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A Look Back at Aphex Twin & Grant Wilson-Claridge’s Rephlex Records

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The best record labels don’t just release music, they shape the culture around them as well. So was the case with Rephlex Records. Founded in Cornwall, UK in 1991 by Grant Wilson-Claridge and Richard D. James, whose innovative productions as Aphex Twin were just beginning to find an audience, Rephlex specialized in a playful, psychedelic take on the acid techno sound coming out of Chicago and Detroit. They even had a name for this unusual sub-genus: braindance.

More widely, this music became known as IDM, and throughout the 1990s, Rephlex seemed to work in parallel with the bigger, London-based independent Warp Records to sketch out the parameters of the genre. While high-profile Aphex Twin albums went to Warp, James used Rephlex as a home for work under his lesser-known pseudonyms, AFX and Caustic Window. Meanwhile, the pair worked to develop an idiosyncratic stable of artists, mixing up the likes of Detroit techno heavyweights Drexciya with releases by homegrown oddballs like Cylob, DMX Krew, and The Railway Raver.

Even early on, Warp Records had the feel of a brand, their crisp visual aesthetic and Designers Republic-designed sleeves giving them the sense of a mini-corporation.

By contrast, Rephlex felt like a more anarchic affair—psychedelic, humorous, and a little bit mysterious. “It was a very Cornish attitude,” says Mike Paradinas, aka µ-Ziq, who debuted on Rephlex with Tango N’Vectif in 1993.  “There were lots of aliases, a lot of misinformation, a lot of releases. Maybe this record was going to come out, maybe it wasn’t, maybe it didn’t exist—things like that.” But Rephlex had the feel of a collective endeavor, and when Paradinas set out to found his own label, Planet Mu, Rephlex offered a template of sorts. “Rephlex was always a little family,” he says. “They had an office in a flat on Arnos Road [in North London], and it was always nice to go over there—you’d have Rich and Grant, Cylob, Mike Dred, and Manny, their friend from Cornwall as well, who designs as Optigram. Everyone just there hanging out.”

After 23 years in business, Rephlex officially closed its doors in 2014. Rumors persisted that the label had been suffering from financial difficulties; as James told German magazine Groove that year, “It got to a point where I’d actually rather be [Grant’s] friend than be in business with him.” The closure of an idiosyncratic independent label like Rephlex can often be a sad thing: releases slip out of print, and the label gradually slides out of collective memory. But following Rephlex’s closure, all rights reverted to the artists, meaning many of the label’s best releases are now available on Bandcamp. Here are 10 of the best.

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