In an interview for the Dutch TV program Lola Da Musica, filmed right around the time that his first album Feed Me Weird Things was released in 1996, Tom Jenkinson aka Squarepusher laid out his aesthetic in the simplest possible terms.
As a kid, he tells the interviewer, he would use his home computer to create a rudimentary drum machine, program beats, and then accompany those tinny, 8-bit inventions on bass guitar. Fast forward a decade and the equipment has changed—one spies a Roland SH101, and a TB-303 with noticeable accumulations of dirt and a worn Aphex Twin sticker in the video—and he’s moved from his parents’ home in Chelmsford, Essex to a filthy apartment in London. But as far as the music he was making at the time, he hasn’t changed a bit. “Nowadays, it’s gone back to the same thing, basically,” Jenkinson says, snickering. “I’m playing bass lines along with electronic music. It’s like, 400 times more advanced, but basically, it’s the same idea.”
What happened in the intervening years is just as important to the story of Feed Me Weird Things as the binary that Jenkinson spelled out in that interview. Already fascinated with recording equipment and computers, he applied his obsessive attention to bass playing. Jenkinson snapped up a cheap instrument through a local paper and taught himself to play along with albums from his dad’s collection. At the same time, he fed a voracious appetite for music, falling for fusion jazz, thrash metal, and post-punk alike.
The music that fully connected with Jenkinson’s feverish brain was electronic. He eschewed it for years, deeming it, as he put it to Sound on Sound in 2011, “the antithesis of the virtuoso, master instrument player”. But as he heard tracks by Carl Craig, LFO, and 808 State, as well as early electro and hip-hop mixes, he quickly understood how music made entirely on machines could have the same emotional weight as his favorite Herbie Hancock or Japan tune. The arrival of Ardkore and drum ‘n’ bass made dance music feel even more limitless.
Jenkinson was soon siphoning from his many sonic influences. His 1994 EP Crot was four tracks of slightly heavy-handed acid house, cut through with a jazzy swing. And 1995’s Conumber, his first release as Squarepusher, let ricocheting beats rattle up against dubby breakdowns and lush drones. All of it garnered Jenkinson a great deal of attention among DJs and other electronic heads, including Grant Wilson-Claridge and Richard James, aka Aphex Twin, the founders of Rephlex Records. The label snapped Squarepusher up and released both an EP and his first album Feed Me Weird Things in 1996, all of which has been compiled by Warp for this 25th-anniversary reissue.
It was James who helped construct the album. He sifted through a torrent of material from Jenkinson and picked the choicest cuts. As with his music, James’s keen ear was crucial to the success of Feed Me. The album remains the perfect entry point for folks curious to enter Jenkinson’s unique sound world. The music is shifty and excitable, still giddy with the possibilities of electronic production and technology. “North Circular” is a riot of clashing rhythms and dial tone-like intrusions. The opening moments of “Dimotane Co” feature an ugly shortwave radio frequency interrupted by a gamboling breakbeat that takes the better part of two minutes to find its one. Closing track “Future Gibbon” spits and sparks like a dozen band saws attacking a pile of sheet metal.
Like the best of James’ work as Aphex Twin, the trick is how Jenkinson worked melody into the clamor. Easy enough to do on a track like “Goodnight Jade”, with its gently wafting synth line, but a welcome challenge elsewhere. Jenkinson rises to the occasion, either building “Squarepusher Theme” off what sounds like a loop from a bossa nova album that floats and melts throughout, or letting the laser blast keyboard tones and a few minor chords lend a surprisingly tender beauty to the scampering bounce of “Theme From Ernest Borgnine”. It’s as if he anticipated the sweaty highs and flaccid comedowns of the club kids hearing these tunes on their nights out.
Jenkinson’s formula of “bass guitar over electronic music” is his center—the mantra he has kept returning to for 25 years and counting. What has made his career feel so alive after all this time is how he has taken that basic formula and applied it to all manner of experiments, be it the full band Shobaleader One or his self-recorded electric jazz experiment Music Is Rotted One Note. What Feed Me Weird Things shows is how strong that guiding principle was from the jump. Hence why so many other electronic artists continue to retrace Jenkinson’s steps back to this starting point, seeking inspiration. And why we’re still unpacking its genius over two decades later.