Weirdcore: Aphex Twin’s Chief Visual Corruptor
Visual Artist Remarks On His Long Career With AFX, And How Novation Has Played A Role
He had spent years doing live visuals for clubs in the UK and festivals throughout Europe — but for Weirdcore, who prefers to keep his given name a secret, a show-gone-wrong in Paris was a wake-up call.
“I was doing a gig with Ed DMX, and there was a problem with the projector,” he recalls. “Ed was like, ‘Well, is the sound system working?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Well, that’s the main thing then.’ Ed’s a good friend of mine, and I’m sure he didn’t mean much by it, but it kind of got me thinking, Why is that? Why do people just go to witness the audio, and the visuals are just a bonus?”
For Weirdcore, that was the crux of the problem when it came to the perceived laziness of gig visuals. “Because people tend to think that’s its just something extra, the people who do the visuals don’t really put that much artistic effort to those visuals,” he says. It becomes a vicious circle: “The visuals aren’t that exciting, so people just stop caring about them.”
There’s little chance of people not caring about Weirdcore’s contribution to the art form nowadays. Even his commercial outings, like recent jobs for Nike and Adidas, are tripped out to the max — but it’s his current live-show work with Richard D. James, the electronic-music deity knows as Aphex Twin, that sees him pushing his art to the surreal limits. (You can sample his video wares at weirdcore.tv.) Novation plays a role part in that work — more on that later.
As with Aphex Twin’s music, the visuals at the gigs can be intense — they’re a phantasmagorical, kaleidoscopic, rapid-fire attack of hypnagogic imagery. Weirdcore describes it as “high-impact lo-fi look meets hi-tek liveness,” but that only begins to scratch the surface of his on-the-fly artistry. “It’s a mix of psychological overload and psychedelic overload,” he explains, “which is something you don’t see too much. It’s not refined at all; it’s very raw. The more intense the better, really — the goal is to set the level up to 11.”
Weirdcore and Aphex Twin have more than a love of sensory overload in common — they both love to mess around with the facial imagery. “He’s been into that since his …I Care Because You Do album in ’95, with that portrait on the cover, and he’s been using variations of that on his artwork and videos through the years,” Weirdcore says. His own vision of facial manipulation includes interactive crowd visuals, in which the visages of local celebrities, specific to where the gig is taking place, are mapped onto the faces of crowd members.
“The thought of doing the face-mapping came from Richard requesting crowd visuals of some sort,” he says. “We first did a few shows with crowd images, but without face-mapping. It was okay, but I felt it was lacking something, so I thought it would be good to do some computer-vision stuff that analyses the footage and handles the face-mapping. And once I tried it, I realized that I had nailed it. I mean, the whole idea behind Richard having me do these kinds of visuals, along with the lasers and lights, is to distract the attention away from him and onto other things. The visuals focus it onto the screens; the lasers focus it on the sky. And the point of using the crowd members in the visuals is to put the attention back on the crowd itself.”
“The more intense the better, really — the goal is to set the level up to 11.” — Weirdcore
That’s the philosophy behind it — but how does Weirdcore bring that philosophy to fruition? Well, Max/MSP has a lot to do with it. “It’s a handy bit of software that allows you to build your own software, basically — you can do anything you want,” he explains. “Which is both a good thing and a bad thing. When you have a bit of software that’s set in stone, you can just go ahead and explore the possibilities of what you can do with it. But when you can just do your own thing, you tend to go down the rabbit hole. I end up programming stuff right up till the last minute, and then I’m like, ‘Oh my god, there’s no time to practice.’”
A friend — Andrew Benson, of software-development company Cycling ’74 — plays a role as well. “Pretty much all of the patches are done by him. I’ll just tell him I can build stuff in Max/MSP, and he can just knock it up a billion times better and more streamlined than I can. He makes all the magic work…though I don’t think he’s ever been to one of the shows!”
And as we said, Novation is a big part of the mix, too. Weirdcore’s been a fan of Novation products for many years, and was using the Remote SL 25 as far back as the early 2000s. “Most of my friends make music, so my way of making visuals is very like how my mates were making music,” he says. Nowadays, Launch Control and Launchpad Pro, set in programmer mode, are his go-to controllers.
But since he’s using the gear for a use that it wasn’t designed for, there was a bit of trial-and-error involved. “It did take me a while to figure out how best to use them,” he admits. “For quite a long time, I was simply using Launchpad to trigger the images for the local-celebrity thing. But over the years, I’ve become much more interested in doing individual presets. I make loads of individual presets for different parts of the patches. So for example, I’ll have a preset for background picture, a preset for overlaid picture, and so on. For another patch, I’ll have presets for ‘3D model used,’ ‘camera position,’ ‘speed/easing of camera transition,’ ‘type of background,’ ‘speed of 3D model animation, ‘amount of 3D distortion.’”
“Basically, I have an unlimited amount of preset combinations for each patch. Then I make all the presets color-coded, and then Andrew makes me a simple patch which enabled me to make Launchpad presets to control the different color-coded presets in each patch.”
He enjoys the Launchpad Pro’s pressure-sensitivity. “It enables me to trigger multiple things at one time,” he says. “For example, I have this ever-expanding flashing effect — so what I can do is trigger a clip, and if I feel that needs a flash now, I can just press harder and it happens. Stuff like that means I don’t have to look at the Launchpad, and I can spend more time looking at the screen.”
And, of course, he loves the peace of mind that his Novation gear gives him in a live setting. “When things aren’t working as they should, it’s super stressful and I have to adapt really quickly,” he says. “Novation products have always been really stable — and that’s why I’ve always used them over the years. When I’m using Launchpad Pro and Launch Control in programmer mode, with Max/MSP communicating directly with them, everything works flawlessly, which makes things a bit less stressful.”
Thanks to Weirdcore’s work, an Aphex Twin show is much more than an electronic-music concert — it’s an immersive experience that engages the eyes as much as it does the ears. “It’s the audio that’s always gotten the attention — and understandably so, because that’s why people come to the gigs in the first place,” he says. “But if you can get it to the point where people are cheering just for the visuals…well, that’s such a great feeling.”