Mystery in music is becoming worryingly seldom seen in an ever transparent world in which the distance between the artist and their fanbase is closer than ever before. The cloak of intrigue is hard to find when you only need to open your phone to see what your favourite talents have eaten for breakfast. It is this notion that makes somebody like Aphex Twin even more of an enigma.
Nobody outside of his friends or family know who the real Aphex Twin is. They might have their suspicions, but sometimes falling for the mystique that Richard David James has built around his pseudonym is more intriguing than the truth — a reason why he has gone out of his way to forge this universe surrounding his creation.
Aphex has told a string of lies about his personal life throughout his career, making it almost impossible to spot the fact from the fiction. To truly appreciate the Aphex Twin experience, you need to suspend your disbelief and switch off from everything in your being that is forcing you to trust intuition.
What we do know for sure about James is that he was born in Ireland but raised in the idyllic surroundings of Cornwall. He claims to have started producing music at 14, after being influenced by the acid house scene that was wildly popular in his area growing up, and from then, his musical journey began.
Although, he claims to have won a music competition when he was 11, messing around by retuning the signals in an early home computer. James said he won £50, giving him his first realisation of his undeniable musical powers. However, one of his fans did some digging to discover the winner was Garry N. Owen. When you tell such innocent white lies like this, just what else has Aphex Twin bent the truth on?
His home situation is a much-speculated one, although his sister Julie James is a Welsh Labour politician recently appointed as climate change minister. In 2014, Aphex revealed he was now living in Scotland with his two sons from his first marriage and his second wife, which seems innocuous enough to be true.
Meanwhile, the name Aphex Twin takes on significantly more meaning once you learn about his stillborn older brother, Richard, who died three years before the electronic artist was born. James said he was named after his brother, and suddenly, the ‘Twin’ in his moniker makes sense.
“My mum was so upset about it when he died that she kept his name on but forgot about him, thinking ‘The next boy I have, that’ll be him,'” James disclosed in a 1996 interview. “So I sort of took his place as if he didn’t exist.”
James even used a photo of his brother’s gravestone for his cover work in the past, allegedly in Canada. However, many believe this sorrowful tale is an elaborate lie. Although this narrative seems too far across the line for James to falsify, the beauty of Aphex Twin is that nothing is off-limits, whether that’s sonically or in an interview.
It’s easy to comprehend the doubts regarding the validity of his brother’s story. After all, Aphex once thanked lucid dreaming for his creative process and has claimed on multiple occasions that he’s perfected the method to a degree where he just wakes up with songs implanted in his mind. James once told Loaded Magazine, “I used to go to bed just to write songs, but now I just sleep and occasionally wake up with a new one by mistake. At the moment I’m getting into inventing things in my sleep instead”.
When you have repeatedly spouted utter nonsense like that, it’s almost impossible to take anything the Cornwall native says on face value. Yet, in a time when musicians have never been more vanilla – too scared to put a foot wrong to avoid a social media witch hunt – something is endearing about James’ commitment to carry on with the absurd charade.
For close to 30 years, Aphex Twin has been confusing the life out of people with his cloak of secrecy and elaborate bullshit. His intergalactic brand of music lends itself to his capricious behavioural patterns, and the mystery of Aphex Twin should remain unsolved for eternity.
We don’t need to know about which boxset he is currently devouring on Netflix or his thoughts on other such tribal matters; he is part of a dying breed of artists who are intentionally oblique and distant to anything that exists outside of their music. James’ aloof public persona somehow makes for a paradisal match for his pioneering brand of music, and something wouldn’t feel right if he ever completely dropped his suit of armour.