Richard D. James spoke with Oli Warwick about the glory days of Rephlex, the label he ran with Grant Wilson-Claridge. Below is their unedited email conversation in its entirety.
What was the backdrop to Rephlex starting? How did you first get to know Grant Wilson-Claridge, and what was it you connected over?
We met at the Bowgie club Cornwall.
Before either of us started djing we both loved going to see Paul Guntrip RIP dj there, hearing all these beautifully bassy tracks he used to play, was a massive influence.
It was a combination of brilliant tunes, lush Turbosound, lush location on the cliffs in Cornwall and top early ravers, full of spirit.
What did starting your own label with Grant mean for you and your music? How did you view Rephlex as a vessel for your own music, in comparison to the other outlets (Warp, R&S etc) you had from the 90s onwards?
It just seemed like the obvious thing to do, Grant had a bit of money from when his parents died and he amazingly wanted to invest some of it in a record label, everyone I knew including myself was totally skint, so it was a magic combination and tantalising opportunity, Grant also is a very funny dude and was always awesome to hang out with, he was also one of the first few people to give me encouragement.
He was passionate about music and I think really liked my music and after years of mostly listening to it on my own+ a very few select old friends it was very inspiring to get genuinely enthusiastic reactions.
There are some early records like the Q-Chastic that only got pressed as white label limited runs. It probably would have been easy to press up more and make some money for the label, so why did you and Grant decide not to?
well I never was involved with Rephlex for the money.
Bit hard to take crit sometimes as quite a lot of folk thought/projecting that we were constantly rinsing it but we lost money on many of the releases as they were so expensive to make, like the Analord binder, we had to charge loads for that and still lost money.
Afx & The Jones Machine - photo courtesy of Aphex Twin.jpg
Did the AFX and Caustic Window music you released on Rephlex feel more personal than the releases on Warp and R&S, being free from external A&R influence?
well since rob Mitchell from Warp died, nobody has ever said dont release this or that...Rob was funny af, I remember when I gave him SAW2, he hadn't heard any of the tracks before and was straight on the phone going, wtf is this its just some synths with tons of reverb on it, LoL, I like cheeky opinions like this.
But yes when the A&R man is me it is different for sure.
Did Grant help decide on tracklistings for the stuff you released on Rephlex?
yes but it was different as he had loads of my unreleased stuff, not everything but quite a bit and coz we were closer it was almost like me talking to myself.
Hes got an awesome a&r brain.
Do you feel like Rephlex helped bring a new energy to acid house / acid techno with the Mike Dred releases and your own (particularly with the Universal Indicator series)?
Universal indicator records had been brewing up in me since I had listened to just about every acid record ever rleased, was and still pretty obsessed in that late 80's acid period 87-89.
Mike is a good lad, top laff to party and hang out with.
I had made 4 videos to go with my first 303type tracks, filmed in and around Redruth, mates, my bedroom studio, house etc and Carn Marth, still got em somewhere on VHS, really should upload them before they perish..they sounded a bit more rudimentary than the UI records but shared the same nrg.
Got some very early videos we made at the Bowige as well, REALLY should upload those to YT !
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It would be great to know more about the Rephlex events over the years. Did it start to feel like a community grew around the label and its core artists?
Too many times to mention but overall was very laid back compared to other way too serious clubs of the time, much more friendly.
I never planned on having a community but It did just happen I did however plan on being a magnet for demos, I knew it would attract interesting people and I knew we would judge it in a way other labels just werent doing.
Bedroom producers were definitely not taken very seriously and being one myself I was genuinely interested to seek out others.
There was also a rave scene before Rephlex started in Cornwall, which also contributed to its beginnings, one of my life long mates Mafphew and myself organised a few raves together, which was also a big learning experience, called Fizzbomb, evil rave, mental rave, ha and of course the infamous phase2's !
Ed Upton [DMX Krew] talked with fondness about the years the label was based around Arnos Grove / North London. Did you live in the area at the time?
Well I had my slightly different crew in Clissold crescent, Stoke NEwington and actually never went up to Anus grove much but I did go from time 2 time, always had fun.
What were the parties you threw at The Sandshifter like? How did it differ from doing events in cities? Likewise, what’s the appeal to you in still playing low key, unannounced gigs in Cornwall?
sandshitter..those parties were top, I love Cornish raves, still go to em, always different.
What can you tell me about the RepHresh nights at the Soundshaft in London? And did Kylie Minogue really do the strobes for you at the Soundshaft?
HAd some brillinat nights there, we made it 10p to get in some weeks !
Yes Kylie turned up once and Madonna, highlight of that night for me was my slacker mate trying to chat Kylie up..funny and surreal af
What sort of stuff would you typically play at RepHresh? Was it all about testing out new things, or was it more just playing tunes you all enjoyed and having a laugh with your mates?
definitely both, I used to test my early stuff out a lot more than i do now but still do it..you don't really know 100% til you play something to a few different audiences.
Are there any particular releases on Rephlex that have a special meaning or memory for you? If so, which ones and why?
Well pretty much all mine, just so homely a lot of that music, it felt so special and exciting [still does] to put music out that i genuinely loved but it didn't have to be produced in a studio and be polished.
I don't think I could possibly single out 1 or 2.
What did you think about the term "braindance?" Who came up with it?
Thats Grant, I mean when you think about other terms, they are just so cringey, like hip hop etc, those words are so embarrassing, so funny they caught on, why not try and make some words silly words catch on, a laff innit.
Ha just had funny memory... pretty much whenever Id go to the Cinema with Grant, the quiet bit in the dark just before the film would start Grant used to shout out REPHLEX ! ha, really funny dude..
What were your thoughts when you discovered Squarepusher's music? Did you want to keep doing things with him on Rephlex or did it feel like he was better suited to being on Warp?
It felt right for him to go to Warp somehow. OMG yes we drove around the cornish lanes a lot listening to those first Squarepusher demos, man, they were just so different at the time, so accomplished for someone so young, was like putting A million volts across my lobes first checking his stuff out.
What did you think of some of the later braindance artists that came along like Bogdan Raczynski? Were you into the music they were making?
Bogdan was a massive inspiration for some of my tracks on the Drukqs album, the fact he was doing it all on a shit pc tracker..totally amazing, this was before 99.9% of people used the computer for everything, it was just for sequencing then, easy to forget that very significant fact now, his records are so underrated.
You released a lot of music by Bogdan Raczynski in a short space of time. Do you think it was hard for people to get their heads round that much music dropping so quickly?
Yes I do and still regularly forget most people are not that obsessed with music, I think Im only really friends with people who are obsessed about music, I'm interested in pretty much everything and enjoy learning from people who know things I don't but usually don't stay in touch ha.
some of my friends like Luke didn't like it at first, probably due to its DIY production but he later got into some of it.
Actually music that hasn't been produced at all in the writing process can shine the most with good mastering, that was very true with Bogdans stuff imo, its usually better to nothing unless you completely know what you're doing.
What stood out about Aleksi Perälä's music when you signed him?
He's one of the friendliest and most gentle Finnish people I've ever met, that's what actually stood out most for me before the music, currently loving loads of his new output.
In the early days you and Grant talked about not being into the breakbeat culture that was emerging, but then went on to release some more jungle-oriented stuff like Luke Vibert’s Amen Andrews project, Soundmurderer & SK-1, and DJ Scud. Did your feelings about the music change?
good that you say that, Grant wasn't into breaks for a wee while, there was a shit ton of trash to sift through so you could be excused for not getting it right away but most of my first ever tracks made and released had breaks all over them, 1st amazing breaks record for me were the first two 2 kilos eps on Radioactive Lamb records, Mohameds Mind and Visions Of Paradise,number9 DHS[but whole ep]
and probably Trigger- Stratosphere, Quadraphonia-Quadraphponia...jimmy crash-crash course,exorcist/homicidal-shades of rhythm, so many more, gunna put some mixes out soon. and i gotta add 'BFC-evolution' to that little breaks list, carl craig.
How much did you get involved with the reissues and licensed releases like the Future Sounds compilation, Black Devil, Dynamix II, 808 State?
Future sounds we were both into, met up with Terry Baldwin, funny guy, quite fucking dark actually, long time ago though.
Black devil-found by good friend PP roy, master carboot sale warrior.
Dynamix II- both into em, their first ever records, still amazing.
808 State, I cant remember not loving...Newbuild one of my fave ever records, same for Grant im sure..I helped master that from the original tapes on my Studer machine, all stuck together with sellotape etc :)
How do you feel about your remix of 808 State’s “Flow Coma”? It sounded like you had fun doing that one.
of course, I would love to another one but more the original vibe, all X0X boxes and no breaks, one of these days.
There was also a small thread of more experimental music like Pierre Bastien, Victor Gama, Voafose and the Radiophonic Workshop compilation. Do you think there could have been space on Rephlex for more of that kind of music?
Voafose is our all mate Jeremy simmonds, top dude, always been there, lurking in the background, done loads of unreleased ones with him. his releases are probably my fave on Rephlex..his tape manipulation tracks, so good.
Yeah I wanted to put more historically important experimental stuff out, like Herbert Eimert which was less Grants thing.
Did you and Grant ever disagree on releasing or not releasing certain things on Rephlex?
amazingly not much, Grant and my friendship started with our love for early Chicago house music and early 80's electro and his interest in my tracks, he's also secretly made and released some of his own stuff but you will have to ask him about that!
It was Grant's bread and butter and a more of a luxury job for me, so hardly surprising there was some.
What did you think about Leila’s music? What was she like to work with?
Shes amazing. I met her when I was on Tour with Bjork years ago, she was live mixing for Bjork, we stayed really good friends ever, one of my fave ever people.
What was it about Drexciya's music that appealed to you to license it back in 1994?
I didn't immediately like Drexciya coz I was passionate about Kraftwerk and mistakenly wrote it off as a rip off but didn't take long to work out they were just as passionate about it as me and it was fucking excellent and I was wrong.
They were just showing their passion directly but bringing a lot more to the table.
I mean its pretty impossible not to be influenced by Kraftwerk, just so profoundly good, I think all their classics just sound better and better..so intense in a completely different way, utter unique genius.
But I of course absolutely adore EVERYTHING by Drexciya, when James Stinson died I was so totally gutted but Gerald Donald did the impossible and took their music to somewhere else equally as amazing if not even better, dude has been churning out classic after classic, don't know what we would have done without him, you can almost take him for granted but that would be a huge mistake.
What can you tell me about the relationship you had with James Stinson and Gerald Donald, and how did you feel about all the Transllusion, Dopplereffekt, Arpanet, Zwinschenwelt releases you put out?
for me it was purely musical, Ive never met either, had a few very close encounters though, been in the same room etc, would be a total trip to meet Gerald.
I know their music so well, its been a big part of my life, love all those releases, I think Gerald tapped into the total bleakness of whats going on in the world way before me, I thought he was joking at first as my life was too cosy to see it for what it was at that time in my life.
What do you feel like the overall attitude behind Rephlex was?
more about music than the image, non posey.
Do you miss Rephlex being in action? Do you have any thoughts about why it came to an end?
I don't miss it , I think it operated for exactly the right amount of time, I still use the same A&r ing techniques but just apply it completely to music listening pleaseure/dj selections now.
How do you view the label and its legacy overall? One interviewee called it a hobby label, do you think that’s a fair description?
I was too involved to be objective, hobby sounds cool, 'Electronics and music hobbyist records' or like heath robinson, ham radio aficionado, Maplin, records :)
For more on Rephlex, read our latest Label of the month piece.