Born to Welsh parents in 1971, James spent his childhood in Cornwall. He experimented with electronics from an early age, winning a competition to make a Sinclair ZX Spectrum play a tune by setting the connected television's volume to full and alternating the colours on the screen, producing different pitches of noise.
He became a DJ and musician on the local rave scene, taking on the moniker "Aphex Twin". James claimed in an interview that the origin of this name was a combination of a manufacturer of signal processing equipment with the word twin in reference to an older brother (also called Richard James) who died at a young age before his birth. James uses his middle initial to distinguish himself from his late brother.
James was a founding partner in the Rephlex Records label, formed in 1991 and released his first records on this label, as well as Mighty Force and R&S Records of Belgium. James relocated to London and released a slew of albums and EPs on the Warp Records label, and under a bewildering set of aliases (from the well known AFX and Polygon Window to the ultra underground Gak and Power Pill). He was also responsible for a number of disturbing music videos in collaboration with acclaimed director Chris Cunningham. His videos (and album covers) often exploit his unique facial features; for example, the video for "Windowlicker" uses special effects and make-up to place a grotesque image of his face onto the heads of a group of voluptuous bikini models. He also hid his face in another track (commonly referred to as "Equation") of the Windowlicker single, which can be seen in the spectral analysis of the track.
The music of Aphex Twin ranges over many different genres within the encompasing genre of electronic music. Early releases featured a more hardcore and acid based sound (Ventolin is often called one of the harshest or most abrasive songs ever recorded due to the screeching trebles and breaking beats.), and later progressing into his critically acclaimed ambient works, while his hardcore side remained active through his pseudonym of Caustic Window. In 1996, he began releasing more material composed on computers, and embraced a more drum and bass and IDM sound. The late '90s saw his music become more commercialized, and he retaliated with the IDM/Prepared Piano album drukqs. In late 2004, rumours of his return to a more Acid Techno based sound are being realized with the new Analord series.
Aphex Twin interviews are inevitably entertaining, eccentric, and confusing. He has made many wild claims in his interviews which have been speculated by some to be false. Several of these claims include him owning an 1950s armoured scout car (a Daimler Ferret Mark 3), a submarine, composing ambient techno music at age 13 (contradicting most music history), building all of his synthesizers from scratch, having "over 100 hours" of unreleased music, and living in a converted bank. He is a talented photographer, having done his own artwork direction for many of his albums. Aphex Twin continues to create records at the boundaries of the accepted norms of music.