Friday, May 04, 2007

RDJ: Laughing All The Way To The Bank?

Animation © Fred McGriff

The Tuss - Alspacka

Is it? Isn’t it? The debate rages as to whether or not The Tuss is the work of Richard D. James. OK, so it’s not exactly raging, but the Aphex publicity machine must be rubbing its metallic tentacles with glee at the amount of internet column inches given over to the discussion. The Aphex myth grows and he might not even have had to get his knobs dirty. Other rumours credited the release to two French producers, or somebody called Gary, who was apparently on the verge of signing to XL or Ninja Tune before Rephlex stepped in. Sounds like a proper shaggy dog story. The actual music is credited to Brian Tregaskin. Who? The first clue that this might be Richard lies in the name, as Tuss in Cornish dialect literally means erection, and we all know that RDJ is Cornish and likes the odd knob gag. Another clue is that one of the tracks featured on his DJ set from the Snowbombing Festival of last year, the first time the music had been heard - a Rephlex exclusive for the label’s joint owner, or a track fresh from the man’s own hard drive?

The real clue though lies in the music of the ‘Confederation Trough EP’, which was released by Rephlex this Monday. The tracks featured across the two formats (12” and CD both share two tracks, and have one exclusive each) sound like the natural progression from his last recorded output, the Analord series, which came out back in 2005. It’s a selection of analogue acid techno, which follows a more intricate and abstract path this time around. There’s a dark, warped synth melody halfway through ‘Alspacka’ that sounds exactly like something from Polygon Window. The track itself has a Detroity vibe, and also bears a passing resemblance to the emotive and playful sounds of early Black Dog Productions. At the start of ‘GX1 Solo’ (the CD bonus track), someone says something (sounds like “Prick!”), and it reminded me of the shouty voice at the start of ‘Cow Cud Is a Twin’ from the ‘I Care Because You Do’ album. If you listen hard enough, it’s easy enough to find similarities to back up the suspicions that RDJ is The Tuss, but if it isn’t him, it’s somebody doing a damn good impression. Though it really shouldn’t matter if it’s RDJ or not, it’s a quality release regardless and one of the best I’ve heard all year.

Buy the ‘Confederation Trough EP’ from Norman Records
The debate continues at message boards on Aphex fansites WATMM and Xltronic

While I’m on the subject, I’ve been planning a post on the Analord series for a while. There was so much hype surrounding the series at the time, it was hard to evaluate the music, but with a bit of distance from the initial discussions, I am coming to the conclusion that it is some of the best material RDJ has produced by a country mile. I strongly believe that if he had released it as a quadruple CD on Warp or Rephlex, the fans and critics would be hailing it as his masterwork. Instead, the alienating nature of the initial limited edition faux-leather binder (which meant only 800 people could actually own the first 12”, and had to shell out a pretty price for the privilege!), lead to there being an overriding feeling that the fans were being ripped off, or even worse, excluded from owning their favourite artist’s work. This meant that many opted out of buying the sequence of EP’s that followed (11 in total, featuring nearly 3 and a half hours of quality analogue acid and techno) as they didn’t own the binder and therefore didn’t feel included.

I also believe that another factor is that the hardcore IDM fans like to get their hands on this sort of music early, and by early I mean leaked on Soulseek way in advance of the official release date. This gives them ample opportunity to discuss, dissect and make their opinions felt on message boards way before the music legally hits the streets. Without a CD release, there could be no leak, and unless they bought the 12’s, they actually had to wait for each release to come out, be ripped to mp3 and then grabbed via Soulseek, before they could formulate their opinions. I could be wrong, but I think this was a deciding factor in many just dismissing the music outright, as their usual methods of acquisition and assimilation weren’t open to them. Some didn’t even own a record deck, so had to wait for the ‘Chosen Lords’ CD release, which contained 10 tracks, and came out a few months after the final 12” dropped. It was a good album, but when you consider there were over 40 tracks in total (not all good it must be said), this compilation was only ever going to scratch the surface, and was a subjective selection, missing off many outstanding tracks from the series.

The thing that bugged me the most, was that many were of the opinion that the Analord series wasn’t a ‘proper’ Aphex release; it was just a series of archive tracks that he decided to chuck out to make a bit of money, and the standard wasn’t as high as his previous output. I think this is way off the mark. If there is one thing RDJ is hugely passionate about it is analogue equipment. He has an unrivalled collection of synths, polysynths and drum machines, and throughout his career had stated his intention to make an album using solely this gear. So to claim he wasn’t passionate about the Analord music is bullshit. If anything, it represented a real labour of love for him, as evidenced by the lengthy discussions he embarked on over the internet on the subject of analogue equipment. As there were no interviews conducted at the time and no promotion whatsoever, I guess the online debate about the validity of the series worked in his favour regardless. Once again, the master of misinformation and mischief had managed to get everybody talking about him. Oscar Wilde would be proud.

AFX - VBS.Redlof.B

I’m posting ‘VBS.Redlof.B’ from Analord 11, the final 12” of the series. I can’t stop listening to it at the moment; it is stupidly addictive and right up there with his best work. It’s probably the first time since his early releases for Rabbit City and R&S that he has written something so pure and techno, and demonstrates that he hasn’t lost the knack of making tunes that explode on the dancefloor. Maybe it’s this that the purists object to - this isn’t really progressive, but rather a nod back to the music that inspired him at the beginning. Named after a computer virus, ‘VBS.Redlof.B’ works off a wobbly acid bassline and kicking danceable beats. Lovely washes of melody permeate throughout and he mangles it all up in the middle in true Aphex style, before returning to the slick acid grooves. It’s a stunning track and proves that this music came from straight from his warped heart.

Buy the Analord 12's from Norman Records - – if you want somewhere to start, I’d suggest Analord’s # 2, 10 and 11, though they’re all wicked!
Alternatively, buy the 'Chosen Lords' CD from Norman Records
Search eBay for the binder - it sometimes comes up, but isn’t cheap!
Analord at Wikipedia