The Aphex Twin machine causes chaos at Field Day 2023
For his ninth performance this year, the IDM icon lights up East London in a gnarly explosion of sound and visuals
Image: Danny North
Although it’s a bright, sunny Saturday at Field Day in East London’s Victoria Park, there’s a dark sense of devilry in the air. The past two editions of the All Points East-partnered festival have showcased brighter disco house flavours. It’s evident, however, through this year’s emergence of mullets, black string vests and Juliana Huxtable playing techno at 4 pm, that 2023’s edition has been cast over by a towering shadow – Aphex Twin, who headlines at 9.25 pm.
Cult followers have come out in full force, draped in logo-clad merch, to support the rare performance – one of just 22 since 2019. Murmurs of Richard D James ruminate through the site’s trees, landing at bars and toilets, where AFX nerds proudly show off their credentials. It feels like an Aphex Twin convention.
So, when the sun falls and stages close, the fixated faces of those who find pleasure in experimental sonics descend on the East stage, where Aphex Twin is set to shock, entertain and confuse.
And confuse he does. The Windowlicker and Syro creator, who recently released his first EP in five years, dives headfirst into a mind-boggling, intoxicating concoction of techno, rave, breaks, electro and… well, lots more genres. Glances of horror are shared between friends who didn’t get the memo. Others, who did, grin. Some try – and fail – to dance to the music.
Towards the end, no song seems to maintain the same groove for more than 16 bars. A muffled techno track starts with a four-by-four beat but then flings off in all manner of directions. It’s tough to pick out a particular song from the mix, which results in a hushed, bewildered crowd.
Hundreds of lasers set the sky ablaze. The Aphex Twin machine is unstoppable. The stage does feel like a machine – a huge, malfunctioning thing that’s been hacked by an AI rave robot, spurting as many genres into the chaotic output as possible. Chaos is the ultimate adjective to summarise Aphex Twin’s headline show at Field Day 2023.
Nearby tower blocks are illuminated by the show’s giant visuals, provided by Aphex Twin’s resident visual artist, Weirdcore. Filling the screens on either side of the stage, the walls behind Aphex Twin’s live setup and on a lightbox hovering above his head, they dramatically dart like strobes through morphing, evolving AI-driven images of machinery. At one point a contorted image of King Charles appears; at another, it’s the late SOPHIE and Charli XCX that are given the Aphex face treatment, to the delight of the crowd.
Does the show work in a festival setting? In many ways, no. It’s hard to engage with, especially if you’re standing further back, and in this case, with such a big crowd, that is the case for many. But has an Aphex Twin show ever been easy to engage with? The idea is to stand back and let the barrage of sounds and sights wash over you.
That’s just what the crowd do, as they embrace and bask in the Warp Records star’s genre-bending brilliance. Whether you’re confused, amazed or tripping balls, Field Day goers can agree on one thing: after 30 years, Aphex Twin is still pushing the boundaries of music. It’s thrilling to witness.
Did you miss Field Day this year? Keep an eye on fielddayfestivals.com for any information regarding Field Day 2024.
Get the latest news, reviews and tutorials to your inbox.Subscribe