Aphex Twin’s innovation and influence extends far beyond IDM. His music videos, particularly the trio he created in collaboration with Chris Cunningham, are some of the most creative works in the format. Claire Lobenfeld talks to Dawn Richard, aka D∆WN, one of today’s most interesting music video artists, about what made those iconic clips so special.
Music television may not be where you’re getting your music videos these days, but the form is hardly dead. Artists like Grimes, Gorillaz and Run the Jewels are keeping the format alive and elevating it to new places. Dawn Richard, aka D∆WN, is particularly dedicated to the craft, not just as an artist that is, alongside Björk, at the forefront of VR — she’s a student of the science, too. (Seriously, she paid her way to Sundance’s New Frontier program just to study the technology.)
Who better, then, to parse through parts of Aphex Twin’s remarkable visual output than her? Richard, who fell in love with the work of video director Chris Cunningham (Madonna’s ‘Frozen’, Björk’s ‘All is Full Of Love’) when she saw what he had created with AFX for ‘Rubber Johnny’, says: “I remember looking at it and feeling it was almost like watching a horror film and I loved it.”
Richard knows that Aphex Twin’s mark on music isn’t just limited to the tunes, too. “The cover of the ‘Windowlicker’ single, the uncomfortable smile with the beard? Genius. He forced people to give a shit about their album covers,” she says. “With ‘Rubber Johnny’, I wanted to know, who was designing this to make this make sense? I know nobody’s running around with long faces like this. Who is behind the camera? Who’s designing the story?”
From gender-bending to visual distortion, D∆WN breaks down her take on Aphex Twin’s Chris Cunningham-directed clips (with GIFS!).
‘Come To Daddy’ (1997)
“Aphex Twain was taking it way beyond what we expect a video to be. That’s how I gained my respect for him.”
“They were fearless. There were artists like Soundgarden and other rock bands that were pushing the limit. We knew what Aphex Twin sounded like, but I think visually, that marriage pioneered a different vibe for electronic music.”
“[‘Windowlicker’] changed, to me, the face of what electronic music looked like and it brought it to a whole other level.”
“Each step that Chris Cunninghamn took with artists, he was moving toward robotics and the distillation of movement, going into that level. What I appreciate is my sense that they were taking it beyond the aesthetics of just the linear.”
“If you think about where we are now, just accepting people looking different, I think they were ahead of their time.”
‘Rubber Johnny’ (2005)
“‘Rubber Johnny’ was one of the ones that was so gnarly for me. I remember my mom walking in and being taken aback. It was my first time realizing that videos could be taken to that kind of level. I knew Missy and Björk were pushing boundaries and had seen videos like Busta Rhymes and Janet Jackson’s ‘What’s It Gonna Be’, but I didn’t understand the possibilities of how far you could take a visual until I saw this one.”
“He always showed people in a distorted form. It felt like they were trying to show a different form of human.”
“The videos made me want to understand shape and form. I wanted to see how I could do that. How was it molded, how was it done? And that led me to the question: Who’s the director?”
Claire Lobenfeld is on Twitter