For those of you not familiar with the music or the many monikers of Richard D. James (and if you clicked on this link I hope to God you are), let me run down the night in phases of his first non-festival show on U.S. soil in over two decades at Brooklyn’s Avant Gardener.
Phase 1: crossing the Williamsburg Bridge into Brooklyn, a typical venture for any New Yorker venturing out to see a show in Brooklyn. But the further east your car goes, you suddenly find yourself in what looks like the sticks of the borough. There was nothing around in the area that wasn’t a strip club, a warehouse, or a chop shop. Eventually, I’m spit out in front of what looks like one of these abandoned warehouses, on a street completely occupied by semi-trucks.
Phase 2: Regardless if you came solo or meeting up with a friend you haven’t spoken to in years because you had no one else to buy your extra ticket, you wade your way into the space. You grab some drinks, have a smoke, and wait for the music to start. Normal routine for any show.
Phase 3: Opener Aïsha Devi comes on, setting the scene with temporal displacement and more ambient down-tempo house. And it’s around this time that things start to feel like you’re not in Brooklyn anymore. You begin to see looks in people’s eyes, as if they were staring right through you, or maybe, seeing something within you. The lights get darker in palette, and just a little more saturated in the air. But before the main act, you try to hit the restroom one last time.
Phase 4: By the time you actually get in and out of the restroom, it feels as if you were transported into Enter the Void. It’s around here that everyone really begins to funnel in, not in an eager, bum-rushing the stage kind of way, but you get a feeling that you’re walking into something special. You’re boarding a spaceship with 3,000 other strangers around you, and none of you have a clue as to where you’re being taken. But you submit yourself. You are entering unknown territory, a masterwork mind-maze crafted by the mastermind Richard D. James.
Phase 5: You’re actually in a Kubrick film now, and if the end monologue of 2001: A Space Odyssey and the beginning music of The Shining that was playing overhead before him wasn’t enough to set the scene, the Aphex Twin logo finally begins to flicker its way onto the screens. Anticipation is high. Blood is pulsing. By now the trepidation is borderline unbearable, and Richard D. James is aware of this, as everyone begins to gather around the stage like a church alter. He starts off smooth and ambient, as electronic bubbles sizzle their way through the speakers, and the visuals on the LED screens fade in. Lift off. You are now entering the Stargate.
Phase 6: With customized New York visuals featuring cast photos of Seinfeld and Friends, and photos of quintessential New York bands like the Ramones, the Strokes, LCD, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs all blending into each other, you begin to lose all track of space and time. A synthesis begins to take place, as visuals and sound reverberate with one another, to the point where a chemical reaction occurs. You feel that chemical change happening inside you, your musical geography is actually being rearranged in your brain. House music dissolves into deep jungle, then bleeds into acid house, which fades into blistering drum ‘n bass. A whole new experience is created altogether.
Phase 7: Deep inside the mind melded spacecraft of this show, things actually start to unfold like a narrative film. Every image and frame at each point of each song was storyboarded, pre-cut, mixed, and edited executively. Screens are revealed within screens, light fixtures reveal themselves through the slits of the LED panels, as the stage keeps evolving.
Phase 8: If you haven’t carried yourself out yet to get a breather or an eye rest from the onslaught of lights and visuals smattered all over your face, you may have found yourself in a different part of the room. You don’t know how, you don’t know why, but that’s part of the raving experience altogether. Your body sways and wades the way RDJ commands you to. The music and lights take hold altogether, and operates on another level of consciousness where you just let every stimulation wash over you.
Phase 9: And then, it fizzles out. Cuts to black. Without warning. Just like a how a Gaspar Noé film would.
Going into the show, I had both high hopes, and also zero expectation of the world I was being transported to. One day after the first photo of a black hole was unveiled, we ourselves dived into the very next phase of that – seeing the un-seeable. I thought that being in the room with thousands of other strangers being blasted into space by a man who’s not only changed the game in more ways you can imagine, but also casts a shadow on just about every mainstream pop or electronic act today, would be pinch-yourself next-level unbelievable. But it wasn’t that – it was downright pinch-yourself, next level INSPIRING.
Phase 10: Oh what? The shows not over yet? There’s still someone playing music inside? You jet inside once more, entering the same space but with a different context, as acid house jungle beats still blare from all different directions. The show’s done though, right? Like Aphex Twin left already, didn’t he? That can’t still be him playing can it? The stage is too dark to see, and I can only make out a white male DJing in the shadows. It’s probably not him (Soundmurderer was billed after him, interestingly enough) but the sounds and lights are just too specific at points for it NOT to be him. Is it really him? The mastermind is still fucking with us long after the show’s over.
But the most special thing about last night was not the headlining act, but the fact that he made a whole night of it. It was probably the best move to have a post-show rave in the same space, because everyone that came to see Aphex Twin had already left. But everyone that came to hear the MUSIC of Aphex Twin, stayed, and basked in the warehouse spaceship still in orbit. RDJ had blasted us off, and now we’re just floating in space.
Have you ever wondered what makes concerts so memorable? The kind that, decades from now, teenagers will be buying replica tour t-shirts of at Target? Like they do today with Slayer, Led Zeppelin, and Maiden? Well, Richard D. James knows. He relishes in the company of fans and worshipers, because I’m sure at one time he himself was one as well. However, he has far transcended that status. For as long as we have our time on this Earth, Aphex Twin will be spoken in the same breath as Cronenberg, Noé, and Kubrick. But unlike those names, RDJ truly creates his own medium. One that stretches beyond the restraints of sight and sound.
Something that comes around like this can only be perfect in that specific point in time. Maybe that’s how he likes it, not putting too much salt on your food is always the best thing, because after a while, you don’t taste it anymore. However, for those going to Coachella in the coming weeks, I’m truly excited for you. But also, I’m sorry that you have to see it at Coachella. Because the RDJ warehouse experience was an event all in itself. But that’s a good thing though, I’m sure his festival experience will be an entirely different one in itself as well. I’ve heard that for years Goldenvoice has been trying to bring Aphex back to the U.S., often times turning down multi-million dollar deals. And for the ones who stuck it out for years for a moment to witness Him, I’m happy for you. You deserve it. However, Coachella, Mr. Richard D. James, does not deserve you.