Many electronic artists start their own label but not many manage to sustain the sheer quality, innovation and eclectic roster that Mike Paradinas has achieved with his beloved Planet Mu imprint.
As well as hosting his many projects, be it μ-Ziq, Jake Slazenger, Tusken Raiders et al, or providing a home for a wealth of exciting electronic talents from Venetian Snares, Tim Exile, Konx-om-Pax and countless other electronic luminaries.
This year, Planet Mu celebrates its 25th year of serving the electronic music cause and μ-Ziq has a slew of exciting releases planned throughout the year, all based around this summer’s re-release of his groundbreaking 1997 album, Lunatic Harness. All in all, it seemed like the perfect time to catch up with Mike Paradinas and talk μ-Ziq, Mu and beyond. All hail Planet Mu…
There’s a veritable avalanche of new and re-imagined μ-Ziq stuff coming out this year… what inspired this?
“I don’t know…or maybe I don’t want to spoil it by thinking about it! There’s plenty of material to keep me going til next year. There are five things coming out on Planet Mu this year then something on another label next year. I don’t really know what started it but I suppose if I think back to Scurlage, the album I did for Analogical Force, which was released in September 2020 there was one track, Preston Melodics, that started it all off again.
“I’ve always been working on the occasional track but that turned out so well that I thought I still had some ability. I’ve spent so much time just running the label, dealing with artists or looking after my kids that I didn’t know if I could do anything. That coincided with my wife going to work full time and the kids back at school so I had a bit more time and all this stuff came flooding out. I found I was able to write quite a lot last year.”
Some of the new EP tracks are inspired by your brilliant 1997 album, Lunatic Harness. What did you think when you re-explored your old work?
“I hadn’t listened to Lunatic Harness for a good while and, obviously, we’re putting it out again in July, so I was re-mastering some of the tracks from the original. There’s an EP Brace Yourself, which only came out in America and it’s never come out digitally as the mastering didn’t match the other tracks.
“While I was doing that, it inspired me to get back into doing some tracks with breaks again. This was after I’d done Scurlage, as there aren’t really many breaks on it. I got a folder of breaks from Konx-Om-Pax, who’s on the label, so I started using some of them in Alchemy in Logic or literally just cutting them with the scissors on an audio channel in Logic. Then I’d have different channels with different pitches so I could drag little bits up and down or have a filter, a flange or just pitch them up or down.”
Seems second nature to people raised on DAWs but that collage-style of assembling tracks was a lot harder back in 1997?
“Yeah, I had to think of a totally different way to do it than I used to. When I did Lunatic Harness, I was using a Casio FZ-1 sampler that I’d just map everything onto and if a sample needed an effect I’d have to sample it with the effect on it!
“Obviously that was all sequenced to an Atari. It was actually difficult when I started writing on computers with softsynths and plugins. It took a long time to get to the level that MIDI instruments were at. I do everything on the laptop now due to lack of time. I just want to open it and start working.”
As ‘primitive’ as the early Ataris seem now, they were incredibly tight for working with MIDI, weren’t they?
“That was it. In around 1999, I first moved from using Atari with Cubeat and Cubase to working with an Apple and Logic 8. I’d be trying to use a bit of audio; maybe put the drums in audio and have everything else still MIDI but it would never match up. It was a little more work than necessary back then.
“I had a young family back then and just didn’t really have the time to be a full-time problem-solver in the studio. I just wanted to sit down and write a track. Maybe that’s why things slowed down a little after I left the Atari.”
Do you still have any of your old hardware that you used back then?
“It’s all on the laptop now but I have kept one or two things. I sold a lot of things but held onto my Nord Lead, Nord Mini-Modular and a Nord Wave. I’ve still got a few drum machines, including my Alesis HR-16. I did buy one of the new Korg MS-20s recently, as a friend was selling it cheap. They sound great and I’ll use it for ideas but always record it and use that as a sample rather than running any MIDI live.”
The MIDI timing has to be impeccable really, doesn’t it?
“With jungle or fast music it has to be, yeah.”
With the new, Goodbye EP, it feels like you’re giving props to jungle and trying to take it new places too?
“[laughs] No I’m not really trying to take it to new places, I’m trying to take it to some old places! I certainly wouldn’t say that I’m doing anything better than was done by the originators of jungle. It’s all very much done with homage to them. So there’s the EP and the album, Magic Pony Ride, Lunatic Harness re-issue, an album of remixes then another 9-track EP/mini-album, Hello, at the end of the year, which is more cut-up jungle stuff. It’s getting released this way as I wanted it to mirror what I released in 1997.”
Have EPs become more vital again of late?
“With my label head on, I’d say that albums are still selling a hell of a lot more and people often do still tend to ignore EPs but I’m hoping that by making them a bit longer, with more tracks, then they’ll be seen more like an album. In terms of streaming, they’re called an album if they’re over four tracks in length, I think.”
What inspired you to revisit jungle?
“Some of it was inspired by the 1992 late hardcore/early jungle sound. Specifically, there was a record called Raw From China Vol 2, which I believe all originated from the De Underground record store in Forest Gate. The track had this choir sound and I was just messing around with that in Alchemy and then I slowed it all down and warped it and it sounded really interesting.”
Any thoughts on how electronic music has changed from back in those days?
“[laughs] Now that’s a big question! I think money has definitely changed the dynamics of the scene! Now, there’s very little expectation from anyone to make much money… if any. The artists I sign to the label, for instance, hopefully you’ll make a little bit but there’s certainly no living to be made from it nowadays.
“Back in the ’90s there was an expectation that, if you had a record out, you could maybe give up your day job. I think one other aspect is how accessible making electronic music is now and how many people are now creating it. That sometimes makes it harder for me to sort out what’s good from what’s not.”
That throws up an interesting question of what you’re looking for when someone sends you their music wanting to be signed to Planet Mu?
“I literally don’t know! Generally, it’s a case of listening to something until I think it’s great in some sort of way or ‘I’ve not quite heard anything like it before…and it’s good’. [laughs] There’s also plenty of ‘I’ve never heard anything like this before and it’s shit!’.
“It’s a bit nebulous and hard to explain but, generally, if someone is in it for the right reasons and making music to express themselves. I think you need a bit of a thick skin to be in the industry for any length of time but you also don’t want to rip people off because word gets around very quickly.”
You’ve used numerous alter-egos to release your music over the years, is that to allow you more freedom to straddle genres?
“Sometimes… there was an element of that with the Jake Slazenger project, yeah. I think Tusken Raiders is becoming more of a dancefloor thing at the moment. It used to be more a case that the different labels would want different names so that there would be no cross-over with promotions but labels don’t care so much about that now. These days μ-Ziq is my main thing.”
So, is all of your μ-Ziq stuff done and mastered in the box nowadays?
“The Planet Mu stuff is all mastered by Beau Thomas at Ten Eight Seven Mastering. He’s got a really good ear and he gets it just right every time. I have been doing my own mastering for stuff I self-release… some Tusken Raiders EPs on Bandcamp and that sort of thing. I have done some mastering for a few things that have come out on Planet Mu, some of the digital-only releases where we couldn’t splash out on professional mastering.”
What do you use when you do it yourself?
“I mainly use iZotope’s Ozone but I do find it very heavy-handed so I put levels up quite gingerly, then do A/B comparisons. I use a few of the Apple/Logic plugins too and I still use WaveBurner on one of my old computers. They got rid of it from Logic but I’ve still got a Mac with El Capitan on it so I can run WaveBurner.
“You can put it all together as a CD and burn a RedBook master but I actually use DSP-Quattro to do them and pop the already mastered files into that. I have been thinking about getting Steinberg Wavelab Pro as I figure I’m going to have to replace WaveBurner at some point.”
Over and above the mastering side of things, what plugins do you use within Logic?
“As I said earlier, I love Alchemy. It’s just so easy to use. A lot of the Tusken Raiders tracks are done just done on Alchemy without any sequencing on Logic, just using the arpeggiator… there are actually two arpeggiators in it, which means you can do some really interesting things with it. I’ve been putting breaks samples into it and there are four different types of sampling you can use once they’re in there.
“The granular does magic. You can really take things apart and slow them down although I think it should be used sparingly. I’ve been using Ultrabeat in Logic and I love the Drum Machine Designer interface which lets you create your own kits. There’s a Mellotron that I like in it too. What I do is go to the search part of the library to see what comes up. I often don’t listen to what instrument has come up, just load it and try and edit my own sound out of it.”
Any other go-to things?
“I’ve used a lot of exciters on these new projects. On the master channel I tend to use Pro-Exciter, Linear EQ and Multipressor to get things sounding right. I used to use Auto-Filter quite a lot because it gave resonance and a bit of mid to a track to just make it warmer.”
How did you get your first musical break?
“I didn’t really know anyone to ask about getting stuff released although I’d occasionally meet people in record shops and give them tapes and stuff. The first people that said they’d put a record out with me were Tom Middleton and Mark Pritchard who were doing Evolution through a distributor that went bust just before they got the record out!”
What are your ambitions for Planet Mu?
“Well at the moment there’s all this manufacturing delay, which means we’ve got a lot of cash tied up in manufacturing, which we can’t get back. So, that’s the problem at the moment to try and keep going while we haven’t got our stock to sell.”
Delays getting vinyl pressed at the moment?
“Yeah, there’s a 7-8 month wait. It’s starting to get a little better with certain pressing plants but there are others that have problems. I’ve got Magic Pony Ride manufactured already but there are things we sent off two months before that we still haven’t got!
“The Jlin album, for example, which was meant to come out in December, was put in for manufacturing in June and still hasn’t arrived. We can’t get any word from the manufacturers! We’ve tried to use a few different manufacturers to spread the risk, I guess.”