Aphex Twin : Visualising The Genius (The Logo And The R&S Years)

The influence of Richard D. James on the last two decades of electronic music is undeniable. But having a look at the visual designs that gave his music a face is also quite interesting.

While he had started recording music as early as 1986, Richard James' first proper release was done under the AFX alias, in September 1991 with "Analogue Bubblebath Volume 1", (also known as "Aphex Twin EP"), on British Label Mighty Force. 
Then came, later that same year, "Analog Bubblebath Vol. 2", on Rabbit City Records. Both these release didn't have any picture sleeve, or special design beyond the classic informative lay-out of each labels.

But on the second release, there was a track that soon became a rave hit : "Digeridoo". Emulating the aboriginal instrument to create an hypnotic melody, and having it evolving on an aggressive 303 acid line, plus some heavily broken beats, this song was spotted by Renaat Vandepapeliere, and immediately licenced for his R&S label. It became the first release of RDJ with a proper sleeve : "Digeridoo EP".
The aboriginal inspiration was clearly showed, but turned into a very iconic image.
Digeridoo (R&S 12 inch) -  Front
Digeridoo (R&S 12 inch) -  Back
In the meantime, Richard had met Paul Nicholson, from Protoype 21 (and designer since 2001 for "Terratag"). Nicholson was doing some artworks for "Anarchic Adjustment", a skatewear brand. According to Nicholson, they were into the whole "Alien" vibe,  and he had created lots of designs based around some futuristic "A". Having seen these designs, Richard asked him to create an amorphic-shaped logo. Nicholson finished the logo early in 1992, just in time for the "Xylem Tube EP" sleeve on R&S, as shown below.
Xylem Tube EP (R&S 12 inch) - Front
Xylem Tube EP (R&S 12 inch) - Back
This second EP was on the same graphic tip : a dialectic between bitmap typographies and some low definition image manipulation, using color alterations to create a surreal (ecstasy-driven?) feeling. 

It also used natural elements like the starfish : this was really a good expression of the paradoxical visual inspiration of the "rave" style : yes, ravers were listening to synthetic and futuristic musics, and yes they were partying under the influence of futuristic synthetic drugs. 
But they were chasing the exact same dream than the acid-driven hippies of the early 70' : expanding their consciousness, connecting to a higher level of existence, and renewing (through technology) the ancestral technics of the chaman. This connection to chamanism and ancient metaphysic beliefs is of course especially evident on the Digeridoo cover (the mountain showed, Uluru -aka Ayers Rock, is a sacred place for the Aboriginals)

Both EP offered heavy and nearly industrial techno tracks, perfect for late night raves. They gained Richard a real reputation as a foward-thinking rave producer. But his first album was to reveal a far more experimental side.
"Selected Ambient Works 85-92", was released in November 1992, and was a compilation of more intimate tracks, downtempo, with careful electronica and ambient pieces.
And as a clear metaphor of these personal pieces of music, the design was entirely devoted to the Aphex logotype.



The next release of Aphex Twin on R&S was to be the last one. A set of even more industrial remixes of the famous "We Have Arrived" track from the German guys of Mescalinum United. No picture cover, and in fact,  no design at all :  No image, no type, but only a purple coloured label. Of course, it  made this release very enigmatic, and sought-after during the winter of 1992.

This closed the first part of Aphex Twin's visual career. Now, everyone was looking at Richard D. James differently : as an original producer of refined and moody electronic music. And beyond his musical legitimacy, RDJ had now a visual key to relate to. The second part of his career was to happen on the British label Warp, to whom he signed a contract in 1993. (To be Continued)

Note : In fact, RDJ had already founded his own label as early as 1991 : Rephlex. He had released a few singles there, as Bradley Strider and Caustic Window. But again, no real visual universe had been created. 
Even the excellent first Rephlex CD compilation (released in 1992 in association with Kirk De Giorgio's label Applied Rhythmic Technologies) had its sleeve designs completely dominated by ART's visual style : its design was done by famous studio Third Earth Visual Arts, from Detroit, a long time Underground Resistance/Transmaat collaborator.



(CD back cover)

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