Richard David James was born to Welsh parents Lorna and Derek James in 1971 in Limerick, Ireland. James spent his childhood in Cornwall, United Kingdom. As a teenager, he became a DJ and musician on the local rave scene, taking on the moniker "AFX" (Acid Effects) and later "Aphex Twin" (in reference to his dead brother). James formed the Rephlex Records label in 1991 with his friend Grant Wilson-Claridge and released his first records on this label, as well as Mighty Force and R&S Records of Belgium. After success with his early work, James relocated to London and released a slew of albums and EPs on the Warp Records label, under a bewildering set of aliases (from Polygon Window and Caustic Window to the lesser known Gak and Power Pill).
In 1995 (primarily with Hangable Auto Bulb), he began releasing more material composed on computers, and embraced a more drum and bass sound mixed with a nostalgic childhood theme and strange computer generated acid lines. The early adoption of Native Instruments' softsynthesizers predated the later popularity of using computers to make music. The late 1990s saw his music become more popular and mainstream, as he released two singles, "Come to Daddy", and "Windowlicker", which were shown on MTV and the covers of music magazines including NME.
In 2001 Aphex Twin released his most personal album yet, drukqs, a 2-CD album which featured prepared piano songs under the influence of Erik Satie and John Cage. Also included were abrasive, fast, and meticulously programmed computer-made songs. The level of detail and artistry was so high, that reviewers and fans complained that the music was less in the style of innovative pop music, and more about detailed beautiful and personal musical art. drukqs is perhaps Richard's most controversial album to date; the album lacked the novelty found in his other albums, so reviewers guessed this album was released as a contract breaker with Warp Records - a credible guess, as James' next big release came out on his own Rephlex label. It is also rumored that the album drukqs was released as it was because he had almost all of these songs on a Creative Jukebox mp3 player that he forgot and left on a plane, and in fear of all of the tracks being leaked to the internet, its release was rushed as to avoid this.
In late 2004, rumours of James' return to a more acid techno based sound were realised with the Analord series. For these records, James used his extensive collection of Roland drum machines which he bought when they were still at bargain prices. Also he used one of the rarest, and most desirable synthesizers of his generation, the Synton Fenix, and the notoriously difficult to program Roland MC-4 sequencer (a sequencer with a reputation for excellent timing), as well as the infamous Roland TB-303 for his trademark acid melodies.
Richard D. James usually does the photography for his releases' artwork himself. A lot of his album artwork photos show James' own face, grinning or slightly distorted in another way. Near the end of the second track on the "Windowlicker" single (commonly referred to as "[Formula]", "[Symbol]", or "[Equation]") a photo of James' face is revealed when run through spectral analysis. The picture illustrates his famous toothy, evil grin (with a spiral also visible at the end of track 1). In addition to this, the cover of "Two Remixes by AFX" is actually contained only on the CD, encoded in a format used for sending images by amateur radio enthusiasts.
Aphex Twin press interviews are generally entertaining, eccentric, and confusing. He admitted to the Guardian newspaper that he lies in interviews.
Some seemingly outlandish claims from interviews have been verified, however. Richard does own a tank (actually a 1950s armoured scout car, the Daimler Ferret Mark 3) and a submarine bought from Russia, and he lives in southeast London in a converted bank, which was formerly the Bank of Cyprus and then HSBC.
Richard's close friends support his claims that he built his own synthesizers and samplers from scratch in his early years—he is experienced in electronics and electricity, and has modified and circuit bent his equipment from a young age. Further, the UK music magazine Future Music ran an article (with photo) about a sampler he built for his microelectronics degree.
Richard claims to have produced sound on a Sinclair ZX81 (a soundwise disabled machine) at the age of 11: "When I was 11, I won 50 pounds in a competition for writing this program that made sound on a ZX81.You couldn't make sound on a ZX81, but I played around with machine code and found some codes that retuned the TV signal so that it made this really weird noise when you turned the volume up."
Additional claims, some of which are unverifiable, include the following: He composed ambient techno at age 13; he has "over 100 hours" of unreleased music (including songs on his answering machine that could be wiped away by leaving a message); he made his own software to compose with, including algorithmic processes which automatically generate beats and melodies; and he is able to incorporate lucid dreaming into the process of making music.
Selected Ambient Works 85-92 (1992)
Selected Ambient Works Volume II (1994)
...I Care Because You Do (1995)
Richard D. James Album (1996)
Xylem Tube EP (1992)
On/On Remixes (1993)
Ventolin/Ventolin Remixes EP (1995)
Donkey Rhubarb (1995)
Girl/Boy EP (1996)
Come to Daddy EP (1997)
Analord 10 in the Analord Series (2005)
Detailed Discography Here