Tag Archives: Mike & Rich

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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Album of the Day: Mike & Rich, “Expert Knob Twiddlers”

This is turning out to be a great decade to be an Aphex Twin fan: In the past two years, we’ve been treated to four new records, the Kickstarter-enabled release of a lost Caustic Window LP from 1994, and a landslide of demos that the occasionally hermetic artist simply batch-dumped on SoundCloud. Now another 1994 recording comes to light: Expert Knob Twiddlers, Richard D. James’ playful collaboration with Planet Mu founder Mike Paradinas, aka µ-Ziq. Originally released on James’ Rephlex label in 1996, the album has been out of print for years, but Planet Mu is giving it the extensive reissue treatment, adding seven previously unreleased cuts to round out a double-CD or triple-LP package; all tracks have been remastered from the original DATs.

Anyone who still believes that electronic music takes itself too seriously has probably never encountered this particular album, the cover of which is designed to resemble the packaging for the classic Milton Bradley game Downfall; they even tweaked the MB Games logo to say “MR Games,” short for the duo’s one-off alias, Mike & Rich. The music follows suit: Recorded over three days and nights in James’ flat, the album often finds the two at their zaniest, indulging a yen for wonky disco, spy-movie music, and other kitschy hallmarks of the easy-listening revival of the mid ’90s. “Reg” pairs swinging ’60s backbeats with marimba and whistling; “Mr. Frosty” evokes a lonely student disco with fist-mashed keys and an icy, dissonant sheen.

It can be pretty puerile, even for James—the squelchy “Upright Kangaroo” is punctuated by actual belches—and it definitely ranks as a minor work in both artists’ respective catalogs. Still, it’s a worthy historic curio: For one thing, it marks one of the few occasions James has ever recorded with another artist. (Prior to his sessions with Paradinas, James had tried making music with Luke Vibert and a few other like-minded souls, but none of those tracks ever saw the light of day. Still, the sessions with Paradinas sound intense, and not only because they spent much of them drunk: “It was strange, the way we worked,” Paradinas told Melody Maker when the album was first released. “We didn’t talk a lot. We didn’t talk at all, in fact.”)

The best songs still sound exceptionally strange, even today; time has not tempered their weirdness. “Eggy Toast” is a woozy, brooding meditation in 7/4 time, the scabrous “Vodka” captures the duo’s noisiest impulses in full flower, and “The Sound of the Beady Eyes”—the title came to them while tripping on acid—is a meandering, brain-melting organ showcase that might be the closest either of these two ever got to jam-band territory. Better yet, this might be the rare occasion where the bonus material actually eclipses some of the original cuts: “Waltz,” in particular, unfurls a strangely moving chord progression as it notches up the distortion and delay—it’s as expressive as it is exploratory, in the finest Rephlex tradition.

Philip Sherburne