|Mike Paradinas: Planet µ-Ziq
RA's Andrew Ryce travels to Brighton to sit down with the man behind the label with one of the most furious release schedules in the world, Planet Mu's Mike Paradinas.
One of electronic music's most well-known, long running and divisive labels, it's hard to imagine an imprint as large—in every respect—as Planet Mu to be headed up by one person. But for over a decade-and-a-half, Planet Mu has been steered by Mike Paradinas, the man formerly known as μ-Ziq, from IDM to breakcore to dubstep and everything in between and beyond.
"It is my full time job. I try to sleep a bit as well," Paradinas jokes. "I stopped making my own music because Planet Mu was taking up my time and I was enjoying the label more than producing at the time, which was after Bilious Paths, so around 2003. Since then I really haven't spent that much time making music, just concentrating on the label. I did it all myself for the first ten years." While at the outset the label specialized in breakbeat-heavy, hardcore-indebted IDM and breakcore centered around Paradinas' own work as u-Ziq, over the years the label has widened its purview to include dubstep, techno, footwork and even shades of pop.
Paradinas insists it's a realization rather than a compromise: "I think I'm more true to myself now than I was back then. I was afraid then, I think. When I started the label, I was in a little niche of doing what I've done with Rephlex or Warp or whomever, within that scene. And I think I could afford to [continue to] do that, but I had to come out of my comfort zone a bit. I was DJing before releasing records and I've always been producing because I had a four-track as a teenager, but when I was DJing it was all Belgian techno and breakbeat stuff. I was trying to make breakbeat hardcore. I think I just failed—and it was quite similar to what Aphex Twin was doing at the time."
The label's focus started to shift as Paradinas began to look outside the borders of his immediate scene: "I just had to release demos again… music I really like instead of music that I'd do," and his own personal open-mindedness and restlessness has become the label's trademark. "Once I've done something, I like to move on and do something new. I guess it's just the reflection of how my taste changes—or progresses, not changes."
Paradinas marks the label's major shift circa 2003: "Hellfish and Producer, I think, was the first one where I realized I could just call up someone whose records I was playing and get them to do a record for me instead of waiting for a demo from some spotty IDM kid." Since then, the label has moved back and forth between styles, sometimes dangerous territory that Paradinas recognizes: "Someone who came in when we were releasing Shitmat might perceive it as a breakcore label, and someone who came in when we were releasing Pinch as a dubstep label, even though we've released all sorts of things every year. People are now going to see it as a footwork label," he laments, "that's why I tried to stop releasing so much footwork this year."
Such a crowded and adventurous release calendar begs the question: when most labels can barely stay afloat, how can Planet Mu release so much material and manage to break even? "Oh yes, we make a profit. Not every time, but most albums manage to make a profit eventually. Not always in the first six months, but most of them do. Sometimes a 12-inch doesn't, but we're doing alright," he insists. As for what sells the most, the answer might be surprising: "Well, for a long time, it was Venetian Snares, and it's still doing well. Recently, the FaltyDL album and the Bangs & Works album have been doing well. I think the Oriol did quite well." He's not completely sure because as the Planet Mu operation ballooned, Paradinas was forced to hire help: "Now I've got Tom and Marcus and Gavin doing little jobs. Tom practically does all the horrible jobs I don't want to do, like dealing with the distributor, doing accounts… he helps me out pretty much running the label, I guess he's sort of a label manager." When asked what exactly his role at the label entails these days, Paradinas replies, "I pick the music, do the artwork, oversee everything. Answer all the fucking e-mails. And I get a lot of demos, I have to listen to them.... Tom does all the sales and I don't look at them as much as I used to. I'm not so much affected by how much the music sells, more just by how it sounds now, which I find less stressful."
Paradinas is equally vague when asked to outline the label's supposed identity, claiming it's "quite nerdy." "Planet Mu is more eclectic, always more interesting, always exciting… I would like people to think, rather than just say 'oh, that's shit,'" he admits. "I just find sticking to one thing really boring, I get sick of things easily. Maybe I just have a short attention span." We sat down Paradinas at his Brighton home earlier this year long enough for him to walk us through the label's recent fixation with footwork, its present and its future.
So you were a big part of the breaking the footwork scene internationally. What do you think of the way it has started to infiltrate bass music?
Yeah, I think it's interesting because footwork is interesting rhythmically and I think dubstep hasn't been rhythmically interesting for quite a few years. There haven't been many different rhythms used, you know, for quite a while. Probably since about 2006. It was quite exciting from 2004 to 2006, the whole halfstep thing that they nicked off grime. It sort of regressed to housier beats since then. Blawan is doing some interesting rhythms I think, and Ramadanman [Pearson Sound]. Roska did that sort of footwork-influenced track, that is quite interesting, "Measureless" I think it was called. It was quite good. Roska is more footwork-influenced rather than juke or b-more or something—like with Ramadanman. "Work Them" was a great track but I can't hear much actual footwork in that.
Do you think that even the juke influence is popping up lately is the result of the obsession with footwork you helped to foster?
I don't know if it is, because I certainly didn't DJ any juke or release any juke—as opposed to footwork as a sort of juke. It has more to do with Night Slugs and the like probably, I don't know.
Do you get frustrated when people collapse juke and footwork as one thing?
Well it's understandable, but it does get a bit frustrating when someone is listening to juke, decide that they don't like it and say what Planet Mu is doing is shit. They haven't listened to it. If they have listened to it and don't like it, fair enough.
What is the difference between juke and footwork for those who might not know?
Well they sound different. [laughs] They are both sort of around 160 beats per minute. Although certain footwork producers go up to like 180. Juke has a 4/4 kick like in house music, pretty much like fast ghetto house from Chicago. But the footwork, they got rid of the kick drum, the beats are more like half-speed beats and just sub-bass pulse. No kick drum really. Sometimes just a slow 808, very rarely with a kick drum, or just at the beginning of the bar. It's pretty much weightless music. It's completely different than juke, the same difference between garage and dubstep, really. Footwork has a totally different vibe to juke. Juke is like party music. Footwork is like nightmare music. But still, when you play it loud enough at a club, you can dance to it as well. Really dance. To me, anyway.
Why did you want release DJ Nate as the first footwork artist on Planet Mu instead of something more accessible like DJ Rashad or DJ Spinn?
Because I really liked it. I just thought it was singular and cute. It had a lot of samples and a weird psychedelic aspect to it. The use of the samples and the pitch of the samples sounded like he really didn't care. That he sort of came up with it by mistake. I don't know, it just really appealed to me, it sounded amazing and out of this world to me. I approached him and asked if we could release a collection of his stuff and he said alright, and sent me loads of tracks, and I found a load of tracks on various sites, and we had them remastered.
Was it true that they were ripped from YouTube? Don't you feel there's a problem with cutting tracks from YouTube to vinyl?
Why? Because of the quality? He didn't have the originals. They would have never been released otherwise. The masters I got from him were the same quality as the tracks from YouTube. There is a little code you can use to grab higher quality files off YouTube. I don't know if they've stopped it now, but in those days you could grab it from the site, they were 192kbps MP3s, maximum quality. He didn't save his stuff as WAVs, none of the Chicago guys—even Rashad or Spinn—save as WAVs. They are all at best 320s, usually 160s. Even the Spinn EP was off 320 MP3s and the Rashad release was off 160 MP3s. It sounds alright when mastered though, doesn't it? Bangs & Works sounds great out as well, and that is mostly off MP3s less than 320kbps.
"We're exploiting everyone, aren't
we? I think that's pretty much
what every label has done."
How did you put together the Bangs & Works compilation?
That took an enormous time. We started on that before we even got a hold of Nate, pretty much 18 months of talking to people to get that done. It was a very... I don't like thinking about it. A long journey. A long, long journey that was getting people to trust you, convincing people, "yes, we want to release that, and the whole other album." There are a lot of personalities on that album and you have to deal with everyone and reassure them all.... A lot of footwork guys are very wary of giving out tracks because someone else will just take that track and put their little audio logo on it and say it's theirs. A lot of the tracks we would get had audio logos on for whatever DJ it was. Sometimes it's hard to hear whether or not there's even a good track underneath.... It's like being a teacher being with a class of kids, but I'm glad it worked out, glad we got about 80% of the tracks we wanted. And we got all the right people and paid the right people—I hope.
Were you looking to create something comprehensively representative of footwork, or just your own vision of footwork?
The latter. I mean there were a lot of discussions before it was released with some of the DJs involved and people like Dave Quam who did the sleeve notes and Neema who runs Ghettophiles and people like that. There was a lot of discussion on what I wanted to do. All of it is colored by the different groups, the different little cliques of producers within footwork and everything. So everyone says everyone else outside is shit, pretty much, apart from RP Boo. So it's difficult to know if what people are saying is real talk or not. Because I'm not involved in the scene, I wasn't really in the right place to do something representative of footwork, or how it then stood three years ago or whatever, so really the only option which I could have done to be true to myself was to compile the things which really affected me in a good way. The ones I liked in other words. The compilation is charting my discovery of footwork and what turned me on about it.
And you're happy with the way it turned out?
Simon Reynolds e-mailed me and said I'd done a great service. That pleased me. So one person had liked it, then, or two people—I thought I'd done a good job too. But obviously it isn't representative of footwork in Chicago, no. That's the problem with it I guess. But then to the rest of the world it shows that there is interesting music being made in Chicago that doesn't get exposure, and it does show off what various production tropes that there aren't anywhere else in the world. Ideas, rhythmic ideas.
How do you respond to the people who might say that you are appropriating or exploiting a local scene?
Well that's what record labels do anyway isn't it? We are exploiting music for profit. I think that's what pretty much every label has done. I don't think we are exploiting them as black Chicago guys any more than we do with white dubstep guys. We're exploiting everyone, aren't we?
The many faces of Planet Mu. Clockwise from left: DJ Nate, Ikonika, Falty DL, Venetian Snares.
Aside from the footwork-related contingent, you've also been releasing a lot of stuff like Boxcutter, Oriol, Tropics and the like. What do they mean to the label? Especially Boxcutter because he's way off on something else.
I mean Boxcutter has been listening to James Ferraro for quite a few years and I think that was the main inspiration for him. Well, some of it, because he recorded some of the tracks to cassette tape. We should have mentioned that in the press release, shouldn't we? Some of the tracks are from cassette tapes!
Is that whole discourse of cassette tapes and nostalgia and hypnagogic pop—whatever you want to call it—does that interest you and are you trying to push that with Planet Mu? Solar Bears, on your label, are doing similar things as well.
It is nostalgic, isn't it? Sometimes I do worry that it's all just nostalgia; do I really like it? How do I know? It's my problem, isn't it? Christ... I think I like it. I certainly like the Oriol album. I certainly liked the Tropics things we released. I certainly liked the Boxcutter album. I think they are all doing different things. I mean none of them are straight chillwave, I think, like Washed Out or Toro Y Moi. Washed Out is straight chillwave. And it's funny, because I find that boring, I didn't like the Washed Out release. If there was anything I really liked, it was the Toro Y Moi album Causers of This, I really liked that but not the new one.
Moving away from the label, you haven't released much yourself in the past few years.
That's true. Because I haven't written anything worth releasing. I'm quite hard on myself. It's been shit. I haven't had much inspiration, I've been concentrating on the label and haven't given myself any time to write, really. So the only thing I've been working on is the Heterotic thing with Lara [Rix-Martin].
What does Heterotic sound like?
It's kind of smoky. I'm not very good at describing things—I can't describe anything other than like…
It's not breakcore.
It's not dubstep, it's not breakcore. I mean from my point of view we are trying to write pop music, really, appealing but not obnoxious. Pop music with introspection. Kind of depressing, melodic. My god, this is sort of the musician-y way of describing it, isn't it? I'm not good at describing my stuff. Because I've been working with Lara and she's a lot younger than me, the '80s and '70s are kind of exciting for her, like the '60s were when I started making music. So she brought out some of that in me, the influences I had when I was a kid in the '80s listening to OMD or Heaven 17, so there's a bit of that in there, there's a quite a lot of OMD and even the '80s pop funk influence in there a little, you know, like D-Train or Pointer Sisters. All the influence coming from Lara's side is what she's into. Fleetwood Mac, Kate Bush and Fairport Convention.
"I'm just clinging to my teenage
past by running a record label."
Is Heterotic replacing μ-Ziq or are they going to co-exist?
I don't know. I was going to release an album with old music stuff, for ZIQ300. But I'm getting a bit old to do it. Kind of an angry young person's thing, wasn't it?
How do you feel about your new role as the behind the scenes master as opposed to being out there as a musician?
It's better. Well I'm more comfortable with it, yeah. I don't think I was that comfortable doing the music. Maybe I was. I can't even remember. Really I can't really compare the two. It's just one after another. I do still produce a bit, and I'll do the occasional remix here and there. It's fun—it doesn't always get released, and sometimes it does.
You've spoken out against filesharing in the past, right? How do you feel about that now?
Yeah, it killed the music business, it's gone.
Is this a bad thing?
No. Not for them. For some, and for me, probably, running a label. There are other different business models… blah blah blah. The thing is, we are making a profit, I can't really complain. But we can't just stop there either. There's not much of a discussion to be had, is there?
So then how does the internet affect the music industry, and the way you put out music, and the way you receive music?
It is quite a large question. I think that the digitization of everything will affect how we receive everything in the future, and I think music was one of the first things to be affected. Everything else will follow. It will change all our lives and even how we act. We're probably going to have to upload ourselves to some sort of wireless bog in the future. [laughs] Getting a bit ahead of myself.
You live in the future.
Yeah… not really. I'm just clinging to my teenage past by running a record label. Because I don't think… there may not be record labels in the future. Or there may be. I don't know. I'm still able to make it work, and I'm glad for that.
Published / Monday, 20 June 2011