July 18, 2023
Featuring Aphex Twin, Kelela and more.
Our 10 essential series sees VF and friends of VF dive into our favourite labels, artists, genres, and scenes to pick 10 essential albums, EPs or tracks for any collection.
Founded in 1989 in Sheffield by Steve Beckett, Rob Mitchell and Robert Gordon, Warp Records has established itself as one of the foremost curators in experimental electronic music.
Over the last 30+ years, Warp has provided a platform for generation-defining artists in underground music from giants like Aphex Twin and Boards Of Canada to modern innovators such as Kassa Overall and Squid.
Ahead of the release of Aphex Twin’s first outing in five years–Blackbox Life Recorder 21f / in a room7 F760–we look at the most important albums from legendary experimental powerhouse Warp Records.
Artificial Intelligence, recently reissued to mark its 30th anniversary, is a great sampler of the experimental electronic sound that has come to define Warp. The 1992 compilation (released three years into the label’s life), showcases early cuts from Autechre, Speedy J and The Dice Man (later known as Aphex Twin). A genre-defining compilation that formalised an appetite for ambient-inspired techno, Artificial Intelligence is a comprehensive introduction to a genre that has influenced swathes of producers and DJs at every level.
Take Me Apart
Kelela’s debut album Take Me Apart was a jolt to contemporary electronic and R&B upon its release. Featuring forward-thinking, experimental production from some of the best in the game–Jam City, Arca, Bok Bok–Take Me Apart activates every sense. Kelela breathlessly delivers melodic hooks whilst devoted both intellectually and physically to lust and love, despite the misgivings threaded throughout. An extraordinary debut that challenges the definitions of pop, R&B and electronic.
One Word Extinguisher
Scott Herren aka Prefuse 73 made a bold stride forward with his second album, One Word Extinguisher. A stuttering, impulsive encapsulation of experimental glitch-hop, One Word Extinguisher is a break-up album that constantly re-invents itself. Featuring an excellent but brief turn from Def Jux’s Mr. Lif, the release reimagines hip-hop production, bringing together turntablism with the volatile textures of IDM. An ambitious record that offers new discoveries with every listen.
Despite dropping in 1991 when Warp was still in its infancy, LFO’s Frequencies is a pure manifestation of the label’s explorative ethos. Somehow, the young Leeds duo came right out of the gates with a classic on their hands. Frequencies is an acid-tinged techno album that pulls equally from its rave and ambient influences. With tender melodic touches amongst bass-driven, sweaty stormers, Frequencies looked to the future and found bleeps, electro and life in the darkness.
The caustic and daring Atrocity Exhibition saw Danny Brown go to war with his demons. Produced largely by long-term collaborator Paul White, Atrocity Exhibition is a contemporary hip-hop album that prefers an old-head approach with Brown’s backdrops existing as full entities, not merely backing beats. Through the most recognisable voice in hip-hop, Brown’s words cascade and tumble above sinister, jazzy otherworld sounds. Brown has long been enamoured with his vices, but Atrocity Exhibition shows hedonism when the edges start to melt.
The detailed indie-pop of Veckatimest meshes surprisingly well with Warp’s experimental approach, despite the album’s lack of electronic focus. With Ed Droste’s sensitive vocals upon a bed of dreamy, orchestral-tinged instrumentation, Veckatimest is a lush and hypnotic record that delivers far beyond the behemoth indie anthem “Two Weeks”. Veckatimest is an essential, timeless release from an otherwise saturated ’00s indie heyday.
Hard Normal Daddy
From the detective show theme tune jazz-funk of opener “Coopers World” to the video game bit crushing of “Chin Hippy”, Squarepusher’s second album Hard Normal Daddy feels like a soundtrack for living intensely. Even on its chill-out cuts, Hard Normal Daddy feels alive and activated, skittering across breaks, jazz keys and an endless parade of samples. Far funkier than most of its peers, Hard Normal Daddy is a fun, wacky and innovative record that feels exciting all these years later.
Boards Of Canada
Music Has The Right To Children
A foundational text for students of contemporary ambient, Boards Of Canada’s 1998 release Music Has The Right To Children has earned its accolades. A lesson in effective layering, Music Has The Right To Children‘s strength lies in its patient textures and individuality. Plenty of the songs on here are quite simple, however, the careful, measured textures engulf and transport. Cinematic and tender without becoming cloying or gauche, the record draws upon trip-hop, techno and nostalgia to create a sound that feels wholly new–a sound that bedroom producers all over the world attempt to recreate to this day.
Oneohtrix Point Never
R Plus Seven
Oneohtrix Point Never’s 2013 album, R Plus Seven, saw the producer scale up and reach for the intangible. From the opening organ notes of “Boring Angel”, R Plus Seven is a grandiose experience, despite its often minimalist approach. There’s an embedded spirituality within the record as ’80s synths and ambient textures invoke a church setting. This isn’t music for a congregation, though. R Plus Seven‘s hyper-modernity feels isolated–a sermon for a post-apocalyptic world, perhaps. One of Warp’s most intriguing releases.
Selected Ambient Works Volume II
Selected Ambient Works Volume II is a one-of-a-kind album. Despite Volume I’s proclamation of ambience, its follow-up saw Aphex Twin give over to the pleasure, suffering, warmth and frigidity of uncompromisingly small-scale sounds. Selected Ambient Works Volume II is a self-contained world of its own that is at times comforting, at other points starkly lonely. In its ambiguity and anonymity, Selected Ambient Works Volume II feels universal, a score to project upon. An album that many artists and fans owe everything to.