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avatar for Laura Snapes

Laura Snapes

Laura Snapes is a contributing editor at Pitchfork and former NME features editor who also writes for The Guardian, The Observer, The Financial Times, Uncut Magazine, Marie Claire US, and the NME among others. Born and raised in the remote county of Cornwall, she maintains a firm interest in regional musical identities and affirming the importance of a non-London-centric music press. Her work deals with feminist issues, language, technology, and representations of power.

“The Wheal Thing: Aphex Twin’s Alternative Cornish Language”
Regional identity is crucial to understanding dance music. But one of Britain’s biggest electronic exports, Aphex Twin, is rarely associated with his Cornish heritage, which forged his voice as Detroit did techno, or Sheffield Warp.

Cornwall is, as John Peel put it, “a county as far away from the music industry as it’s possible to get, in England anyway, and therefore particularly blessed.” This south-westerly peninsula is seen as a postcard-perfect tourist hub, but it’s actually the second poorest region in Western Europe.

Free from bordering influence, weirdos flourish in a peninsula—particularly one where cultural deprivation forces alternative existences. “Nothing, basically, that’s what made me do music,” Richard D James has said. “It was out of boredom, which is the best way to do music.”

Despite that void of inspiration, James’ music is rich with Cornish identity. He bought his first equipment with the money from a stint down the now-shuttered tin mines, once the county’s strongest industry. Cornish place names and linguistic conventions pepper his song titles, and his gnarled, unique sound reflects the unique landscape: the prevalence of coruscating granite, the violent weather, the dilapidated industrial relics

The We Are the Music Makers forum is full of accounts from hardcore fans who have taken pilgrimages to Cornish places associated with James: touring the humdrum villages named in the “Ventolin” remixes, following the “Places of Interest” guide released in original pressings of Analogue Bubblebath 3. These pilgrimages seem less in search of James himself, but an attempt to unearth the spirit of Aphex—itself a grotesque avatar in-keeping with Cornwall’s rich legacy of folkloric demons.

Based on James’ music and my own such specially-made pilgrimages, this paper will explore and reaffirm the significance of Richard D James’ Cornish voice. He’s not the perverse face the tourist board wants, but he’s our greatest cultural ambassador.

*Wheal is the Cornish word for mine


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