Day For Night, Houston, Texas

Aphex Twin broke his lengthy hiatus from the live stage over the weekend in the unlikely locale of Houston, Texas. Amidst the ruins of an abandoned post office complex, his Saturday night headlining set at Day for Night affirmed his status as arguably the best to ever do it.

Richard D. James kicked things off with demented laughter, a simple lullaby-like melody and Andy Stott’s Posers. He spent the first 30 or so minutes seemingly acknowledging his influence upon the electronic music community, and proving that he’s kept his ear to the streets during the time that he receded into the shadows. Touching upon a number of different vibes ranging from the experimental footwork of Jlin’s Erotic Heat to the kuduro thump of DJ Nigga Fox, he cycled through producers at a rapid-fire pace and chaotically mashed tracks together like Play-Doh.

A strong wind suddenly blew through the crowd as he moved into unmistakably AFX territory with Hedphelym – a few minutes later, the heavens opened up simultaneously with a savage bass line that was classic James. Pathetic fallacy in check, the turbulent trip through the mind of Aphex had fully begun.

Accompanied by typically on-brand visuals that moved from the iconic drawings of his face to glitchy footage of the crowd face-swapped with his devious grin, he delivered an astonishingly intense and cohesive peek into the seemingly endless archives of work that he has amassed secretly over the years. Save for some moments like a lovely, understated re-work of early career standout Polynomial-C and a track that recalled Druqks banger Meltphace 6, most of the material didn’t resemble much of his officially released work. 

Effortlessly gliding between dozens and dozens of tracks, James proved that he can easily conquer any and all styles of electronic music, while still retaining an unmistakably Aphex Twin sound. Precision-missile strikes of vicious jungle tracks were abruptly deployed in between raw 4-on-the-floor techno tunes with little regard for tempo; the most vaguely Skrillex sounding tracks that seemed like a tongue-out to American dubstep moments were replaced by sizzling hardstyle rhythms almost too quickly to process. After capping it all off with an abrasive noise wall that made My Bloody Valentine’s squall of abusive feedback seem like a joke, Richard stepped down from the booth looking as if he had enjoyed himself, and gave the crowd a wave and that cheeky smile on the way out.

The obviously painstaking attention James paid to the smallest details and flow of the set were readily apparent, and the idiosyncrasy of the man’s sound and vision made for a jaw-dropping display of art. This did not feel like a lazy moneymaking victory lap of an old legend, it felt more like the start of a new race entirely.