Pop & Jazz: Aphex Twin plays the Nia Centre, Manchester

Aphex Twin plays the Nia Centre, Manchester (0161-227 9254) on 7 Dec, 9pm-2am, pounds 10 adv/pounds 12 door
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The Independent Culture
There is a point that ought to be emphasised rather loudly, because somehow it's been overlooked: before Goldie or Tricky, there was Aphex Twin. When it comes to mavericks of 1990s electronica, the ghost-pallor Cornish lad exemplifies the finest traditions of British pop mischief, and has made the going easier for oddballs who've followed in his wake.

The difficulty is Aphex Twin - or Richard D James, to bring us down to earth - isn't sexy pin-up material. And Richard simply, really, is a nutter. It's his best trait. So while Goldie and Tricky and the Underworlds and Prodigys make their success manageable and understandable to onlookers (number one discs, mega-festival appearances, famous girlfriends in tow), over the last five years we've had a stream of bizarre Aphex stories: sandpaper on the turntable; collaboration with Philip Glass; morphing into different guises, like Polygon Window and Soit:PP.

All of which might suggest that our techno prodigy's records are unlistenable- to, avant-garde belches which music critics love to love, while the rest of the world scratches its collective head.

But his current EP, the delicious Girl/Boy Song, utterly disproves that. Richard marries silky Philip Glass melodies with an abrasive, hectic, jungle drum roll, making something beautiful out of seeming commotion. Girl/Boy Song sounds as fresh and frantic and joyous as if Richard wrote it at the first hour of the dawn. Hey, it's so pop even the Spice Girls would rate it.

But then, maybe Mr Aphex Twin derives satisfaction from the idea that the world is a teensy bit scared of him because it can't pin him down. If you wanted to chin stroke about this man's career, you'd say Richard D James is an unquiet soul, a mad scientist forever bending the rules and experimenting on himself. Me? I say Aphex Twin is well out of order. And long may he remain so.