The Strange World Of… Mike Paradinas

25 years on from the release of Lunatic Harness, Mike Paradinas provides ten entry points into a vast discography of scattered pseudonyms as he speaks to Miranda Remington

Photo by Ken Street

As the owner of the label Planet Mu, Mike Paradinas has overseen over 400 releases, from the 1990s to the present day. His own work has been abundant too, and many of his albums, whether as label head or musician, have been crucial in the history of electronic music.

Best known as μ-Ziq among his slew of monikers, this month marks the 25th anniversary of Lunatic Harness, Paradinas’ masterpiece under the name and a classic of the IDM era which, especially on an upcoming boxset reissue, resounds in crystalline bliss. A reclusive pioneer, his melodic major label debut announced the era of the ‘bedroom producer’ just as electronic music began to drift from the dancefloor to the internet. Its rhythmic distortions also presaged Planet Mu’s catalogue of breakbeats rooted in the lineage of jungle, techno, hardcore and gabber, and carry their essential DNA through new mangled abstractions.

Paradinas freely deconstructs influences, his breakbeats varying from hovering to death-rattling. It’s exciting to hear Paradinas’ opinion on clubs today, especially as younger ravers seek out increasingly frantic BPM ranges. But now more than ever, living in Hove with his wife and children, he listens to music at home. “I used to get anxious to go out clubbing but I had to do it to play gigs,” he says. “These days? Not by choice.”

Paradinas first started making music in his early 20s in his bedroom while still living with his mother, exploring a boundless world using a four track tape recorder and otherwise limited equipment. From his work as an unknown artist on Aphex Twin’s Rephlex label to his breakthrough with Lunatic Harness on Virgin, his unique perspective brought to the club a playground of sounds outside of its institutionalised repetitiveness. Though rooted in a moment often associated with seriousness, the infinite canvas of sound presented to Paradinas an impulse for playful irony. A collaborative album with Aphex Twin in 1996 as Mike And Rich, Expert Knob Twiddlers, drew on ’70s lounge references with a sense of humour beyond the stereotypes associated with IDM.

“It is quite fun, but it’s never really gone down well with AFX fans because they’re a serious bunch,” recounts Paradinas. “We wanted to get rid of the idea that all electronic music was po-faced, which at the time in 1994 was quite prevalent. Everything was serious and there was no humanity or humour to it. I suppose the other side to it was that we got a bit… fucked. On weed, alcohol and a couple of tabs of acid. And we were fooling around. Maybe it just is a bit shit.” As rave splintered further at the end of the 90s, Planet Mu’s frantic breakbeats preserved it. The obsessive breakcore of Venetian Snares, Hellfish or Shitmat maximised on visceral possibilities, amplifying absurdity with high-tempo samples and convulsive, distorted rhythms. Dubstep under Planet Mu featured rave’s dusky atmospheric residue, and further percussive mutations in footwork compilations curated by Paradinas crucially brought the Chicago-born genre to the UK. As genres sped up and disintegrated, Paradinas’ own expansions infused their shreds with an artistry that, though self-effacing, imbued them with a mysterious, living substance.

Genres like breakcore have since vastly mutated online. But Planet Mu’s catalogue, in tune early with the scattered mindset of an internet user, remains consistent in producing material which easily descends beneath surface level. He casts a huge shadow, and gives us insight into his influence via ten personally selected tracks from throughout his career.

µ-ziq – ‘Hector’s House’ from Bluff Limbo

This was one of Paradinas’ firsts, created even before his debut on Rephlex. A jazz flute-like melody rises atmospherically over an eruptive rhythm which nevertheless has the same strange softness. Paradinas explains that his 4-track tape recorder significantly defined the ramshackle feel of his early records. “You have these little sliders which you could raise the level with, which I did with the drums so it would distort onto the tape. While you’re moving the EQ it makes this beat. I’d been listening to industrial stuff like meat beat manifesto.” ‘Hector’s House’ was inspired by a trip to Paris while studying architecture at university (he eventually dropped out), his first ever overseas excursion. Its title was named after French Art-Nouveau architect Hector Guimard, but it’s also the name of a kids’ TV show, which Paradinas says he didn’t know about at the time.

µ-ziq – ‘Dance 2’ from Bluff Limbo

‘Dance 2’s shimmering sounds were inspired by Phillip Glass’s minimalist ballet compositions, explored through a friend’s dad’s record collection in Paradinas’ teens. Synesthesia links minimalist avant-garde composers and 90s electronica: “It’s because it sounds like sequencers,” explains Paradinas. “Phillip Glass had a very disciplined piano player called Michael Riesman who was robotic in his performances. It was amazing to hear these on an old organ, sounds like synthesisers and everything, but it was all done live. It would be far easier to do on sequencers, which were already invented then. I suppose it’s the whole thing where you don’t get the grant money if you don’t use the orchestra or something, but I find the result very beautiful.”

Tusken Raiders – ‘Foifol’

Under the pseudonym Tusken Raiders (a Star Wars reference, much like Tom Middleton and Mark Pritchard’s Jedi Knights), Paradinas explored the irregularities of hardcore and jungle through scuffled science-fiction. His alien worlds – unlike Aphex Twin who stuck to analogue – partially derives from early 90s digital apparatus dwelling in short-lived technological time frames. “By then I had a DAT machine. Aphex kindly gave me his old one,” says Paradinas. Digital audio tape, a late 80s invention by Sony intended to replace analogue tape cassettes, were for a while used by producers as way of storing digital signals. While now sometimes dismissed as paperweights on hi-fi forums, it caused a revolution to engineers at the time. For Paradinas it played a huge part in his granulated textures. “Actually, I’ve got one here. Does it still work?” He presses a button and jumps. “My kids have put a fucking tape in the DAT machine! They’re not supposed to take those…”

Mike & Rich – ‘Vodka (Mix 2)’ from Expert Knob Twiddlers

“When I signed to Rephlex, Richard [James, Aphex Twin] used to invite me around his house. He’d invite us up with some of the other artists like Chris Jeffs [Cylob], and also I met Luke Vibert there. I heard Squarepusher’s music for the first time. It was in Stoke Newington, just a dingy student house.” Paradinas compares it to Spaced, the sitcom. “That was an evocative time because he would play all his unreleased stuff. He would give you drugs or bully you and try to be weird, to get you out of yourself I suppose.” During the 1994 World Cup, ’Vodka’ was the first song conjured by Mike and Rich together in their casual sessions. Its percussive mechanics have the jittery charm of a 3-dimensional board game, and its zany synths could accompany an early PlayStation screen. At a time when so much techno was going on that there wasn’t room for much else, the two inadvertently drew from their mutual curiosity about obscure electronic experiments from the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. Meanwhile in their wider surroundings, genres were shifting at an absurd rate. “By then jungle was taking over the pirates, and we were still making techno so we actually left it behind,” he recalls, presaging Aphex Twin’s Hangable Auto Bulb, as well as Lunatic Harness.

Jake Slazenger – ‘Daytime Kiss’ from Makesaracket

‘Daytime Kiss’ by Jake Slazenger (another alias invented with Richard James) is a sedated track where keyboard interludes twinkle above a liquid groove, that Paradinas calls “my tribute to the kind of street soul they used to play when Kiss FM was still a pirate. Back then, when I used to live in Raynes Park, you couldn’t get any pirates except for Kiss. I had my dad’s record player, and the record bit didn’t work anymore but the radio did. The only way you could listen to interesting music you never heard before was by tuning the dial. They used to play reggae, soul and funk, and that’s the only place you could hear that in a very white suburb.”

µ-ziq – ‘Secret Stair #1’ from Lunatic Harness

Not long after doing some remixes for The Auteurs, excellent reviews of Bluff Limbo in NME started to entice major labels. Paradinas was approached by two, but while London Records had Orbital, he went for Virgin who had The Human League. Lunatic Harness would become his breakthrough. A floating mixture dense in its details, Lunatic Harness’ tracks extend in atmospheric layers, with breakbeats and baselines unravelling in strange intervals and with the interjections of a newly acquired sampler. It presents an immaculate example of drill and bass, linking the intensities of his earlier Rephlex records with the emergence of jungle, and beyond that it plays through in its entirely like a strange fathomless quest. Despite the acclaim of tracks like ‘Hasty Boomer Alert’, ’Secret Stair #1’ is a personal favourite. “Often I’d start a track by looking at someone else’s track and trying to do a cover version, and I think the track in question was Blur’s ‘Beetlebum’. There’s also a ‘Secret Stair #2’ on the album, but the second part I originally wrote before that was amazing. Basically, when I was working on it the electricity turned off in my flat. I had one of those meters where you actually have to put coins in and it ran out. We often lost tracks like that. I got everything turned back on later and tried to do the same thing and it didn’t work. But in my head, the original ‘Secret Stair #2’ was the best track I ever wrote.”

Slag Boom Van Loon – ‘Light Of India’ from Slag Boom Van Loon

On the door of Dutch hardcore DJ Speedy J’s studio was a sticker that read ‘Slag Boom Van Loon’, inspiring the name of a new collaborative project. “I think it means ‘door security system’ in Dutch. Probably the manufacturer of the alarm or something.” With Speedy J doing techno and Paradinas jungle rhythms, the collision of two powerhouses at first proved complicated, but after a little unwinding the process flourished into a set of beautiful ambient tracks. “It’s different than anything I’ve done before, it’s maybe got more Jochem [Paap, Speedy J] in it than me,” says Paradinas. “We sort of found a pastoral place to exist in where we could make tracks with each other. We also had an Indian meal, and we were cycling through different presets on his synths when this sitar sound came up and we just decided to use that. So that’s ‘Light of India’.”

µ-Ziq – ‘Grape Nut Beats Pt.1’ from Bilious Paths

We turn to a brutalist maze of a composition from 2003’s Bilious Paths. “This was post-Venetian Snares, I suppose he inspired me, as well as Aphex Twin who’d just released Drukqs.” Paradinas was particularly into hardcore and gabber between the years 1998 and 2002 and DJed often in that period. Originally a Rude Ass Tinker remix (a cheeky anagram of Tusken Raiders) for Hellfish’s Deathchant label, it takes samples of ‘Witchhunt’, a track from Hellfish and Producer’s Bastard Sonz Of Rave, and pounds it into strange time signatures.

Heterotic – ‘Rain (feat. Vezelay)’

A collaboration with his wife Lara Rix-Martin, also known as Meemo Coma, presents a lost pop classic with a dark beauty. Around the time of their marriage, the two used to watch DVDs and write songs in bed together to be later on sent to vocalists. Here, the falsetto of French singer Vezelay whispers in a Lynchian uncanny. “It came out around the time all that washed out stuff like Toro y Moi did, and was influenced by all that sort of stuff. But it couldn’t get released for two years so by the time it did it was old news I guess.”

µ-ziq & Mrs jynx – ‘Secret Garden’

Released last year were 10 tracks made in lockdown with a friend Hannah Davidson, a Manchester-based artist who releases music on Planet Mu as Mrs Jynx. ‘Secret Garden’’s mellow explorations are in fact part of a process of healing after both had not long lost a parent to cancer. Paradinas first reached out to Davidson. “I sent her a few stems and their bpms in a Dropbox folder and we started finishing each other’s track. The mix-down took a while but it all came together in about 10 days. ” It’s a small utopia where distant sources of sound convene so satisfyingly, and where electronics flow and glisten at their greatest organic capacities.

The 25th anniversary edition of µ-Ziq’s Lunatic Harness is released on July 7 as a 4xLP box set

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