There’s an undeniable romance attached to the music of Richard D. James. Aphex Twin coined a sound in the 90s that refused to sit in any one genre. Techno. House. Electro. Acid. IDM. The Rephlex co-founder cultivated a mystery around himself. Ducking and diving between monikers, adopting pseudonyms and nom de plumes as he skipped between labels. I remember the excitement of uncovering his hidden catalog, finding out that both Gak and Bradley Strider were actually Mr. James. Solvent, Jason Amm, experienced that same exhilaration recently. I caught up with the self confessed Aphex addict and Suction Records man for a chat and to hear the tale of a possible new Aphex Twin alias unearthing.
Igloo :: So how is all going? Tell us about what Suction have been doing of late?
Solvent :: I am doing well, thanks!
I’ve recently teamed up with a long-time Suction fan and friend named David, to help run the label with me. We have a few new releases coming up, including a new split 12″ of classic Suction-style melodic electro from June and Lowfish (first new Lowfish music to be released in several years), and the second volume of our reissue/remix series by an old EBM project from Toronto called Digital Poodle—this one will include remixes by Manie Sans Délire, and a really killer remix by Adam X!
But our main concentration for the label has been with RX-101, since we’re planning to release a load of material from Erik’s incredible archive. There was so much to go through, and I really wanted all of the EP’s and albums to be really perfectly compiled and with a uniform series look to the artwork, so we’ve spent a lot of time trying to get this right. This first batch of EP1, EP2 and Like Yesterday is really only a small taste of RX-101’s sound… it’s a bit like a sampling of all of the best eras of early-90s Rephlex/AFX-style electronic genres, from SAW2′s-style ambient to Caustic Window-style metallic industrial techno… the next RX-101 12″ coming early-2017 (EP3) will be pure Universal Indicator-style filthy acid.
Igloo :: Where did you find RX-101?
Solvent :: Being a huge fan of Aphex Twin, especially his early/mid-90s material, I got really swept up in the excitement when he started uploading hundreds of old unreleased tracks to his user18081971 Soundcloud account last year. It was so satisfying and amazing to hear all of these unreleased tracks from that special era of Aphex’s career – for me it was the height of his musical talent and creativity. Richard uploaded so many great tracks there that were absolutely top-notch material – it satisfied a real musical craving I’d had for many years. In addition to that, there was a lot of strange and mysterious behavior associated with that Soundcloud page—like he was commenting with some interesting and sometimes cryptic messages, and it also seemed like he was using other Soundcloud accounts. It was difficult to tell what things Richard was responsible for or not.
Anyway, so with me being a serious Aphex fan and nerd for this kind of stuff, I began to follow some threads on an Aphex fan forum called We Are The Music Makers (WATMM.com), and one of them was all about these different mysterious Soundcloud accounts. I started checking those out too, and some of them were pretty good, but to me it was clear that none of them really sounded convincingly like Aphex, and also, most of them were doing either Analord-style, or that hyper drum-and-bass style that Aphex has been doing so much since the late-90s.
However, eventually I came across one Soundcloud page on there under the name “Erik” and this time I was convinced that this could actually be another page of Richard’s. There was over 100 tracks and the quality level was just mind-blowing. To be really honest, I think there were actually a higher number of killer tracks on this Erik page than on Aphex’s user18081971 Soundcloud, and that is not a claim that I would make lightly.
This stuff was covering so many of the early-90s Aphex/Rephlex styles, and not only that—these didn’t sound like modern recreations like all of the other pages being discussed—there was tape hiss and the sound was absolutely authentic of that era when it was all about hardware synths and drum machines, cheap noisy FX units, and live-in-1-take arrangements. This authenticity is a huge part of what makes RX-101 so special to me.
I decided, whether this is Aphex himself or not, that I should send a message to this Soundcloud account and ask if we could do some releases on Suction. Immediately Erik replied. I have to admit that at first, I was wondering if at some point Erik would reveal himself to me to be Richard—that’s honestly how convinced I was about some of these tracks! But now I know that Erik is really a guy from the Netherlands who happened to record a treasure trove of best Rephlex style music of all time, and he did it all in just 2 years. I still can’t believe that he made such amazing music and that he never sent it to any labels before, and that it’s been sitting in a box of cassette tapes for nearly 20 years. I’m so proud to have been a part of bringing this music out for people to hear.
Igloo :: What has this sound got to say in our modern times, has the message changed?
Solvent :: Well, I think when Aphex and Rephlex was releasing this kind of music in the early-90s, it was a radically new sound, totally alien and fresh, and while that may not still be the case in 2016, I think this sound has stood the test of time and essentially it’s a timeless sound. It’s also a style that virtually nobody is producing or releasing nowadays; I mean, there are some “IDM” records being released still, but not with this special, authentic early-90s sound and vibe. There’s simply not a lot of this style out there in the world – the thing about this sound is that it got cut short in the late-90s by two things: First, when drum and bass and finally Squarepusher came along, it seemed that everyone who was making this style of music, including Aphex, jumped ship and suddenly was only making this hyper complex stuff that became more about skill or technique than about groove or melody, to my ears. Personally that is the point when I lost interest in the “IDM” genre and most of the producers on labels like Rephlex, Warp, and Skam who had made such great stuff before…. Second thing is, in the late-90s, this is when computers started to really become serious tools for the audio side of producing electronic music – so this is when this very digital, software synth sound also took over the genre, and most areas of electronic music. It totally changed the sound of nearly all electronics that was released for a long time—almost everyone switched to this sterile, super-clean and digital laptop/plug-in/softsynth sound, which I personally always hated. One of the biggest things that I love about so much early ’90s electronic music is the fact that it was recorded with hardware synths, samplers, fx, etc—tools with a lot more character, warmth, and also, importantly, limitations.
Igloo (Robbie) :: Ok, so it wasn’t Richard D. James; it was someone totally new and unheard, it was RX-101. We spoke about his braindance inspired sound, his love of UK electronics and his decision, some decades later after its creation, to release his music.
Igloo :: Where exactly in The Netherlands are you from?
RX-101 :: I was born and raised in Zwaag and I still live there.
Igloo :: What drew you to the braindance style of the Rephlex in the first place?
RX-101 :: As a kid I was fascinated by synthesizers and I always liked dance music. I’ve had organ lessons for about five years when I was 9 years old, so in a way it’s kind of logical that I started to make music myself someday. Since the late 80’s I started to listen more and more to Techno and House music, but in the end I liked Detroit Techno the most. In time I came in contact with Electronic music from England like Aphex Twin, the Warp label (in particular their Artificial Intelligence series) and also Rephlex. Especially the older stuff on Rephlex was very inspiring.
Igloo :: You made these EP’s in the late 90s, can you tell us about your equipment set up?
RX-101 :: I was a student and I didn’t have much money. With the money I saved up through part-time jobs and summer jobs I was able to buy some equipment. It took me about 4 years to build up a small studio in my bedroom. It consisted mostly of Roland stuff like a 101, 303, 808 and Juno synth and some other stuff like a Yamaha FM synth and an Akai sampler. I used an Atari for sequencing. Everything came together on a small mixer with an Quadraverb fx unit plugged in to it. I didn’t have the money for monitor speakers or other gear like compressors and stuff like that. All recordings were made on cassette, directly from the mixer into the cassette deck. Because of these limitations I wasn’t always happy with the final result of a track, but maybe that was also the charm of this recording method.
Igloo (Robbie) :: And each EP is brimming with a raw hardware edge, both akin to turning back the clock to those halcyon days of Analogue Bubblebath and Joyrex. The thump and unsettling vocals of “The Tunnel” are like a forgotten gem from Caustic Window. Other pieces, such as “Bloom Pt 1” and “Bloom Pt 2,” are much mellower; growing from a burgeoning electronica scene. There are echoes of other Rephlex favorites in here, the warming analogue compositions of D’Arcangelo in “Morning Glory” for instance or the gentle beauty of Bochum Welt in “If I Could Ever Get…” There’s a decent amount of punishment in here too, the Universal Indicator testosterone of “Sys.rx.9.a06” for example. But it’s maybe too easy to get hung-up on the past. In spite of their influences, and similarities with greatness, EP1 and EP2 and simply cracking works of electronic music.
Igloo :: Did you, and if not why not, try to release this music at the time of its production?
RX-101 :: Actually, no. If you wanted to send music to a label, it often went through DAT tapes. I didn’t have a DAT recorder and I didn’t want to buy one. I would rather buy a new synth instead of that. Actually I found it all too much hassle.
Igloo :: Are you still making music?
RX-101 :: Yes, but not very much to be honest. Since a while I started making music again. I did not make music for years. I lost the drive to make music, but my interest for synths and electronic music equipment has remained. In the years that I didn’t make music I bought a lot of synths (and also sold a lot) and I played a lot with it, but it never came to a track. I must confess that I would like to make tracks again now, but we’ll see what time brings.
Igloo :: The Netherlands has always been a hotbed of electronic music, what are your feelings about Hollands contributions both past and present? What are some of your other musical influences?
RX-101 :: To be honest, I’m not into the electronic music of nowadays very much, in general, but there is definitely a lot of good music released by Dutch artists or record labels in the past. Someone I appreciate very much is Speedy J. But there are also other artists from the Netherlands that I like very much: Funckarma, Orlando Voorn and PWOG. Overall my focus was more on foreign artists and record labels.
Together with my brother I listened in the early 80’s to several Dutch radio programs where there was much focus on dance music from that era. Disco, Italo, Electro, stuff like that. We also listened a lot to mixes and remixes made by Ben Liebrand, a famous dutch mixer and remixer. This period has been very decisive for my future musical direction. I also have listened to some hip hop, but eventually I found hip hop less interesting. Actually there was not so many other music that I liked. I never listened to guitar music for example. Music with lyrics I never found so interesting. I never listen to what is being sung. For example, when I listened to hip hop I always listened to the beats, samples and sounds. Later in life (after 2000) I started to listen to other music, but I’m going back to electronic music more and more now.
Igloo :: Why have you decided, now after all this time, to release this music? How do you feel about this music finally being released?
RX-101 :: It’s been more of a coincidence that my music is released. I never had any plans with it. I saved my tapes for years in a box and a couple of years I found that box when I cleaned up my attic. In the past I had some plans to make my tapes digital, but that never happened. I decided to start with that almost immediately. It was very nice to listen to my tracks a again after such a long time. Some tracks I almost forgot. After a while I decided to upload about 15 tracks to my Soundcloud account and I placed a link to it on a Dutch website. About a year later I continued to upload more tracks and at one time I uploaded more than 100+ tracks. I also placed a link on the WATMM forum. In the end I received a message from Jason that he was interested in my music and so I got in touch with Suction Records. I’m very happy that my music will be released after all these years and I really appreciate it Suction has given me this opportunity.
When I was 16, it was a dream of mine to release my own music. I don’t know exactly why, but later that dream faded slowly. When I started making tracks, I actually had no plans in that direction. I just wanted to make music for fun. I didn’t upload my tracks on Soundcloud to be discovered by a label or something, but it’s really great that Suction will release a lot of my tracks. It feels a bit like a dream that came true after all these years. I’m very happy with it and I’m very proud.
Igloo :: Is this the start of a beautiful friendship?
RX-101 :: I hope so. Since the first message I received from Jason, we have a very good contact and I’m very happy with that. It’s a bit strange to release music on a label at the other side of the world while I have never met the people from this label, but it’s great that the internet makes this possible.
Igloo (Robbie) :: I remember going up to Dublin with my mother as a teenager. Back to her home town. I’d visit granddad, get some lunch and buy a few CDs. I Care Because You Do. Richard D. James. Analogue Bubblebath 3. I remember the first time listening to them and getting physical chills. It could be nostalgia, a harking back to youth and simpler times, but those same tingles went through me on hearing RX-101. He’s not Aphex Twin, but he’s arguably more exciting; an unknown artist with a wealth of quality music molded during the age of electronics, definitely sounds exciting to me.
Visit Suction Records at www.suctionrecords.com.