Last spring, Aphex Twin announced his first Berlin appearance in 15 years, which took place last night in the massive Shedhalle of the former GDR broadcasting centre Funkhaus Berlin.
The famously elusive artist has become increasingly present in recent years, with that iconic logo popping up in unexpected places – on surrealist billboards in London, New York and Hollywood. Originally announced as “Aphex Twin plus special guest”, the hotly anticipated, sold-out show eventually became something like a one-day festival, which is kind of what Berliners have come to expect for a ticket costing upwards of €60. With four hours of opening acts and an afterparty, it could have been called Daddy’s IDM and Acid Emporium, gathering Warp Records labelmate Luke Vibert, Detroit’s Dopplereffekt, Paradox, Skee Mask and Luca Lozano.
Before the main attraction, Paradox warmed up the crowd with a break-filled set – in the sense that it was breakbeat-heavy and sprinkled with interstitial announcements, IDing each track like a radio host and cracking jokes. Afterwards, with 30 minutes until the main attraction was scheduled to appear, the crowd was uncomfortably cramped in anticipation. “There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture.” These words from the 60s sci-fi series The Outer Limits were laid over the segue music. “We are controlling transmission.” Meanwhile, technicians fumbled with flashlights and cable spaghetti, as Richard D. James and his sidekick coolly took the stage and waited at the control panels. It seemed like a false start, but to be fair, takeoff was only a few minutes after the scheduled departure of 11pm, and from there, any turbulence was a feature, not a bug.
Over the past few years, Aphex Twin’s rare shows have been HD audio tapestries that mix reworked elements from his own back catalogue but mostly comprise current tracks by contemporary producers. Last night’s set featured recognisable work from artists such as Bicep, Lanark Artefax and Kamixlo, the Bala Club producer who has cropped up a few times across Aphex’s sets. In terms of his own productions, RDJ’s 90-minute set didn’t discernibly include anything from his Collapse EP, released in September, but there was a slowed-down version of Vordhosbn from 2001’s Druksq and something recognisable from 1994’s Analogue Bubblebath. Of course, Aphex fans are already doing their best to dissect the setlist over on Reddit.
If you didn’t mind frequent elbow jabs and were packed into the main radius of the soundsystem, the audio was absolutely pummelling while remaining well balanced. Further away, everything sounded, well, distant. A dozen projection screens, ranging in aspect ratio from square to rectangular, displayed an ever-mutating AFX logo and melty depictions of the producer’s face. The venue gave everything a warehouse rave vibe, but bolstered by a big budget.
The festival vibe, of course, comes with its downsides: waiting in a really long queue to pee, and getting separated from your friends. The bars were user-unfriendly by design, too, enforcing a cashless payment system in which you first needed to walk to another station to add credit to your ticket stub (in increments of €5), in order to be able to return to the bar to purchase a drink (priced at 4, 6 or 8 euros). Classic German efficiency! Still, all-in-all, the night offered a long-lasting, impressive audio-visual experience. The other fans I spoke with were mostly glad they got to experience the night, but also admitted that a big part of the appeal was the scarcity of the opportunity. Let’s face it, attending an Aphex Twin show is a good look for anyone’s résumé.