Richard D. James has never released a sanctioned DJ mix. Fans have stepped in to meet the demand.
More than three decades into his career, Richard D. James remains one of the most enigmatic producer-DJs in electronic music. Though he’s best known for producing landmark music as Aphex Twin, his DJ sets and live performances have become the stuff of legend – even if he’s never actually released a sanctioned DJ mix.
Thankfully, fans have met the demand, smuggling cassette and DAT recorders into clubs and raves to capture sets in the 1990s and digital devices starting in the ’00s. Below, a few portals that will time-travel you back.
1992 Peel Session and Sheffield set
James came up in Cornish, England and got obsessed with early acid house starting in the 1980s. The UK was in the midst of electronic dance music boom, with wildly new rhythms and sounds upending culture on a weekly basis. Influential DJ John Peel was an early advocate, and invited the then-20-year-old James to perform tracks on his radio show. The recording above also includes an early 1990s set from Sheffield.
Live at Limelight, New York
By the middle of the decade, Aphex Twin was securing bookings in the US, which was also in the midst of an ecstasy-fueled desire for hard rhythms pumped through massive club systems. The Limelight was one of New York’s preeminent dance clubs when James jammed this set.
Even Furthur 1994
The Wisconsin rave promoters Drop Bass did as much as anyone in the States to bring the UK’s open field rave energy to the US. Even Furthur was one of the biggest electronic music festivals in the country, and Aphex Twin played this set early Saturday morning starting at 1:30 a.m. Above is the first 45 minutes of it.
Live in Houston, 2016
Aphex Twin has never been a consistent touring DJ. His success has afforded him the luxury to play when and where he wants, and do it with serious intention. His appearance at the Day for Night festival in Houston offers sublime evidence. (Note: Aphex Twin’s set doesn’t start until the 10:50 mark.)
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry: By 2016, James had mastered the art of controlling the dance floor, and his visit to Field Day in London finds him moving through both bangers and ambient works, shooting out sound waves that seem to simultaneously attack and caress the eardrums.
Full set from Coachella in 2019, mastered by a user who worked hard to clean up the recording by in order to, he writes in the notes, “spread out the sound … some fan recorded live stuff is very high on treble and the sound hits you all in the frontal lobe of your brain – this I remastered in my car so I could hear how it spread through my car speakers – I did what I think is a good job eliminating the crowd to a degree but not eliminating them completely.” Agreed.
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