Peer Reviewed: Mike Paradinas Interviews Lara Rix Martin… & Vice Versa

For the latest instalment of our series that sees some of our favourite musicians interview one another without editorial interference, this month the subjects are Lara Rix-Martin and Mike Paradinas

Music writers. Who needs ’em? We recently had the opportunity to get Mike Paradinas and Lara Rix-Martin together (admittedly, it wasn’t hard, they’re married and live in the same house) and left them to have a conversation about their individual practice, without any interference.

Lara releases Neon Genesis: Soul Into Matter², her third album as Meemo Comma, this week. The album is inspired by classic anime soundtracks and Jewish mysticism and follows on from tQ favourite, Sleepmoss in 2019. She runs the Objects Limited label which seeks to promote the experimental electronic work of female and non-binary artists.

Mike Paradinas’ label Planet Mu celebrated 25 years in business in 2020 and continues to support a global scene for progressive, radical and fresh electronic sounds. He originally made his name as a leading light of the 90s electronic underground via his work as μ-Ziq released on Rephlex but continues to record and release work under several aliases including Tusken Raiders and Jake Slazenger.

Mike and Lara have been married for 13 years and live in Hove with their family. They first released music together in 2013 as Heterotic alongside tQ writer and Gravenhurst musician Nick Talbot.

Mike Paradinas Interviews Lara Rix-Martin

Do you remember what made you want to produce music for the first time?

Lara Rix-Martin: I originally wanted to produce music when I was a teenager because I was around so many artists at that time, it was when I was with Henry (Collins aka Shitmat of Wrong Music) and he used Audacity (music software) and to be honest it just sort of overwhelmed me a bit, just the look of it. I did do music production in school and I really enjoyed it, and I was quite good at it! Well, I was told I was quite good at it. However because I didn’t have any musical background in reading music or playing an instrument I always thought that it was out of my reach, so it wasn’t until we made music together as Heterotic that I started to learn to produce. I had the desire to do it and I felt myself to be musical in some way but, yeah, I had always put that barrier up that you need to be able to play an instrument, whereas I think that barrier for many people, not just myself, is falling and I think that’s great.

Why did you change your artist name from Lux-e-Tenebris to Meemo Comma and do you think a change in name signified a change in approach, or in confidence?

LRM: It’s really hard to come up with an artist name, and I’m not a DJ so I could never have called myself DJ such-and-such, DJ Snake. So I was always going to have a name something other than that and I guess I just picked Lux-e-Tenebris because it’s something you get on masonic texts and my grandfather was a mason and it’s just something I like, although I knew it wasn’t a great name and I never had a great attachment to it. When our daughter came up with the ghost name of Meemo Comma it was not only something that was personal, it was something different as well. The name change didn’t signify anything other than me being more who I am, if that makes sense.

Do you think the difference in sound between Lux-e-Tenebris and then Meemo Comma reflected that "being more who you are"?

LRM: Yes, but not necessarily because of the name change. That was just a coincidence of events because Lux-e-Tenebris was really pretty much the first four or five tracks that I ever made on my own. It really was that you know? And I was pregnant and I had recently lost my job because I was pregnant and I was not in a good place mentally, I had prenatal depression and I was on this anti-emetic drug that made me feel like I was in a locked space between a dreamworld and the living dead which is the only way to describe it.

So do you think Meemo Comma signified a return to life?

LRM: Possibly, it’s more a case that it sounded like that. I just didn’t want to be called Lux-e-Tenebris anymore. I was going to be called Harpa Ruth for a little bit, also I was going to be Lascivious, the joke name that Henry and I came up with when I was fifteen or whatever for Wrong Music, but again, that really wasn’t who I was. I don’t think a married mum of one… Lascivious sounds a bit sexy housewife, it didn’t really feel right and Meemo Comma did. It meant something to me personally and if you heard the name outside of knowing its origin it’s kind of something different and it sums me up I think, it just works!

How do you start a track? Does the concept come first or do you sit at the laptop until an idea comes, or a bit of both? Do you find a concept helps in coming up with ideas, everything comes easier?

LRM: To get a concept, to spark the idea of a concept I just work through sounds and then later on I might go back to those sounds and put them into a context of something. But finding concepts is hard. I come up with concepts on walks or while doing something where my mind goes elsewhere, like some sort of meditative state of mind. But I have to be open to them as well, at the moment because I’ve already done a concept, I’m not ready yet, I’m still getting over what’s just happened because the album’s not yet out and I kind of want it to get out there and have that feedback from it and whatever. Not that the feedback is necessary to it, but I just kind of want that process to be finished.

Do you think that a concept is necessary for you to be able to start writing, then?

LRM: I can write, but I won’t be able to finish a track. It won’t have a story behind it. It will just be a collection of sounds, in my mind. To someone else it might sound like a track. But to me, I will just find it hard. It won’t have that extra dimension to it.

What was the catalyst that made you explore your Jewish heritage?

LRM: Personally, it was having children. I think once you have children, and when you get older as well, I wanted to find out my place in the world before I could tell my children their place. Our children come from the background of your family as well who know so much about their heritage. We have paintings of your family everywhere which is quite a bold impact on them, and I didn’t have that from my side. So for me, it was a case of, "What can our children take away from my side of the family?" and I knew that I was Jewish, I’ve always been told that I was Jewish even though traditionally I’m patrilineally Jewish so it wouldn’t always be seen like that [by everyone]. As a kid going to school it was always on my file that I was Jewish. It’s always been part of who I am, but I guess having kids made that difference and I didn’t want to be lost. I wanted to show them they’ve come from something that’s interesting and other and, you know, that I come from… fucking hawkers [laughs]. So anyway, it was a personal thing and the personal becomes art. My music is very personal and I find that when people make music from that place it’s always a bit more special. When they’re not trying to be guided by what’s happening in genres and stuff like that… it surpasses what’s happening in music discourse if it comes from a personal place. And that’s why I’ve always tried to be true to myself in my music.

Do you think being on your husband’s label is nepotism?

LRM: Yes, absolutely. I didn’t really want to be on Planet Mu.

And I didn’t want you on it [laughs] if it wasn’t for your music I mean… obviously.

LRM: I wanted to go on another label and I did get some good ‘noises’ from other labels, but no-one ever committed to anything. And I’m the sort of person, I’m very black and white….

I thought you were non-binary, badum-tish!

LRM: I don’t understand the way people in music do business, it absolutely drives me insane. If I say I want to release something, I’ll release it. Do you see what I mean? And some artists aren’t used to that and I’ve clashed with some of them I think, because I am so forthright.

There’s a lot of waffle in the music industry, people love to hear the sound of their own voice and they love to just go on and on and on saying the same thing again and again without any new information whereas I think you and I like to say the important thing and move on.

LRM: I did have a few other labels saying nice things but not really committing to anything. So I moved on, and developed Sleepmoss as an entire idea and album and you just said "I like it, I want to release it." So I thought, "Well, ok, fine." Because you actually said it rather than a lot of waffle that I’d had previously. People saying "it’s nice" then semi ghosting me. I can’t stand that. Either you like something or you don’t. Have some fucking balls you know? Anyway so, I guess in terms of the new album, as you know, I come up with the music quite quickly, so maybe the idea may take two to three months to finalise in my mind, once I’ve done that I will write an entire album in the space of four weeks maybe.

So why did you do Neon Genesis on Planet Mu?

LRM: Because you offered.

Yeah, it’s simply the music. It may seem strange to others that I’m releasing my wife’s music, I guess, but I’m the first to hear it because I sit next to you and it was as good or better than anything else I was hearing at that time. It has a lot of personality, your personality is embedded in it and it’s new, you’re not doing something anyone else is doing really, I found it exciting, and I think you’re getting better as well.

LRM: I would like to be on another label, so…

Any labels out there, if you want Meemo Comma, you’ve got to commit! It’s as simple as that. Say "yes" and she’s yours. Musically.

LRM: I am that simple aren’t I?

Do you consider yourself a competitive person?

LRM: Competition as in striving to do better and not as against other people, then yes. I think people misread my competitiveness as being anti-them quite a lot and it’s not. I’m always striving to better myself, but also in a team as well. For my label I’m somewhat competitive, ’cause I want my artists to do well. When my artists go off to do other things, I’m there backing their corner. I feel like I am quite an attack-dog in that sense of…

…in every sense…

LRM: …wanting people to do better and expecting my friends to do better which is probably quite a lot of why…

So do you expect all your artists and your friends, (and your lovers) to be as aggressively hard working as you are?

LRM: No, not at all. I know that is one of my strengths, it’s been built into me and I know that other people won’t have that, so I’m on their side helping them you know? It’s something that I can personally do. And I have a lot of energy for that, which I know others won’t have. Objects Limited was started because there was a gap in the market, from a business point of view. But also I’m able to get through to people, to women, better than a male who’s been in the industry for a long time.

Is the software you use as Meemo Comma important or integral to your sound? What I’m hearing in the album is stuff that sounds like it’s randomly generated vocal samples, is the method important or was what you were aiming for important and how do you do that?

LRM: For my first album I used samples from random YouTube clips with one or two views, and then I would process them, but because I didn’t know what [the software] was called I would Google [the effect] and find something like ‘reverse this sample dot com’, or something like that, simply because I didn’t know how to do it on Logic. Now I know how to do this sort of stuff, that’s probably the biggest difference between Depersonalization, Sleepmoss and Neon Genesis, that I kind of know what the process is called now, and how to do this, that and the other. Timewarps… all those sorts of things. So I guess in terms of software, I have a sort of sound in my head that I’m going for, and I experiment through clicking all sorts of things in Logic with my kid-in-a-sweetshop approach rather than someone-who-went-to-uni-to-study-music-tech approach. This is obviously naïve, but out of naïvety comes a different approach because I’m not restricted by the worry that one has of failing because I am not set up to either fail or succeed, I’m set up to explore, and so it’s always an exploration… of a sonic understanding. I can’t say what I do, I can’t give advice to others, the way I do this is my process for me. I don’t consider myself a musician or an artist even, I’m just exploring what I can do with software, basically.

Do you think you have imposters syndrome?

LRM: I used to and I still do, but I just don’t care anymore and I feel that this has happened this year when I got a job outside of music. When I only had music as my, not just source of income, but source of energy to focus into, I took things more personally. I found that I didn’t belong and I feel all of those things still the same, but I just couldn’t give a toss anymore. I’ve got too many other things to worry about. I can hold it at arms length now. I think this is a big problem for all artists now, especially with Twitter, you just can’t get away from it. It’s not like a normal 9-5 job, it’s who you are as a person and it’s your entire being. It takes over and it’s exhausting. Being an artist this year has changed so much even from when we started five years ago with Objects Limited and even longer since we worked together as Heterotic, such a lot has changed since 2013. We’ve been together for thirteen years now and within that time so much has changed. Now there really is no escape from it. You used to be able to escape from it, have other interests, do other things. Whereas now with the internet you have to know everything straight away, you have to be right up on all the information about every artist, all politics, all situations, and it is exhausting… exhausting. I think it’s ok not to know, necessarily, the history of something, and that’s fine, it’s just that so many people want to fucking argue about it. I mean, if you don’t know, just say you don’t know. I don’t understand this thing we have in our industry of needing an opinion on everything.

How do you find the time to balance three jobs, the demands of home life as a housewife, an estate agent and a world-famous electronic musician, and how does this effect your mental health?

LRM: I’m not famous. I have a following in parts of Russia and parts of America and that’s about it really. You know I’m not famous at all.

Haven’t you got a following among male journalists of a certain age?

LRM: [laughs] Erm, you know, my parents, my family, we’ve always done lots of different jobs, always at the same time and so it doesn’t seem that weird to me to do lots of different jobs.

Do you thrive on it?

LRM: I think I do, yeah. Because the thing is, and this is, you know, something that would go for a lot of people in my family, once you stop, you start thinking. You should always keep yourself busy. It keeps away the existential dread. And the busier you are the further away that existential dread is.

Do you think that conflicts with Judaism where, as part of your studies you are required to think?

LRM: You are required to think but you’re also required to argue and discuss, so, no, not at all… [laughs]

Lara Rix-Martin Interviews Mike Paradinas

You’ve been running Planet Mu for 25 years. How has this influenced your own personal music (µ-Ziq)?

Mike Paradinas: Well, I don’t know if it’s the 25 years of running the label or just 25 years of life, but I suppose running a label for that long has given me the opportunity to listen to a lot of different types of music, different genres and different production styles and I think I’ve learned a lot simply through listening as to the importance of… in dance music, how the mixdown, EQing, separation and mixing of sounds and tracks can make such a big difference to what a track is, to how it sounds and to how it’s perceived emotionally. With the tools available when I first started I couldn’t do half of what you can do even on a phone nowadays. It’s so easy now to get access to multi-band compressors, quality EQ software, all-in-all to get a more professional sound out of just a laptop, which I would have struggled to achieve with tens of thousands of pounds of equipment in the early nineties. Also having a good pair of speakers set up properly in a room makes a huge difference, and I didn’t even have that until relatively recently due to moving flats every six months or what have you; I’d never had the time to invest in a space which was my own really because of the insecurity of renting. Now me and other people are using the same high end software to try and make things sound ‘worse’ I think, to add levels of grit and warmth, a bit of life to recordings, there are a lot of plug-ins which are there to wind back the clock, adding vinyl noise, mixer noise or tape compression. Because I do a lot of mastering myself, and a lot of pre-mastering, so records are ready to give to the mastering engineer, giving him less to do, [laughs], but just in terms of mixing my own tracks running the label has definitely made a difference. Musically less so I think, as whatever I’ve tried to make has always come out as my sound, at least half the time, so I can’t really help that. I’m not very good when I try to do genres, when I try to do footwork or dubstep or breakcore. I think I’m more successful when I don’t try to do anything.

Which artist has had the biggest impact on Planet Mu?

MP: I wouldn’t have started it if it weren’t for me, µ-Ziq. Haha, well, Aphex Twin at the start and Carl Craig obviously. Did you see that Boiler Room with him in the fur coat? The champagne and girls? Anyway… artists who were on the label? I would have to say Venetian Snares has had the biggest impact, probably the most important. He’s stuck with us since the beginning of his career and we’ll stick by him. He’s definitely made a massive difference in how the label was perceived in the early days. And still now I think, such a strong personality as well. More recently there’s been Jlin of course who’s done tremendously well and again, has a very strong personality.

Do you have any regrets with the label? What would you have done differently?

MP: There are some people who I was on the verge of signing who I decided not to, and I regretted that, or sometimes I gave up too easily or something, like their first demo was, ‘not quite there’ or something, and then a few months later there’s an amazing single on another label. That happens a bit. Recently with Nazar for example, who I was seriously thinking about but whose demo lacked context in the email.

Do you think people should add more context to a demo?

MP: If it’s relevant yeah. If it’s just some Italian or Russian person with a massive modular system and there’s nothing else in their life then no. I don’t want to hear about people’s equipment. I think I regret… I’ve often been quite conservative with what I’ve released, going with stuff which is quite similar to what I’m already releasing or not taking as many chances as I could, but maybe if I had done that, the label may have failed financially, or maybe it would’ve been a lot more successful! Sometimes I do regret not pushing it all as hard as I could, sometimes I just don’t have the mental energy to really put all of myself into it, and if I did then I wouldn’t have any left for my family or looking after myself or anything, so…

I feel like when you push the label to be more experimental as well, you feel it personally more when it doesn’t succeed. Is that something you feel?

MP: Certainly yeah, you can take a big financial hit on something you’ve taken a chance on, or something you’ve invested a lot of your personal energy in, when it fails or is ignored, it is very disappointing. But I’ve learned to separate myself a bit from that, I think, because you have to. I’ve learned not to work too much at weekends, to make time for family, to make time for label and try not to let it overlap too much.

What "tech" do you miss using?

MP: I do miss my first set-up which was the Atari 1040ST and various MIDI keyboards and drum-machines and stuff, whatever you could borrow off someone, you know? I didn’t own much for my first album, I borrowed the computer and software while my friend was on holiday and various synths, drum-machines and effects modules. I did have my own Roland D-50 and Alesis drum machine though. So what you could do with that is write tracks on-the-go, live, which seems more difficult these days, I suppose not with Ableton Live [laughs] but I found that having the physical stuff around me changes the way that I interact with it. Now I know a lot of ‘modular people’ say that, but with my current lifestyle it’s much easier not having to go to a big room full of "tech" gear ’cause I haven’t got room for it anymore. And if I’m looking after the kids I can write a track while doing their homework with them and while another one’s doing a video game on the TV or something, you know, and then I can have my laptop while they do maths next to me and I can do a track, and it all works together. We have to multitask in our current lives. I do miss the old way of working but I’ve got used to a new way of working and if you can express yourself with whatever gear you’ve got and it always ends up sounding like you, then maybe it’s not the gear that’s making the difference.

Do you think there’s a common thread through your label’s sound and does this reflect in your own work?

MP: I think there’s a common thread in my µ-Ziq music, my own productions. A certain sort of melodic feel I think I’m drawn to and I think that’s probably reflected in what I look for melodically in the music I sign to Planet Mu. I think I am on the lookout for what’s new in music, but not just what’s new – I don’t mean someone creating a complete racket for no reason – but when scenes form and something new and meaningful comes along that is having an effect on society and society is having an effect on it. And that’s what I’m on the lookout for sonically. When those movements come along that change the way we perceive music, or dance music, or whatever.

What’s your feeling towards your wife’s Judaism?

MP: I think it makes her more attractive. Interesting and precious, like a rare jewel [laughs]. It just turns me on quite frankly. Maybe she’s slightly alien and that kind of turns me on, genetically…

Are you saying that jews are alien? But you yourself have Jewish blood.

MP: Maybe that’s why I find you so attractive. I just mean ‘alien’ as in exotic and exciting and different, how racist, sorry. It’s obviously important to you, to find your identity and it’s made you more confident in yourself I think, and to connect with your heritage has definitely rounded you off as a person. You’re definitely less lost and more confident now, probably just with age, you don’t feel so untethered anymore.

Do you consider yourself an IDM sex symbol?

MP: Yes. Next.

Can you expand on that?

MP: Erm, I wouldn’t have said IDM is known for its sex symbols. If an IDM fan was forced to name a sex symbol I doubt I’d be the first to come to mind.

What’s the competition? Who’s the sexiest IDM DJ?

MP: Well, you’ve got… let’s stick to the originators. No point in going to the second wave or anything. Obviously you’ve got Aphex Twin…

Ugh.

MP: He might be some people’s type. He’s tall. Taller than me, what, he must be six foot one?

Imagine your only type is just ‘tall’. They could be anything as long as they’re tall.

MP: Right. So, I’m sure he appeals to some people.

That’s so weak though isn’t it?

MP: You’ve got the Autechre boys, dour northern types. One of them’s dour at least. I think Sean’s quite short isn’t he? And some have a fetish for short people. Someone told me they really fancied short men and liked Max Tundra because he’s so short. Erm…who else is there, erm, Kirk Degiorgio if you like your cheekier East End types, don’t know if he’s IDM or not. Oh, Luke Vibert of course.

Oh, ok! Luke Vibert, yeah.

MP: Now you’ve perked up. I think most people would probably go for Luke Vibert.

I think it’s stiff competition.

MP: Stiff.

Ha ha ha ha! Mmm.

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