When this album was originally released, its eccentric creator, who’d already become a revered figure in electronic music thanks to his ‘Selected Ambient Works’ and mindbending tracks like ‘Windowlicker’, didn’t go out of his way to sell it.
Richard D. James – in his words, ‘just some irritating, lying, ginger kid from Cornwall who should have been locked up in some youth detention centre, but managed to escape and blag it into music’ – initially claimed that the 30 tracks that made up this album’s 100 minutes were only released because he accidentally left an MP3 player on a plane and didn’t want the tracks to be leaked on the Internet. He gave very few interviews, some of which were downright weird. All the track titles were written in Cornish or just downright unintelligible garble-speak, the pieces themselves were an unbalanced mix of pleasant piano pieces and atonal drum and bass… oh, and did I mention the length?
‘Drukqs’ was maligned by the critics, but has gone on to claim a cult status veering on the iconic, not just in electronic music circles, but among other types of music lovers. I’ve had two music teachers who, upon asking me what music I’m into, and me saying I like artists such as Aphex Twin, have mentioned ‘Drukqs’ and waxed lyrical on how much they love the album too. And for the record, they were both jazz pianists first and foremost.
Made on a laptop years before the technology became efficient enough for it to be less of an impractical novelty, the album has been sampled by Kanye West, introduced a new generation to the avant-garde composers such as John Cage and Erik Satie that influenced the album (particularly Cage’s prepared piano technique, which I first became aware of thanks to its use here), and the track ‘Avril 14th’ in particular has become subtly ingrained in popular culture, as a reliably thought-provoking and contemplative piece for film endings such as that of ‘Four Lions’.
But more importantly, it’s an incredible work of art. ‘Drukqs’ may belong, and jarring, but these qualities help define it and set it apart. The production and sound design have a grainy, wooden quality at times, but again this adds to the character, and the overall sound and musicianship on display remain as impressive as ever, with every drum break and synth being painstakingly programmed to perfection. In fact, with its samples of James’ real-life parents wishing him a happy birthday (see ‘Lornaderek’), this album feels like an incredibly personal and introspective glimpse into the man’s mind, even with its lack of vocals or obvious subject matter. Crucially, James’ sense of melody, always incredibly strong, is on top form here, with tracks like ‘Saint Michaels Mount’, ‘Meltphace 6’ and ‘Jynweythek’ never failing to stir the heart. But if you like a banger, you’ll be satisfied by ’54 Cymru Beats’ or ‘Cock/Ver10’.
If you ask me, this is Aphex Twin’s best collection of music, and if you are into music and haven’t heard this, you owe it to yourselves to rectify that soon…