Aphex Twin at Funkhaus Berlin

  • Richard D. James, playing the German capital for the first time since 2003, brings the house down.
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  • Earlier this morning, Richard D. James, AKA Aphex Twin, wrapped up his first set in Berlin in 15 years, performing to thousands at a former GDR broadcasting centre. The story of the night, though, began before Funkhaus opened its doors. Several last-minute announcements—first the confusing cashless system, then the full lineup and change of schedule—sent a corner of the internet into a tizz. Would James be DJing or playing live? Was it a club night or a sit-down concert? How would I get home once the tram stops running? For better or worse, the online furore got everyone talking. This wasn't the carefully orchestrated hype of a new Aphex Twin record, but it was hype all the same. For all the hand-wringing, the night went by relatively smoothly, though not everyone agrees. Aside from the bars and women's toilets, which were a scrum at peak-time, Shedhalle, a huge industrial space on the banks of the Spree, looked and felt the part—grand yet intimate. The lights were warm and electric, the sound good enough. Dopplereffekt were the first act to really test the system, doling out surgical techno and electro to a half-observant crowd. People paid more attention to Paradox, the veteran UK artist who James once called "his favourite drum programmer." It was partly his swagger on the mic—"I love this break!"—but mostly it was the stuttered stream of rich, rowdy jungle tracks, many of them from the '90s, all of them tweaked and unleashed live. By the end, most people had removed their jackets. At around 10:45 PM, someone hollered "Riiiiiichhhhhaaaaarrrrd" from a few feet away. The crowd was showing signs of impatience. The first Aphex Twin logo flickered across a dozen or so screens, but 25 minutes later two figures were still frantically tinkering away to a serene soundtrack of bleeps and snippets from old cinema ads. Was something wrong? Was this part of the show? Could anyone actually see Aphex Twin? Then, suddenly, some proper visuals: distorted renditions of faces from the audience. The intensity shot up quickly via a string of fractured drum tracks, but still the crowd was largely unmoved, caught in that awkward limbo between rave and rock concert. A thought flashed across my mind: maybe the show would bomb? It didn't. About 30 minutes in, James delivered a much-needed shot in the arm with the surprising one-two punch of Bicep's "Orca" and "Can You Party" by Royal House. You sensed the audience collectively loosen its shoulders. Pockets of space, just enough to properly dance in, opened up. Phones were put away. People laughed at the barrage of bonkers visuals, which included images of lollipop ladies, children's TV stars and Ricardo Villalobos. Musically, the final 45 minutes were incredible, full of deranged rave tracks, drill techno and 140-BPM acid. Some of the best moments were melodic, like the slo-mo version of his own "Vordhosbn." At times, the combo of lasers, visuals and sounds was overwhelmingly intense and mind-altering, a snapshot of the quintessential rave experience. As 11:30 PM came and went, the BPMs ramped up higher and higher: 140, 165, 170. The outro was a ten-minute cacophony of ear-splitting noise and distortion, amplified by blinding strobes. The more obnoxious the music got, the more people cheered. Thoughts of ticket prices or performance formats or possible routes home couldn't have been further from their minds. We've compiled YouTube and Spotify playlists featuring some of the tracks played by Aphex Twin.