Saturday, 15 October 2016

Oliver: The Aphex Twin - Digeridoo (22 February 1992)

"See, the problem is, the rest of the country thinks Britain stops at Plymouth" - every Cornish resident ever.

I loved living in Cornwall and was thrilled to grow up there.  While I always knew that there was something "other" about the place in relation to the rest of the UK, I was never a separatist.  Neither were many other people who lived there.  The quote at the top of the post was a fairly standard burst of frustration from a population that felt it was in a mutually distant relationship with the rest of the country.  Geographically this was unavoidable, but a lot of the time it felt like we were being left to rot in terms of wider British culture.  The Sex Pistols coming down to Penzance in secret was ancient history by the time I was a teenager. Not only were bands not coming down any more, but no one in Cornwall's music scene seemed to be getting onto the front page of the NME. I still remember feeling  a sense of indignation when Rootjoose, who were the band most tipped to break out from Cornwall got an album released and reviewed in Q magazine and were rewarded with a one star review.  Even Scatman John did better than that.

But that was 1997 and I was still a few years off realising that one man, originally based in Lanner, a granite strewn thoroughfare of a place between Falmouth and Redruth, had broken out and shaken things up massively in his field.  I just hadn't heard of him then, or I'd seen those fucked up pieces of sleeve art and hurried on to other things.

Richard D. James aka (The) Aphex Twin is without doubt Cornwall's best and most important contribution to British music of the last half-century.  He had been making his own records for a year previous to Peel playing Digeridoo on 22/2/92, which according to the John Peel wiki was the first time Peel had played him.  Peel loved the record but wondered how anyone could dance to it given its frenetic pace, up to 150 bpm.  He was unaware that James had recorded the track, almost to order from some of his friends who had been staging raves, as a floor clearer to get recalcitrant ravers to go home at the end of a long night.  Apparently, this track doesn't actually feature any digeridoos on it.  Nevertheless, there's a true sense of space and openness in it.  An aural Outback of shimmering heat haze and blood red sun, slowly rising.  You'll notice that the beat never fully drops, as you would expect from a piece of music designed to send its listeners out into the daylight after an evening's excess.  But it's that sense of anticipation, never fully realised, that makes this track so compelling.  Later described by Rolling Stone magazine as a formative influence in the birth of drum 'n' bass, this may well have been the most important record that Peel played all year.

I'd love to tell you of stories where I spent my teens/early 20s hanging out with Aphex Twin, dancing to his sets across the Cornish club scene, but it never happened.  Nevertheless, it gladdens my soul that if anyone was ever to say, "Cornwall did nothing for contemporary music", I could point out Aphex Twin and there would be no comeback to it.

For the definitive word on Aphex Twin and Cornwall's role in his music, I urge you to read this splendid piece by Laura Snapes.

Q seemed to hold their version of this song against them for some reason:

Videos courtesy of HouseMaster75 (The Aphex Twin) and Darren Curgenven (Rootjoose).

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