play it out, even when people would freak out and I would get the reaction I expected from the track. In terms of a more viral thing, it happened when I played it on the show or when a colleague would play it out.
Where did “Balls” begin—with some sounds, a groove, an idea?
It is really hard to say how I start my artistic process, and I can’t remember when or how I started this one. I like writing sometimes with a click track, with add drums. I feel the tempo and I will write a bass line. Sometimes I’ll go in and will start with the percussion first, and I write around the percussion. I can’t really remember what I got with this, but I know that it has changed several times. I’ve been testing out my artwork. My label manager said, ‘If you’re going to call it ‘Balls,’ why don’t you just go all out? A lot of your music is known for your tension and this dichotomy of sound structure, like ‘How’s Your Evening So Far’ or ‘Higher State of Consciousness’ or ‘I’m Ready.’ There is always this build up, this anticipation, this tension in your music, why don’t you just go all ‘balls out’ to it?” I went out and made it filled with more tension, anxiety, and build up.
[When we] released “Balls,” and we did something where we let it stream a week before the release, and I heard from our publicist that this is a good thing to do; that everyone is doing it nowadays. But we actually think this hurt the sales of the record. Even though it is still selling, and out there, it has surpassed its shelf life. You put it out there for a week and people think, “It’s over, what’s next?” You can see on your screen, it’s going all the way to the bottom, and soon you can’t find it. It’s like your emails; if it’s not at the top of your list, forget about it, it’s lost. I think that people are game to do podcasts and SoundCloud and things. I support that culture 100 percent, but I think people should reciprocate as well and not necessarily go onto blog spots and rapid shares and steal people’s music; 99 cents is a nominal fee to support someone doing their labor of love.
Why so long in between original tracks?
The reason I hadn’t made music like that in so long was because of hard balance in-between being a traveling DJ and coming home for three days and being creative on demand. I have a three-day work schedule where I’d have three gigs, I’d have four days to get back and forth, and then I’d have two to three days. I have to be human, I have to be normal. I have to be in a relationship; I’m a father now, I have to do laundry, pay bills, go to the record label, and in the meantime I have to make music? I have to learn new software because it isn’t compatible with the new operating system I just downloaded? It takes a long time.
You got your start as a mobile DJ, which is unusual these days for beginning dance DJs.
I think if you have aspirations of becoming this huge global DJ you don’t start as a mobile DJ, you start by shooting for the stars. I think it becomes the other way around; you start out as a mobile DJ and then you want more. That is what happened.
If someone is going to come out to hear me play, and spend 20 dollars, I’m going to try to give them the best experience they can have. I don’t want to be pretentious and say, “I’m only going to play this.” I think there is an obligation of a DJ to be able to entertain. I think there was a quote [from Avicii] in GQ magazine in England that said, “If a DJ is saying that they read the crowd by their music selection, then they are an old DJ and are trying to hold onto something that has been lost.” I laughed: I, too, was 23 once and thought I knew everything.
If you go to a live show, I can understand—if you go to hear Stevie Wonder and he is playing his songs. But if it is DJ it is a different story. Everybody at an Aphex Twin show is going to see Richard James. Everybody is going to want to see him, is going to understand what he is playing, understand that he is going to do something silly, something stupid, something avant-garde. They are there for him. If you go to a show at a club, you are going to get a mixture of the crowd that just wants to look at ass, wants to socialize, to have a drink. They don’t even know who is performing that night. I try to look at all aspects of what I do and try to provide the best experience as an artist for me and as an experience for the concert/club goer.