When Weirdcore, the moniker of London-based digital artist Nicky Smith, first started working on visuals for Aphex Twin back in 2009, a wide variety of ideas and suggestions were tossed around. "Use crowd footage," "sacred shapes," "oscilloscope," and "sound-reactive visuals" Aphex Twin said, and Weirdcore had to oblige. At this year's edition of Primavera Sound in Barcelona, Weirdcore unleashed some truly mind-melting visuals, made in collaboration with digital artist Andrew Benson, a.k.a., Pixlpa, which run the gamut from rave psychedelia to Aphex Twin's brand of anarchic humor, much like the pair's surreal Day for Night Festival teaser video. The visuals were as experimental as the legendary electronic artist's set, which bordered on sound art when it wasn't all techno rave.
As the Primavera Sound and London's recent Field Day performances proved, the show is still evolving, and coming brilliantly close to a synaesthetic experience. Above Aphex Twin's DJ booth are a number of randomly arranged screens, each of which broadcast Weirdcore and Pixlpa's visuals, which are tweaked live. (At both Primavera Sound and Field Day, two large screens on either side of the stage amplified the visual mayhem.)
At first, the duo's visuals are fairly simple. Aphex Twin's logo assembles and disassembles like a broken oscilloscope, until things get more live, glitchy, frantic and hilarious, with Weirdcore incorporating footage of the audience and even mapping their faces onto local celebrities. And, of course, Aphex Twin's distorted face makes frequent appearances, looking like a dead pig mixed with Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Since Primavera Sound and Field Day preceded the United Kingdom's parliamentary elections by mere days, James' cartoonish face also got digitally grafted onto a female avatar holding pom-poms wearing a Union Jack bikini. Weirdcore and Pixlpa's animated Aphex Twin looks something like Beavis & Butthead mated with Queen Elizabeth, equal parts terrifying and incredibly funny.
"The only limit on creativity on this is what can be done technically, and with help from Andrew on the software side of things and with my pimped up Mac Pro on the hardware side of things, I'm not so limited," says Weirdcore. "Nonetheless, as Andrew will agree, I'm still stretching the limits of what is possibly live."
To create the multimedia avalanche, Pixlpa and Weirdcore both make visuals, with the former patching most of it together. Weirdcore then adds his content, typically PNG and Scalable Vector Graphics (SVGs), and sets up the surface controls and adds presets for the start of the show. During the shows, Weirdcore has a live video feed filming the crowd, which gets analyzed and effected live through software. All of this reacts in real time with Aphex Twin's music and lighting designer and engineer Dave Ross's light show.
"[Dave] controls what screen is on and off like an extension of his lighting set up, as well as controlling the lighting parameters inside some of the 3D elements of the visuals (i.e., the lights in the dancing Aphex Teddy)," Weirdcore explains. "This is a new addition to the show this year… it's a massive upgrade to the overall show. Really pleased with it."
Benson says that "live-ness" of this show is very important to everyone involved. And since the visuals are for Aphex Twin, it seems that a maximalist aesthetic almost always prevails.
"Where sometimes I might pull back and try to simplify or make things more subtle, with this project we tend to revel in the 'psychological overload,' as Weirdcore recently said in an interview," says Benson. "There's kind of no limits to the craziness and sinister humor that we can bring to the show."
"It's never really solidified—ever," adds Weirdcore. "It's like wet paint… although, after three to four shows (current situation), it's mostly about optimizing, refining, and presenting the show as there's always room for improvements."