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“We just called it techno”: Mike Paradinas and Lara Rix-Martin on Heterotic, the early days of µ-Ziq and the ascent of Planet Mu

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Heterotic

Mike Paradinas isn’t quite a household name. But as far as his impact on the electronic music world goes he is the equal of almost any other DJ or producer you’d care to mention.

As a teenager in the early 90s, operating under the µ-Ziq alias, Paradinas joined the likes of Autechre and the Aphex Twin in pioneering the leftfield takes on techno, UK hardcore and jungle that would come to be called IDM. Across two LPs for the Rephlex label, Paradinas’ productions put a distinctive spin on the burgeoning form, their busy arrangements and bold, often warm melodics establishing a yin to the icy yang of Autechre’s Amber.

Later in the decade, after a brief dalliance with Virgin records (challenging electronic music was hot dollar back then), Paradinas launched his own imprint, Planet Mu. Initially serving as an outlet for the IDM scene and its offspring, the label has since undergone a series of radical overhauls, consistently wrong-footing its detractors and cementing its position at the forefront of all things electronic. In the mid-2000s the label served as an essential platform for dubstep’s launch into the mainstream; in recent years it has become renowned for championing Chicago footwork, helping to plant a previously obscure music firmly in the global musical consciousness.

 

 

Paradinas’ own music-making appeared to falter in the noughties. He hasn’t released an album of original material since 2007’s Duntisbourne Abbots Soulmate Devastation Technique, preferring, it seems, to focus on the label. This year, though, marks a change in focus. Love And Devotion is the debut album from Heterotic, a collaboration between Paradinas and his wife Lara Rix-Martin, featuring the vocals of Warp singer-songwriter Gravenhurst. It’s a strikingly accessible affair, inviting comparisons to much of the 80s-referencing pop of recent years, as well as to fellow Planet Mu artists Tropics and Rudi Zygadlo.

New µ-Ziq material is reportedly on its way too. But first Paradinas is commemorating the 20th anniversary of the alias with Somerset Avenue Tracks, a collection of previously unheard productions dating from 1992-1995, compiled by Rix-Martin and released in limited edition LP format. These tracks still sound surprisingly fresh, at points endearingly naive and at others oddly prescient (opener ‘Jewel Tea’ is dubstep avant la lettre). Though it may be two decades since Paradinas first stepped into the limelight, his presence on the electronic music scene feels as vital as it ever has. In light of this, FACT’s Angus Finlayson met up with Paradinas and Rix-Martin for a wide-ranging discussion touching on borrowed Betamaxes, Detroit purism, pseudo-footwork and the art of making music in sub-zero temperatures.

 

“Most of the Somerset Avenue tracks were recorded on Betamax, which is digital, as opposed to VHS, which is analogue. My friend Frank, his dad had the Betamax, so we used to go up to his house to record there…”

 

It would be good to talk about the Somerset Avenue Tracks compilation first. I’m impressed that you still had all of these tracks stored in good condition. Were they sitting in an attic somewhere?

MP: “I was living in a flat – we didn’t have an attic. But they were on DATs, in a shoebox. Most of them were recorded on Betamax, which is digital, as opposed to VHS, which is analogue. My friend Frank, his dad had the Betamax, so we used to go up to his house to record them on there. Once I got a DAT machine – which was when I got the advance for [1993 debut album] Tango N’ Vectif – I went up to his house and recorded all this stuff onto DATs over a couple of days. DAT’s good quality, it lasts – they’re still working, you know.”

Are you a compulsive archiver? Do you hang onto all of your music from over the years?

MP: “I try to, yeah. I wouldn’t say it’s a compulsion. But it’s nice to – because you forget about a lot of it. Back then I was writing two or three tracks a day. A lot of it’s shit though [laughs]. [to Lara] I don’t know, is it? Sometimes the stuff I think is shit, other people think is quite good. So it’s difficult to…”

Lara, you compiled the album didn’t you?

LR: “There was about 1000 [tracks] to start with, wasn’t there? How many was it?”

MP: “There was about 1300 altogether. Then I gave you about 1000 – we went through a lot of it really quickly, like if you didn’t like two seconds of it it’d be in the bin.”

I guess you’d have to, with that volume of material.

MP: “It took us ages. I had to convert them all to mp3s so we could listen to them. That took about three months, on and off.”

LR: “It’s a shame because a lot of it was all live – you had to record it all in one go – so sometimes you were like, ‘I really like this part of the song, but then it goes a bit off…’”

MP: “Yeah that was because, with the Atari, if you saved it and went back to it the next day the reliability of the floppy disks was such that you couldn’t guarantee that it would save properly. So it was always best to strike while the inspiration was there and get it down. And sometimes the drums would be too loud, or if you were playing bits live they’d be shit.”

 

“I first heard acid house through tapes you could buy in Camden market. I got this tape – this yellow cassette, photocopied on fluorescent paper with a smiley on it – and it just sounded completely alien.”

 

So, to talk about that early period. How did you get into club music? What sort of age were you at this time – were you old enough to be going out?

MP: “Yeah, yeah. Well, what influenced me, I think, and getting into club music, were different things. I started going to clubs when I was 16, for what they called rare groove then, which is soul, James Brown – but all the B-sides, basically. There was a club in Brixton called the Mambo Inn, and I went there three or four times. That was my first clubbing experience. There were people doing amazing dance moves and I was shit at dancing, so that was quite impressive. That was the first sort of music I was into really, and I took a lot of inspiration from that I think.

“I first heard acid house through tapes you could buy in Camden market. I got this tape – this yellow cassette, photocopied on fluorescent paper with a smiley on it – and it just sounded completely alien. So I played that to death. I remember ‘Pump Up London’ by Mr Lee was on it, but I can’t remember what else. And then I started buying a few twelve-inches, but I didn’t have a record player until later – it’d be a couple of years until I got one.”

Did you start going out to raves?

MP: “Not really, no.”

Your involvement was more at arm’s length?

MP: “Yeah. I’d just buy cassettes. That was ’88, I would’ve been 16 or 17. But my mates weren’t into it so I didn’t really go to clubs then, not until about 1990. So I listened to the radio. John Peel, Colin Dale and Colin Faver – Colin Dale’s Abstract Dance show. And Kiss as well. I could get a bit of pirate radio where I was in Raynes Park, but not the same as if I’d been further into London.”

Then you went to university in London, too?

MP: “In Kingston, which is nearby. I did architecture and I dropped out in ’92. But it was at university that I started DJing and making a lot of music.”

Your music from that time has a strong melodic sense. Which defines a lot of music from that sort of camp, but not necessarily early 90s techno in a broader sense.

MP: “Yeah. I think the melodic sense that I’ve got came from watching 70s TV – there were a lot of synth-y theme tunes. Maybe from a bit of funk, which always had quite juicy melodies. I always struggled to do beats I think…But anyway, the stuff on Somerset Avenue was all made while I was studying architecture. At my mum’s house – where she still lives!”

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