Hailing from South West London, Mike Paradinas began operating under the name µ-ziq in 1992 whilst studying for a degree in architecture at Kingston.
However, Paradinas decided his true vocation was to produce far-reaching electronic music.
In 1995, Paradinas decided to launch his own record label imprint, Planet Mu, to give voice to other creative electronic artists.
Royal Astronomy, released in July 1999, saw Paradinas return as µ-Ziq; his most adventurous yet accessible collection to date, revealing a more melodic side, matched only by his equally impressive albums under the moniker Kid Spatula.
Barcode took the time to catch up with Mike in between projects.
When did you set up the Planet Mu label? It was 1998 when I set it up. We did have a deal with Virgin for about a month, they put out a compilation called Meal Time. It didn’t really work out for them or us. Well you know major labels (laughs)!
Did they put too much pressure on you to do things their way? No, it didn’t sell enough for them to be happy with it really. They did it very expensively. In those days I think major labels just spent money everywhere on big lunches, and as much as they could on records, and it just doesn’t work like that anymore.
So you must have been disappointed with that? No, it still sold pretty well, but just not compared to other things that they were doing. This sort of music is not something that sells a lot of copies. So I set it [Planet Mu] up myself with an independent distributor and it’s been going pretty well since 1998 I suppose.
So when you set up the label it was just for yourself or did you have other acts in mind? Yeah, it was for other acts because I was still signed to Virgin then and we still had another album to go, Royal Astronomy. I set it up mainly because I could release what I wanted, and I knew that I couldn’t do what I wanted with Virgin because it was all about money and I wanted it to be about music.
And having your own label allows you to keep a larger slice of the profits as well? You’re assuming there are profits (laughs).
It must have enabled you to make a living from writing music? Releasing my own stuff yeah, but not putting out other people’s because all the money goes back into running the label. There’s not enough to pay anyone to run the label but just about enough to keep it going. We don’t pay any staff or anything, we don’t pay for an office, I do it in my studio.
So who does the Planet Mu website? A Canadian guy called Attila, who does it for free. Everyone sort of mucks in and helps because they’re into the music. The guy who does the sleeves does it very cheaply. If you run a label you can’t get away from the business side of it, it’s mostly about business and politics, after the music. The music obviously comes first, and when picking that you don’t have your business head on. It comes naturally to me, but I’m not a great businessman I suppose otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this sort of music (laughs). If I were a businessman I wouldn’t be in music at all, because it’s a very dying sort of thing, releasing physical music records.
So how involved do you get with the other acts on the label? Do you work with then quite closely? Yeah, very closely. I speak to them whenever we’ve got something coming out. I speak to them as much as I can because there are probably about 50 artists on the label now.
Do you help them in the studio too? Most of them don’t need it. With computers these days… well it’s easy innit (laughs)? When it comes to mastering a record it’s slightly different, but I sign music that I like the sound of and I don’t really want to change it if I like it. When it comes to production, when you’re trying to match up volumes and tracks on an album, there’s obviously advice. I try to give a bit of advice on creating albums, but when it comes to the actual sound itself I leave it to the artist. A lot of the artists are a lot better than I am (laughs), so I don’t really try to tell them what I think too much.
Do you get a lot of people sending demos to you? Yeah, about 50 or so a week probably.
And you go through those yourself? Yes, there’s no one else to. Well, I don’t get through it (laughs), there’s an enormous backlog at the moment. I used to get through it when we only had about 20 a week. I tend to look for the names I recognise; in fact I’ve been listening to stuff just now.
And out of all of those, how many would you say you‘re interested enough in to get back in touch? I don’t know, I can’t work it out. Probably about 20 releases a year, maybe less. But then there’s a lot that I like that I don’t release. I haven’t really got time to ring everybody if I like it a little bit, but there’s a lot of stuff that you listen to a few times and realise it’s nothing special; superficial stuff that sounds alright but you’re not sure until you play it a few times whether it’s really good. A lot of demo’s I get are just totally unsuitable, y’know, really crap Trance, or stuff that isn’t suitable for the label and it’s shit. But I always listen to it; I don’t think I can tell anything from how it’s presented even if it’s a rock band. I get a lot of people who send stuff without knowing what the label’s about. But I like some of it so I always check it out, but often it’s proficient but not special enough.
So what’s your take on everything that’s going on surrounding music piracy, does it affect you much? Well everyone’s got an opinion about it, but from the point of view of people sharing music it’s quite natural to want to share stuff. If you’ve found something that you’re excited about you want to play it to someone else. So I can understand that - it’s human nature. But the non-physicality of MP3’s does affect us, I also think it’s human nature for people to want to get paid for doing work, regardless of what sphere the work’s in. Just because it's music we shouldn’t be expected to do it for free when we’re spending more than 9-5 working at it quite hard. A lot of people think it’s quite cool not to pay for stuff in an anarchist way, people who deliberately try and get as many MP3’s as they can, even if they can afford to buy the stuff. I suppose it’s human nature to object to someone ripping you off, but then I totally understand about MP3’s and wanting to find out about new music. And obviously it can work for us as well as against us.
Have you noticed an impact on Planet Mu sales? It’s started to get better. There was an impact yeah; our sales went down to about a quarter of what they were. In 1998, an average album would probably sell about 3,000 quite easily, depending on the quality obviously. And then in 2000 it had gone down to about a third, and 2002 was probably the worst year, we were struggling to sell 500 of anything. But having increased the profile of the label we’re doing better with certain things, but it’s still hard to shift 500 of something really obscure.
It must be hard for you to gauge why exactly something isn’t selling? Yeah exactly, you can’t tell if it’s definitely MP3’s, but I think a lot of it has to do with certain territories. I think in Germany they’ve had a lot of trouble with it, a lot of distributors have collapsed there. It’s a combination of young people only listening to mobile phone ring tones, downloading MP3’s and people being unable to get hold of the records; because shops aren’t willing to take chances any more because of the state of sales. It’s a lot more difficult for independent labels than majors because we haven’t got that teenage pop market, pre-computer owners. Most people that like electronic music own computers and download as well. I think we’ve got material now that if we’d released ten years ago, with the sort of promotion we’ve got now, would have sold 12,000 instead of 3,000.
Do you think that the sort of music that Planet Mu puts out is more appealing to the younger generation or the older people who perhaps grew up with the electronic music of the eighties? I think it’s a bit of both, I mean we’ve held parties and stuff of which mostly 18-25 year olds come along. They look pretty young to me; I’m 32 (laughs). Yeah, we get a lot of kids coming along, people who are into Jungle and Breakcore or Venetian Snares, really young teenagers just wanting to listen to dirty music.
I think it’s important that we have labels like yours where the artists have the creative freedom to do what they want and have it released as well. Major labels aren’t going to be releasing this sort of stuff anymore; it’s all going to be independent labels releasing interesting stuff for the moment until it picks up again, if it does. I think independent labels do it for the love of music, not talking about XL [Recordings] here (laughs); I’m talking about smaller independents.
So when did you realise that you could make a living out of music? When I was doing it, probably about 1995. I didn’t really get paid any money until 1995. I was confident in my music earlier but I was just hassling to get paid before then. I was on the dole. It’s harder to make it work now, I’ve still got little streams of income coming in but it’s hard to make a living. I probably wouldn’t earn as much if I had a good job, but y’know, I’d rather be doing this.
What sort of music were you listening to in the eighties then? Adam And The Ants I think (laughs). Ultravox, Simple Minds, Bryan Adams.
Bryan Adams, that’s a strange one? I didn’t listen to him by choice; I think we had it all forced on us in the eighties. I don’t have any of his records (laughs). Human League and Heaven 17 I really liked. In the late eighties I wasn’t really listening to much music, I didn’t find anything I liked. I didn’t really know anything about Acid House until 1989 and then I started listening to music again. I thought Hip-Hop was all about Dougie Fresh.
Anybody who listened to your music might expect you to reference Kraftwerk? All I’d heard was The Model, which had been in the charts. Until I signed for Rephlex and someone put on Computer World. I was well into that, but I didn’t hear that until about 1992, by which time I’d already written Tango N’Vectif. So Kraftwerk’s not a big influence, but I really like their production, it’s wicked. Their tunes are totally wicked as well.
"It’s a very dying sort of thing, releasing physical music records"
Tango N’Vectif was your first album as U-Ziq, which has a very strange spelling. I don’t know anybody who knows how to pronounce it. I do, it’s “Music” (laughs).
And you must be pleased that Kid Spatula is becoming as popular. Do you have a favourite project? I don’t really work on projects, I just work on tracks and then decide what to release them under later. In the case of Kid Spatula, it was like 8 years ago that I wrote most of the stuff for Meast, which is all archive stuff.
Did you spruce up a lot of that material? No, I just recorded it from DAT onto my laptop, gave it some EQ, because they sounded quite weird next to eachother quality wise, and started burning CD’s of it.
The tracks don’t sound 8 years old; you’re obviously ahead of your time. I don’t know, I don’t think so. They’re just midi tracks most of them. I think they’re of their time,
And what gear did you use to record that material? That was all done on an Atari SZ1 Sampler, DX11, D50, and a Nordlead on some of the later tracks.
The D50 has quite a recognisable sound, but I don’t remember hearing it on Meast? Well I programme my own sounds; it’s usually because people play the presets on that. The DX11 has pretty recognisable sounds as well, a bit Techno (laughs).
Is the D50 a good machine for programming on? Yeah, it’s great. It’s fine, it’s got loads of versatility. I don’t think many people used it very well. People would hire one in wouldn’t they? Or go to a studio with one and play the presets on their album.
So do you consider the use of presets as being a bit cheesy? No, I use presets as well, if they’re nice (laughs). I like some cheesy sounds; I use both. I don’t like to prefer one to the other. People who say “no presets” can be fucking boring bastards as well as people who just use presets. I mean I used a lot of stock D50 sounds on some of my tracks as well. If it works, use it. It’s the musical ideas that need to be interesting and I think there are really good tracks using stock D50 sounds, I’m not talking about mine. But in terms of recognising the synths, I could programme it as well, but I’m not prejudiced against people who use presets (laughs).
So your studio’s based at home? Yeah, it’s nice, so I can be with my kids and do whatever I want. At the moment I’m just using a Mac G3 and G4, I’ve got a laptop and a desktop one. I use my Nordlead as well still, and record it into the audio. I do use hardware occasionally, but generally I just record it as audio and then cut it up and affect it different ways.
You’re not part of the Pro-Tools fraternity yet, which so many seem to be turning too? No, I use Logic. I didn’t know that, but I know people used to buy Pro Tools because it’s quite like an analogue studio in its interface, and the sound quality is meant to be quite good. But I think the sound quality is fine on all of the audio sequencers. I always thought the midi side of pro-tools used to be shit, but they’ve probably improved it. In terms of going to audio sequencers from gear it’s a lot easier now to use computers, although everything on Meast was done on Atari.
The style of music on Meast is perhaps comparable to Aphex Twin? Yeah, that’s fine, I like Aphex Twin a lot. You talked about influences, and he was probably the biggest electronic influence I’ve had.
And Squarepusher of course? Yeah, I love Squarepusher’s stuff. The new single reminds me very much of Remark, a sample off a particular jungle track. I didn’t like the last album, Ultravisitor; I don’t like that style of Squarepusher. I like more the intense ones, like Venus No.17, and the one before that, Do You Know Squarepusher. It sounds to me as if he’s doing it more for himself and Ultravisitor was the sort of album that he thought would appeal to a wider public because it had musicianship, and tracks that build more slowly, organically and musically. I think I prefer his more hardcore sound, I DJ with it quite a lot.
Do you think there’s something to learn from those artists? Well, totally yeah, nick ideas (laughs)? Luke Vibert I love. But then, below those sort of geniuses, or whatever you want to call them, I don’t find much inspiration, other than the artists on my label.
"I like Aphex Twin a lot. He was probably the biggest electronic influence I’ve had."
A lot of your material with µ-Ziq and Kid Spatula strikes me as suitable for TV advertisements. Is that something you’ve ever thought about doing? Not when I write the track no. It’s not easy to get into; adverts mainly go to friends of friends of the person who’s doing the visuals. The more you try, the less you get. If you keep sending stuff off to agencies they just get pissed off (laughs). Just wait, and if someone wants to use it they contact you. It’s happened a couple of times that I’ve had a few tracks used here and there. It’s just pot-luck really, if you try to much it won’t happen.
When you write an album, do you write it for yourself or do you think about the audience that you’re writing for? Yeah, I write it for myself. I think most artists would just do it for themselves, I don’t think many of them even think of albums, they just think of a piece of work or a selection of tracks which work together. I don’t even think most people think of releasing them, having talked to people either on my label or people like Aphex Twin. I think most of the stuff they write isn’t intended to be heard by many other people - just them and their mates. It’s the same with me really, I play live occasionally and I make tracks to play live.
When was the last time you played live? At the weekend, I just did a one-off in Holland. I DJ every few weeks and play live more often. I DJ wherever I get asked, I’m playing The Glade Festival at the weekend, I DJ a lot with Luke Vibert.
You appear to work quite constantly? Not any more, now I don’t have time really (laughs). Running the label takes up most of my time now.
So how does this affect your output? Well, we’ve been concentrating on the label; we’re up to over 100 releases now. We just want to keep releasing good music. Hopefully it can continue being successful and still be able to run, and not go bust. It’s the same with everything these days; we’re doing as well as other labels I reckon. I haven’t written for ages, I think I’ve done one track this year. I’ve got a remix, which I’ve been doing since last September on my computer. Otherwise, just compiling other people’s stuff at the moment, I hope to get some time to record, but I’ve just been doing-up my studio this year.
So there are a lot of ideas stewing around in your brain? I hope there are; it doesn’t feel like there are. But I’m sure when I sit down at the keyboard it will come out. I used to do it non stop, but I think it helps to get a head of steam and a bit of momentum going before you start to write good tracks. You have to start working quite intensively before the tracks start to flow. I think that’s how it works for all artists. Like a band that practises more starts to write better, it’s the same for electronic artists, just keep recording tracks regardless. Don’t think if they’re good or bad, get stuff down, finish it, do another one and you’ll start to get really good. That’s how it used to work with me.
And what sort of music are you enjoying listening to at the moment? At the moment I’m listening to Venetian Snares, who is on my label as well. It’s all in different time signatures. It’s usually 7 beats per bar, and once you get your head around it it’s really easy to listen to. People who don’t realise the time signature will get into the groove of it but think it’s all random. You have to learn to listen to it, it’s like a Waltz, which is 3 beats or 6 beats per bar, but this is one more, which doesn’t make it better.
Do you read reviews of your albums to see if they’re well received? If they’re good yeah (laughs). I only enjoy reading it if it’s good, but I do read reviews yes. It doesn’t really affect me if they say it’s crap, because they’re wrong in my opinion.
Mike Paradinas interview, Barcode 2004 ©
No part of this interview may be reproduced under any circumstances without the written or verbal permission of the editor.