Within the past twenty years, the line that distinguishes marketing and guerrilla marketing has seemed to blur. Now with the aid of a few well placed tweets, maybe a political #rant, and if you’re lucky, a beef with a fellow artist, you too can mass market your album to the masses. But when did these occurrences become a guerrilla marketing tactic? They’re transparent in nature, usually spiking within a few months of the release date. How do they remain effective, in a world that was born being sold a product? What’s the underground marketing scheme when everything is an advertisement? It seems like Richard D. James is the only one actively pursuing this philosophy of pushing the boundaries. And with Aphex Twin’s latest release, Cheetah EP, the only answer to building hype is to deflate the hype.
Cheetah EP functions in two parts, mechanically working toward the same goal. The music offers a dialed down Aphex Twin, somewhat barebones in delivery. Relying heavily on the use of a few fuzzy synths, sporadic midi compositions, and his classic drum patterns, James has streamlined his approach to his craft. After the brilliantly layered contortions of Syro and the wall of free jazz acoustics on Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt. 2, a sleek and stylish album full of danceable tracks is perfect palette cleanser to a night of experimental fever dreams. But for a groove based record, James still requires his intense level to detail for his fans. The albums, while working its way to maintain its beautiful grooves, fits more at home in headphones. The record unravels all from its inception, highlighting every minute detail in a clean glow. “CHEETAH2 [Ld spectrum]” features the squelching of bright synths, shaking the digital dust from its rhythms, while “CHEETAH7b” layers the percussion in a triforce burst, while somewhat dated midi drums pitter-patter into a hollow emptiness. Hazy muted swells that waltz amid the upper register, casually forming a coating to the sticky drum patterns, remind of the same cold atmospheres that made Syro so transfixing. These two tracks, along with “CIRKLON3 [ Колхозная mix ]” and it’s reticulation of retro percussion and synth fills, are the muscle of the record, exercising the parts of James’ brain that haven’t been accessed since the Windowlicker era. The rest of the EP, however, is exploring the same ground that he’s covered countless times. The two interludes are interesting, but fill the gap between the core tracks that comprise Cheetah EP. Additionally the final two tracks offer obnoxiously straightforward songs, focusing on a pastiche of the 80’s over the emotions. As simple as these songs are, their vanilla nature is a double edged sword, diluting the noise of James past works while also standing somewhat flat in order to do so.
The second function of Cheetah EP is its marketing. Marking the beginning of the resurrection that was Syro, a chartreuse blimp marked with 2014, along with Aphex logos and buzz, ushered in a new era of James’ career. The details were puzzling, being discovered on the Tor browser and then ramped up into hysteria. How do you follow that up, without losing the essence of what made it successful? James’ answer parallels the music of Cheetah EP; he stripped the marketing to its bare functions. A vintage album ad along with artwork that reincarnates the music hardware company of Cheetah Marketing is the most standard and overtly tame James’ has been. Almost like a parody of himself, he’s relied on the standard to remain innovative, something his contemporaries have also used to success. But the oversimplification of mind and body has lessened the overall experience of Cheetah EP. The music is entertaining and the style feels classic, but it lacks the auteur nature that defines witnessing the release of Aphex Twin material.
Horny. I’m feeling really horny about it. And very smug … I’m in that mode now, so hopefully I’ll stay in it for a while … I’ve got a few more things planned—at least a couple more albums, some EPs, things like that. Some more dance-y things I did about 10 years ago. Experimental things, noise things, weird things. Shitloads of stuff. They’re all pretty much ready to go.
cheers people, just wanted to put out some chilled solid jams that I really like, helps diffuse the hype around me a bit, plenty of time for dropping some future bangers, don’t want the paparazzi camping outside my fucking house right now.
These two quotes represent the huge difference in approach Richard D. James can have in the way he views his albums’ cycles and the way he views his music. The first quote is during ground zero, Syro had dropped, a Rolling Stone interview bolstered his mainstream credibility, and the world was James’. The second quote can be found on Soundcloud, from user18081971. It’s a more humbling and exposing look at James, and surprisingly intimate. While both quotes reveal his work ethic and intention to release something akin to Cheetah EP, the second makes this release more enjoyable. His level of comfort and casual interaction with fans markets this album as 100% Aphex Twin without adding to the dying fire of “guerrilla marketing”. Instead, a few solid tracks that show James hasn’t lost his touch; he’s aware that these “jams” are there to make the time between albums bearable. Through non-marketing he still garnered hype, and though a subdued EP he still created something that is “classic” Aphex Twin.
– T. Pennington