Behind the (Unheard) Music: Is Aphex Twin Poised for a Grammy Nod?
A look at Aphex Twin's cultural cachet and amorphous album rollout.
Aphex Twin, the obscure electronic music artist (real name: Richard D. James) who has been teasing his next album on blimps, street graffiti and via the “deep web,” will release his first album in 13 years on Sept. 23 through Warp Records. The label announced the news this morning, causing diehard fans to erupt with excitement, but there’s reason to predict more mainstream success for SYRO. Maybe even a Grammy nod.
The drip-feed roll-out rings bells of the album campaign for Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, which saw the duo’s robot helmets pop up on billboards over the Sunset Strip and in surprise commercials during Saturday Night Live. Ultimately, the album took home three Grammys, plus another for the Pharrell-assisted “Get Lucky.” As it happens, SYRO will just make the Grammy deadline, which this year falls on Sept. 30. Representatives from Warp said they didn’t go out of their way to make the cutoff, but a nomination is certainly possible.
“I hope Aphex Twin is nominated and wins, it would be wonderful, but he’s not a radio artist,” said Warp promotion man Josh Berman. “He does, however, have strong name recognition, which matters with the Academy. He probably won’t sell as many records as Avicii, because he’s not a Top 40 guy, but I don’t think a nomination is out of reach.”
There are several reasons for all the buzz. For one, electronic music has never been more popular and James, who was born in Ireland but spent many years in the U.K., was one of the genre’s early pioneers. He began to DJ in the late 1980s and was composing music by computer around 1991. That year, he formed the acid house and techno label Rephlex Records before moving to London where he released music on Warp and the Belgian label R&S. His sound has spanned industrial, ambient, heavy metal and breakbeat electronica, and he’s been associated with the term ‘intelligent dance music’ for years.
There’s also the fact that the story of Aphex Twin is laced with interesting, if unverified, legends. He’s mysterious, not unlike Daft Punk, and it doesn’t take long to uncover entire internet forums devoted to debating which of his releases are pranks, whether or not he was a child prodigy, and if the face that covers his albums is actually his. Over the years, it has been said that he owns a tank, bought and lived in a vacant bank, and turned down Madonna when she requested to work with him. A 2001 article in The Guardian titled “Tank Boy” described him as “the most inventive and influential figure in contemporary electronic music” and the “Mozart of techno.” In the same article, he told the newspaper he’d paid about £40,000 to buy a military submarine from an unnamed country.
These days, Berman said left-field IDM artists like Flying Lotus (who also has a new record being released imminently), Boards of Canada and Aphex Twin are experiencing the best sales they’ve ever had, likely a reaction to the fact that mainstream dance music has become so homogenized. Earlier this summer, a physical copy of James’ rare album Caustic Window sold on eBay for £27,198 (roughly $46,000).
SYRO will be Aphex Twin’s sixth studio album. A limited edition box set is being sold through Bleep. There are only 200 copies available, and the opportunity to buy one is by lottery.