The last time Aphex Twin played in London was at Field Day in 2017, and the last time he played a London club set was in 2009 at Matter – a venue that no longer exists. It’s no wonder then that his show at Printworks, which serves as part of Red Bull Music Festival’s first London edition, is sold out.
The atmosphere on the grounds feels suitably momentous, as though the city is ready for Aphex’s first club show in the city in a decade. In the long and narrow layout of Printworks, four suspended LED screens move vertically above the full-capacity crowd, each moving independently of the other. Regular AFX collaborator Weirdcore is in charge of the visuals and as Aphex begins, his unmistakable logo flashes up on the bank of nine screens behind him, swirling and mutating in time with the music.
The set is being streamed live (the same was done at Field Day), but this time a roving camera is in the venue following audience members and getting up close to their faces. There are also cameras set up throughout the venue, CCTV style – you can see what’s happening in the smoking area and on the main stairway entrance. Intermittently, faces of the crowd, many of them wearing Aphex Twin merch, appear on screen before contorting via Weirdcore’s handiwork.
Sonically Aphex Twin explores 90s rave flavours, much to the delight of the dancers inside. There’s breaks, acid, a dose of piano house, jungle, d’n’b and hardcore with softer moments thrown in for good measure. The elusive producer reaches for more modern cuts too, with Zuli’s 2018 track Trigger Finger resonating particularly well with the audience, and amongst AFX’s wide spectrum of experimental electronics.
Deeper into the set the visuals take on a surrealistic quality as various celebrities and public figures are given the Syro treatment. Much like the press shot of Aphex that was circulated upon the album’s release, faces are folded so that the nose disappears, giving emphasis to the eyes and mouth. Audience members transform into Mr Blobby, Art Attack’s Neil Buchanan, Jeremy Kyle, Love Island’s Amber Gill, Gemma Collins, Keith Lemon, Ant and Dec, Piers Morgan, Alan Sugar, Ian Beale, Del Boy and Rodney and Queen Elizabeth II. When Boris Johnson flashes up on the screen, the crowd boos instinctively.
Just when you think the set is ending, a Reese bassline comes in and a huge roar erupts from the crowd. There’s a delayed joy when people realise their faces are projected on to the screens around the venue, like some sort of rave kiss cam. Rainbow-coloured lasers permeate the space, reaching high into the exposed metalwork of Printworks.
The smiles on the audience’s wide-eyed faces are evident in part thanks to the visuals (apart from those wearing surgeon-style AFX masks). In line with his legacy, Richard D James has delivered yet another masterclass. An Aphex Twin club set certainly is a rare treat in London; hopefully we won’t have to wait another 10 years for the next one.