Re-appraising Drukqs by Aphex Twin

Drukqs album cover detail

I was 15 when Drukqs came out, and I had just begun my voyage of discovery into the world of Warp Records and other experimental, electronic music. Drukqs was the first Aphex Twin record I heard. I actually won my copy on a radio competition.

It was unlike anything I had heard before. If I wasn’t sure what to expect, I at least had some pre-conceptions.

I did not expect to hear the album opener Jynweythek Ylow, with its gently clattering, off-kilter prepared piano.

The second track is chalk and cheese — Vordhosbn with its multi-layered skittery beats and searing dark melodies.

The album continues as such across two CDs, switching disorientatingly from one extreme style to another. That fact alone made it one of the most interesting albums I’d ever heard. I’m still not quite sure whether it works, or if Drukqs would have been better as three separate albums — one for the prepared piano works, one for the ambient tracks, and one for the more hyperactive drill and acid tracks.

At the same time, I was curious to see the lukewarm reception to the album from fans and critics alike. It’s still probably my favourite Aphex Twin album. But then again, I was that age when Drukqs came out. Almost all of my favourite albums are from 2001.

Monkey Drummer by Chris Cunningham, featuring an extract of Mt Saint Michel + Saint Michaels Mount from Drukqs

Oli Warwick has written “in celebration” of Drukqs. He makes an interesting point about the criticism of Drukqs at the time:

It’s also worth considering the culture of music criticism at the time Drukqs came out. [Aphex Twin, Richard D] James had a relatively clean sheet up to that point – no matter how much he baited his audience, larked about or simply made a racket, praise was foisted upon him by electronica disciples, but not even the acid jesus with a devilish grin was immune from the scythe of popular music reviews. This was a time of idols being built up over an album or two, only to be dragged back down when they’d outstayed their welcome.

He also notes the contrast to his more recent releases, which have received widespread acclaim. For me, the Collapse EP in particular was slightly disappointing, and seemed to re-hash old Aphex ideas. That is what Drukqs is accused of, but it doesn’t seem true to me. But maybe that’s because Drukqs was a totally fresh experience for me.

Drukqs is a bit of a mess. So much so, that some suspect it was designed to get him out of his deal with Warp.

Perhaps the negative reaction to Drukqs is what stopped Aphex Twin releasing another album for 13 years. When that album, Syro, came out, he was interviewed by Rolling Stone, one of the publications that savaged Drukqs. On releasing new music, he said:

To be honest, I thought, “Who’s even interested anymore?” When Warp was really interested, I was like, “Really? Is this a joke or something?”

For me, Drukqs is still the most important Aphex Twin album. Partly, yes, because it was the first one I heard. But also because it genuinely contains some of his most incredible tunes (Afx237 v.7 is probably still my favourite Aphex Twin track). And, with his computer-controlled prepared piano pieces, it saw him exploring genuinely new territory.

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