As part of a new series of articles, State will be looking at specific record labels: their influence, history, upcoming releases and occasionally talking to the people behind the records. For our first installment we hone in on Planet Mu, a label that’s managed to dip into uncharted waters while still keeping a big toe on the classic hardcore sound that established them over a decade ago. We caught up with founder Mike Paradinas, a.k.a µ-Ziq, Kid Spatula, Jake Slazenger, Tusken Raiders, Rude Ass Tinker (the list really does go on) for a chat about the label’s workings, Chicago Footwork and his forthcoming project with Gravenhurst.
From it’s humble late ‘90s onset, Planet Mu could easily have fallen into a slew of underground niche releases – a la Skam or Rephlex records – that, while thoroughly respectable, are inevitably alienating to most. Instead they took a different route, one where the many aspects of electronic music are taken in to consideration and all attempts at impressing the minority of chin strokers are jettisoned. Since then, they’ve become a choice destination for cream o’ the crop digital music and shiny new boxes of never before seen gems. Now seeing as carving a trustworthy image while still fondling into the unknown is an impressive feat for any label we were curious as to how Planet Mu pulls the whole thing off.
As it turns out, the secret to a successful record label involves releasing whatever sounds good to you. Planet Mu’s releases, it seems, boil down to the personal tastes of Paradinas himself, “I couldn’t imagine doing it long term in any other way. Maybe I haven’t got enough imagination.”. For many, running a label based on their own appetite would lead to an unvaried soup of releases but this is Mike Paradinas, a man who’s many monikers span the gamut of electronic music. Pick up any µ-Ziq album and your likely to find a smorgasbord of ambient, IDM, jungle, and breakbeat tracks, most of which are tinted with a kind of folkish elflike sheen.
It’s this inherent eclecticism that Paradinas has displayed throughout his career that allows Planet Mu to meander as it does. Where else would you find breakcore behemoth Venetian Snares sharing the same front yard as Mary Anne Hobbs and The Internal Tulips. One only has to glance at comp albums Sacred Symbols of Mu or The Mu School to see the true diversity of this label. Yet Mu’s array is not the only weapon in it’s armoury, their timing’s impeccable. 2008 saw artists like Vex’d, Pinch, and Virus Syndicate release on the label when dubstep and grime where about as ubiquitous as job loss and public unrest. Then as dubstep starts hopping into bed with house over the next couple of years Planet Mu’s right on the money again with records from the likes of FaltyDL and Floating Points, and all the while they’re still putting out back alley glitter from Ceephax Acid Crew, Rudi Zygadlo, and Boxcutter. Once again this skill comes down to instinct on Paradinas’ part “ I am just going with what I’m feeling at the time – what’s ‘in the air’. But having said that I think I do have quite a unique taste, usually for slightly weird melodies.”
Some of this ‘unique taste’ comes in the form of Chicago Footwork, a style of music that’s heavily reliant on accompanying dancers in a clique vs clique battle format and one that Paradinas has been attempting to import for the last number of years. For many footwork artists the allure of producing tracks is to secretly unleash them in combat with other footwork artists so transferring this to any tangible format is a mammoth task in itself. Then there’s the problem of shipping in a culture that’s wholly alien to most of the world. Yet despite the obvious pitfalls, Planet Mu have managed to capture some of the Chicago scene with releases from DJ Rashad, Nate, Spinn, and Roc, “I feel we have been successful in our intention which was to make something very exciting available worlwide. I don’t really need to predict what will happen with Footwork, simply drawing attention to something a lot more interesting than what was happening in homegrown scenes was the intention”. All of this culminates into the Bangs & Works albums, a series of compilation LP’s featuring footwork tracks from rival Chicago circles that Paradinas considers their most important releases to date.
As a producer, Mike Paradinas has been on the shelf for the last five years but as of March 25th a long awaited silence will be broken with the release of Love & Devotion, a joint venture with Lara Rix-Paradinas under the name Heterotic. For some old school µ-Ziq and Tusken Raiders fans this new project might seem altogether tame as the LP drifts down a much more sentimental path than previous works, “when I started writing again in 2011 with my girlfriend (now wife) Lara, this is the sort of thing that came out. We weren’t very self-conscious about it and just let it flow really. I think Lara pushed me into more reflective places and reined in my pitch-bend excesses.”. The result is an eight track stroll through nostalgic electro pop, jaunty house, and a somewhat early ‘90s cusp of an era feel to most of tracks, but with all the polished production of modernity.
As well as offering a change in style from Paradinas’ usual onslaughts, Love & Devotion presents a change in focus too as vocals play an integral part in the album. Half of the tracks feature the mysterious fragile vocals of Nick Talbot (Gravenhurst) who, considering some of the genres attributed to this LP, shouldn’t be anywhere it. Yet despite seeming like a lost puppy in a new and altogether more upbeat playground than he’s used to, Talbot tackles the swings, slides, and ever intimidating monkey bars as if they’re his regular stomping ground. So what initially appears to be a contrary mix of ingredients ends up blending together seamlessly.
For an album that seems so glued, it’s surprising to find that even though Heterotic and Gravenhurst worked closely together for the selection and order of the record, it’s individual components were assembled separately, “Lara and I wrote all the instrumental music beforehand and a mutual friend suggested we work with a singer, namely Gravenhurst (Nick Talbot). We sent the material to NIck and he came up with the 4 tracks over the course of 2011. We intended to make more, but his own album intervened.”.
Arguably, some of Planet Mu’s success is due to the fact that they filled a Warp shaped hole that was appearing about a decade ago when the latter started signing more bands and slowly straying away from the electronic scene that made them what they are. So when Mu puts out a release with someone like Gravenhurst some may start to wonder whether they’ll go down a similar path but while he says it’s a desirable road to take, Paradinas admits that it’s more than they can chew at the moment, “we’ve always been interested in that ‘band’ side of things, but it takes more investment than we have access to, to compete on that scale.”.
As words like change, sentimental, and fragile get bandied about one could begin to get the impression that Planet Mu are beginning to change lanes but a look at their 2012 releases only proves that they’re still putting out cutting edge electronic music. Since it’s birth, the label has managed to change it’s direction and advance into new territories while still upholding a consistent tone. Hardcore and experimental made way for dubstep which in turn has stepped aside for ghetto music but never has Planet Mu strayed too far from the oddness and eccentricity of forward thinking music that was it’s making. But if anyone’s still skeptical as to the label’s recent forays, this year will see µ-Ziq’s first release since 2007’s Duntisbourne Abbots Soulmate Devastation Technique and a return the wistful explorative IDM of his formative years but with all the goodness of the last six years embedded in it’s core.