FORWARDS is one of the latest festivals to join Bristol’s inner-city circuit. It boasts a ridiculously simple two-stage set-up hosting cutting-edge creatives and heritage music acts - a ripe place for Aphex Twin whose genre-defining sound has been at the forefront of electronica for 30 years. Richard David James hasn’t performed in Bristol since 2006 - but his penchant for audio-visual convergence was celebrated with a magnitude of familiarity.
Aphex’s discography is not up for debate. His Selected Ambient series was the defining statement of Warp’s early years - a spotlight which illuminated the work of ‘IDM’ allies such as Autechre and Squarepusher. A rising tide lifts all boats. His live performances, on the other hand, tend to divide opinion. Some like it. Some don’t. Some believe it borders on humorous or satirical.
Much like his showing at Field Day in August, Aphex Twin’s set was relentless, transfiguring and sensory-straining. The music moved at breakneck speed through skittering acid-laden techno and ear-piercing noise, to a surprise dubstep joint from little-known Indiana producer, Nullboy.
The visuals - handled by London-based AV artist Weirdcore - were hyperreal and glitchy, like AI interpreting a tectonic computer crash. From overlapping stills of analog hardware to a myriad of celebrity faces given the ‘Windowlicker’ treatment, you could slowly feel your brain pulverised to a pulp the more you looked. And we all did look more.
Oscar Wilde wrote in his 1889 essay ‘The Decay of Lying’ about how art affects the way we observe the world around us. I know... such an exhausted and meta platitude. But as the waning moon hung over a crowd of more than 20,000, many brain-trained by blue light to stay engaged, we always are, and Aphex Twin’s set can be both deprecating and satirical because it’s an apt commentary on the digital age, internet culture and information overload - art imitating life.
The crowd erupted as curtains called a brief moment of dead silence on a stage that had rang with artillery fire. Aphex Twin stepped away from his rotated square booth and thanked the audience - you can tell he enjoyed that one.