The Music of Mike Paradinas
We catch up with legendary producer and label boss to talk all things µ-Ziq, Planet Mu, reissuing records, producing on laptop speakers, footwork and so much more
Some people live and breathe music. Producer and label boss Mike Paradinas falls into this category, taking things a step further with his (primary) production alias named µ-Ziq (pronounced mew-ziq), and his influential and still groundbreaking label Planet Mu (as in, mew, as in… you get it).
For the last thirty years, Paradinas has helped shape the sounds of the electronic underground through both his own productions under a myriad of aliases, as well as not just the artists but the specific sub-genres of dance music his Planet Mu label has helped bring to the world, including the upper tempo sounds of Chicago-originating footwork and juke.
With his landmark fourth album of twisted breakbeats that is Lunatic Harness celebrating its 25th anniversary, seeing a remastered vinyl box set release, as well as his brand new album Magic Pony Ride having just dropped, and countless new releases in the Planet Mu pipeline, Paradinas is arguably busier and more relevant than ever.
We managed to find some time in Paradina’s hectic schedule to jump on zoom for an in-depth chat!
At a high level, what’s it like reissuing records, either your own or from Planet Mu artists, what’s that process like?
Well, it usually sort of occurs at anniversaries, doesn’t it? Last year was, for example, the 10th anniversary of Severant by Kuedo, and as you can see, we didn't re-release it *laughs* But we plan to, we just waited to this year and Kuedo’s record’s just been announced. So that's one thing, there's got to be a demand. So he's signed to Brainfeeder now, so we thought “okay, let's wait for his next album and put out Severant again, so that’s one thing.
With Lunatic Harness, it was a lot more involved because we didn't own the rights. So it was from a time when I was signed to Virgin and the rights are now owned by Universal. So we had to find out which tracks I owned, which tracks they owned, because they didn't know and I didn't know cos some of them had just been on Astral Works, I think, and I own them now. But some of them which were on Mealtime I thought I owned, but they owned so it’a all really complicated.
But we sorted it out and we had to license it but that added a lot of money to the cost of doing it, a lot of time as well. So I started the process for the 20th anniversary so five years ago, sort of putting together - mastering all the tracks from DAT but really, the sort of impetus behind it was, I was getting a lot of emails from people saying they want me to re-release it and they can't find it on vinyl, you know, so I thought it would be a nice thing to do as a box set. You know, we haven't ever done a sort of vinyl box set like that before and I thought this was a good opportunity to do that, but it costs a hell of a lot of money - we just got the invoice in this week… so we're gonna have to work out how to pay for it.
I’m not even going to ask how many pounds that was… what about from the remastering side of things - you mentioned DAT tapes, what’s it like revisiting these tracks on tape? Are you ever like “oh, I could have done something different!” on the actual mixes?
Well, yeah, you always think that. The old material it was recorded straight to DAT, so there's no stems or anything like that. It was Atari MIDI equipment and you know, straight onto DAT. So there's nothing you can do about the mix really other than mastering the file. Now I've digitized all my DATs anyway, so everything I've done, I've got it as 24 bit. So yeah, I started the process of listening to the DAT tapes from the Lunatic Harness times, about five years ago for the 20th anniversary 2017. And I sort of quickly figured out, “this is going to take a long time, I'm not going to be able to get it done, let's wait for 25 years or something”.
So I let it sit on the back burner for a while, but I had sort of cut up all the tracks. I just recorded each DAT as one file, you know, with all the tracks out there. So I cut out all the tracks and all the bits of tracks and had them in a folder already, so I went back to that last year. And it sort of seemed and I'd forgotten this, that Lunatic Harness was made up of lots of little bits of tracks all glued together. And we'd done it at Townhouse Studios because in those days it was Atari that had the tracks on that. I didn't have any computer audio, no one really did in those days, unless you had a big Pro Tools system, you know, and only the big studios had that in ‘97. So I think it was ‘96 we mastered actually maybe, what, early ‘97, because it was all recorded in about like in 96.
Something like Hasty Boom Alert is made up of three different sections from different recordings and you can sort of hear that more at the end like right at the last few bars a different bit comes in and you can hear the reverb change, stuff like that. Mushroom Compost as well as is made up of four different bits and you can sort of hear it speed up where I sort of changed my mind and did a faster version of it. I think the first verse sort of changes, if you talk about verses in electronic music, I think it speeds up for the second half anyway. But yeah, what surprised me is like Hasty Boom, like the original what you hear goes off into a completely different melody halfway through, which is worse I think I sort of decided after that I don't need that second half at all, it’s just not as good as the first half. So I sort of did, then made use of the first half tuned and sort of elaborated on that, and glued that on the end, stuff like that. So there's loads of that sort of stuff, all different versions glued together. And that's what took a lot of time really.
So if like 25 years ago, late at night your gluing all these segments of tape together - what would you have thought if someone said in 25 years you’d be wanting to remaster all this digitally?
I’d have thought “I’ll just import it off the CD” or something, you know, that would be the easier thing to do. But for Brace Yourself, and all those tracks are on it as well, that was a lot easier because there weren't any edits on that, so it was just a matter of remastering, those needed much more of a remaster because the original released versions were quite thin, they weren't they weren't mastered professionally.
I want to talk to you about breaks now, there’s something on your Bandcamp page about like more or less “getting back into breaks” when you revisited Lunatic Harness - I’m curious about what it’s like now compared to back then, what’s it like chopping up breaks now compared to when you first did it?
Well, I don't chop up breaks anymore. Well, I suppose I do, the way is completely different from the way I used to do it. I had a Casio FZ-1 sampler and you just would have put in a couple of loops from the vinyl onto there, you know like the Breaks and Beat series or something like that. And then I’d just go in with the little cursor and “da-da-da-da-da”, until you’ve got a little bit and you’d just change the start point for all the keys.
So you map it out on the keyboard and have different start points and end points, or whatever, and basically for Lunatic Harness I played it on the keyboard then programmed it in or whatever, on the Atari. Nowadays, I can do that. But it's a fucking pain in the arse to do that on Logic, cos you can do it in alchemym and the quality of the sampling it has these weird sort of granular samples and stuff actually, Alchemy.
It’s easier to map out on the keyboard now, but what I just end up doing is dragging a loop into the Arrange window and just chopping up with scissors, moving it around. If I want different effects, I just have different channels with different effects or pitch effects on it, and you can stretch in the Arrange window as well, just make the track stretchable or wherever, there's a little button for it and different ways it stretches it. So yeah, it's a lot easier nowadays, but it sounds very different I think.
Well, this might be a silly question, but does that mean a record comes together quicker as a whole nowadays, or is it still dependent on a tonne of other variables?
Yeah, it's about the same actually. I used to have more time when I was younger. I've got four children now. Well, two children and two adults and it’s just that I don’t have, as owner and running the record label, I just don't have so much time to make tracks anymore. But, ya know, I spend a lot more time on the mix down I think now because you can go back in - In those days, what you recorded was what you got, you know, you’d just spend a day on a track that onto the next track, whereas now I can go back in, I think, “Oh, well you know, the bass is far too loud on that”. But you know, that's the main problem I have because I write on a laptop.
Oh so just laptop speakers as well?
Yeah, and then I mix down on big speakers. Sometimes. Yeah, yeah, but mainly I just write on laptop speakers. Yeah, I've got quite used to them. So it sounds quite good, I think, my new stuff. I mean, the drums, those cut up drums are very different from Lunatic Harness intentionally, not just because of the process. I mean, it's a bit because of the process but I wanted to make something a bit more mature, I guess, in terms that it wasn't getting going all over the place in the drums. Like Lunatic Harness was very crazy. And I'm not really very crazy anymore.
And yet the new record is called Magic Pony Ride and it’s got this cool cover art that I don’t even know how to describe, like bright colours and kinda 3D pipes or something… kinda crazy?
Yeah, well, there's a pony inside if you buy the vinyl and take it out. Those are photographs by my friend Ty, who is a really good photographer, if you look on his Instagram, he just does these close ups of abstracts of things he finds, just walks around taking photos of what he sees, you know. I think those ones were done on a building site or something. Yeah, I really like his photography. He did the collaboration with Mrs. Jynx as well the picture of the little apricot tree through a window, or whatever it is.
Ah dope, I remember that artwork, such beautiful photography, inspiring too… at this point in your career, you know less time to work on music, more time on the label and whatnot, what’s your take on inspiration when it comes to making art?
Well, it’s different for everyone, but my personal thing is that, I mean, it might be related to what's going on in my life. But in general, it seems random, pretty much that if I'm working on something where inspiration did strike, I suppose for Magic Pony Ride and the releases around it. And it's sort of faded away by now. I mean, I'm still writing a few tracks - I wrote one yesterday, which was good. But I think I've only written about seven tracks this year, seven or eight. Few remixes. But yeah, last year, everything seemed to be going really well, especially during the writing of that album, and so I just kept writing as much as I could. And there is a follow up record to Magic Pony Ride as well. But I think the answer is you just keep writing because you never know when it's going to strike. It can be the smallest thing I think that triggers that - I suppose it's to do with confidence as well.
Speaking of inspiration, what’s it like working with your daughter Elka on the new album?
Yeah, I mean, she's done a couple of them. On Picksing, track three, I had the first half of the track already, and then the second half has got a little plucking sound - that’s just her plucking her violin. So I just used that I said “look, come here” and I sampled it into the microphone on the laptop and so it’s got all these clicking sounds you can hear in the background. And with Elka’s Song what happened there, I just asked her to sing something, and she did that and I just made a track around it. But there’s a lot of other vocals in there which aren’t hers around it. Yeah, it all came together quite quickly, that one.
So this might be another silly question, but in terms of working with family, what about new music from Heterotic [Mike’s project with Lara Rix-Martin aka Meemo Comma who also happen to be married to each other]?
Well, there's nothing new coming from Heterotic. I've done a remix of her next album. So there's a new Meemo Comma album next year. And the new album of mine towards the end of this year, which is called Hello which is a follow up to Goodbye. So, yeah, I've done a remix on the first track on her album, it’s called Cloudscape, I think, on the Meemo Comma album, but I don’t know that she's gonna release it. I don't think she even likes it. So that's the sort of thing we've done together. But no, she's done a sort of jungle album too. But yeah, she's - I don't think she wants to do any more tracks with me because I just piss her off.
On to Planet Mu label stuff - there’s too much to ask so I’m gonna just ask a hard one and ask you for some standout moments from the label?
Well, I like the most recent album by Rian Treanor called File Under UK Metaplasm, I thought that was a really good album. I mean, obviously Severant and all Jlin’s material is amazing. I think that latest Gabor Lazar album as well, that’s pretty strong. Magic Pony Ride of course *laughs* Yeah Speaker Music, I really loved the last Speaker Music album, Black Nationalist Sonic Weaponry.
So good. What about from an A&R perspective, anything in particular you look for in a Planet Mu artist?
Just people who sound like me, yeah… *laughs* Sometimes that is the case, actually, people like Mrs. Jynx and a few others, but I’ve got no idea, I just listen to stuff and if I like it, or it excites me, you know, then I’ll try and put it out. A lot of stuff goes to other labels, though, which I like. Or sometimes stuff I like isn’t a good match for Planet Mu, you know, you have to think “well, I really like this, but if we release this, it’s not going to do any favours to us or to the artists”, so let them do it themselves or go to another label.
Before we wrap up, I have to ask about footwork, like how did you first come across the whole juke/footwork scene initially?
Through blogs, people blogging, you remember, blogs don't really exist anymore, I suppose. In the same way. Yeah, just a couple of people blogging about DJ Nate. And I went down a rabbit hole of YouTube videos and thought “this is crazy”, you know. And then found there was a whole sort of scene of it, you know. Nate’s stuff was a lot more r&b, I think then a lot of more housey based footwork stuff, I mean, there was a whole sort of, at that time 2007 to 2009, there was that whole sort of sampling, hip hop, and pop hits, phase of footwork, and where it's sort of blown up in schools. I think that was the sound, which doesn't really exist anymore.
Yeah like Evanescence and Lady Gaga samples and stuff, amazing.
Yeah you couldn’t really get away with it now… I mean, maybe you could *laughs*
One way to find out! So you’ve already mentioned a few exciting things in the pipeline, anything else Planet Mu or µ-Ziq you want to share?
As I said, there’s this Hello album coming out at the end of this year which I’m quite excited about. Then I’ve got a new album on another label next year which is an ambient album - or sort of ambientish. It has got a jungle breakbeat in one of the tracks but yeah, excited about that. As to what’s happening at Planet Mu, so there’s an album from Meemo Comma that I’ve told you about. We’ve signed Mun Sing, who’s one half of Giant Swan, for a solo record which is all done I think, I’m just waiting for the final mixdowns, actually. DJ Girl as well, we’ve signed, got an album, from Texas. There’s a new Speaker Music, new Venetian Snares, new DJ Manny, Saint Abdullah with Eomac, Old Apparatus, a new Jlin album, Ital Tek, Rian Treanor and Lara Sarkissian… so yeah we’ve signed all of that, but I don’t think we can get it all out next year.
That’s already too much for two years, Mike!
There’s a lot there… but a lot of it’s done already. That reminds me, I’ve got to talk to Venetian Snares, I’m not happy with the first track on the album, I want to switch it with the second, change the order… Oh and I’ve got a few gigs in Australia, soon as well. Well, not soon, but towards the end of the year.
Oh no way, I hadn’t even seen that! I’ll check the dates ASAP… What’s a µ-Ziq live set like these days?
Well, I've been playing the stuff off Magic Pony Ride, and Hello… and Goodbye. Really, the last the last three or four gigs have just been like the first gigs I played since 2019, so all this year, and I just played new stuff. It's the first time I've been able to play new stuff for years you know, new dancey stuff and it's all gone down really well. So pleased about that. Yeah, this stuff on Hello, which is much more dance floor than Magic Pony Ride, it’s all quite a bit faster. Not all, there’s one faster track and one slower track, there’s still melody there. There’s a couple of dance floor ones.
Unreal, sounds like it will go down a treat on the dance floor. So much on the horizon for you and Planet Mu, can’t wait to hear it all - Mike, thanks so much for chatting!
Thanks so much.
µ-Ziq’s new album Magic Pony Ride is out now via Planet Mu
µ-Ziq plays Infinity Worm Festival, Canberra, Saturday September 17