Released in 1997, μ-Ziq’s ‘Lunatic Harness’ mixed jungle and out-there electronica in a way few had heard before. Here, Mike Paradinas talks to Ben Murphy about the influences that went into creating this genre-meshing gem, and his new album ‘Magic Pony Ride’
“THE PIRATES were the only way you could get to hear the jungle stuff,” says Mike Paradinas, aka µ-Ziq, reflecting on the mix of influences that gave rise to his classic album ‘Lunatic Harness’. “When I wrote most of the album, I was living in East Ham, near Forest Gate, and you could get a lot of pirate stations over there.”
When ‘Lunatic Harness’ was released in ’97, Paradinas, from Raynes Park in south-west London, had already put out three acclaimed µ-Ziq albums that radically shaped the IDM genre in his own image. ‘Tango N’ Vectif’, from 1993, wove unearthly tones and weird notes through clanking electro beats, ambient passages, distorted rhythms and bubbling acid, and was hailed by both Select Magazine at the time and Pitchfork in 2001 as a classic, while follow-up ‘Bluff Limbo’ added freaky tongue-in-cheek funk riffs and hardcore touches to his sound.
His remix EP for indie band The Auteurs got him a deal with major label Virgin and their subsidiaries Hi-Rise and Hut, and he released ‘In Pine Effect’ via the label, which included the uncharacteristic guitar jangle of the lush ‘Phiesope’. But ‘Lunatic Harness’ felt like something novel for even this inventive producer, colliding strange and beautiful melodic synths with full-pelt jungle breakbeats and fractured glitch rhythms.
Twenty-five years on from its creation, the album’s amalgamation of emotive electronica and roughneck drums feels like a manual for today’s more adventurous producers, with everyone from Aquarian to Special Request, Lone to Brainwaltzera seemingly drawing from its unique combination to reshape the parameters of the dancefloor. Labels such as Analogical Force and Furthur Electronix (both of whom Paradinas has recorded for) have made this IDM/breaks sound a priority, while ‘Lunatic Harness’, in its harsher fusillades of beat science, is also a vital early example of what came to be known as breakcore or drill ’n’ bass in the hands of artists like Kid 606 and Venetian Snares.
The striking mix of sounds on ‘Lunatic Harness’ sprang partly from Paradinas’ listening habits at the time (Suburban Base Records, Squarepusher) but also how he would find music. Beyond the jungle and hardcore he’d heard on pirate radio, record shops were an important way of discovering new sounds then. “It was hard to know what was being played on the pirates, so you’d go to the shops, and be lucky if you found something good,” Paradinas tells us over Zoom from his home in Brighton. “It wasn’t all covered in magazines — the hardcore stuff was looked down upon. In those days, there was DJ Mag obviously, Record Mirror, Mixmag, and the odd couple of dance pages in NME and Melody Maker. That’s the only way a person like me would get to know it, unless the shops told you.
“I used to go to Troublesome Records in Kingston, a bus ride away from my mum’s. They were really helpful, they sold me the first [Aphex Twin moniker] Caustic Window records. They would sell gabber stuff, and all the white label hardcore, and obviously stuff like Moving Shadow. It all fed into creating ‘Lunatic Harness’ in ’96.
Check ‘Approaching Menace’ from the album, with its titanium alloy break crunches and acid-blood bass splashes, and you can hear a strong drum & bass influence from the Metalheadz label, where releases at the time from Doc Scott, Adam F and Ed Rush were pointing towards the incipient techstep sound. “That track was inspired by a lot of the Metalheadz stuff, every single they released from ’94 to ’96 was really special, but also the Position Chrome label and Panacea, German almost breakcore techstep,” says Paradinas.
But there were other, less obvious sounds in the mix, too. Listen to the melancholic melodies of ‘Hasty Boom Alert’, the space-age hip-hop wonkiness of ‘Blainville’, or the optimistic notes of ‘Lunatic Harness’ itself, and there’s a retro-futuristic aspect at work too, harking back to the 1960s electronic music experiments of Wendy Carlos or Beaver & Krause — sounds that weren’t popular in the ’90s. “It was influenced by the sort of early electronic stuff, those Moog records, like easy listening covers with synthesisers, you could get them for about 20p in second-hand shops, doing Jesus Christ Superstar on the synthesiser,” Paradinas says. “There were also a lot of funky records, like Jean-Jacques Perrey. A lot of the synthesiser sounds on the album were that kind of easy listening synth thing, like Gentle People were doing on Rephlex at that time.”
“It was influenced by the sort of early electronic stuff, those Moog records, like easy listening covers with synthesisers, you could get them for about 20p in second-hand shops, doing Jesus Christ Superstar on the synthesiser.”
One of the most compelling features of ‘Lunatic Harness’ is its synthesis of sounds that were considered incompatible by some. In the mid-’90s, electronica (or “IDM”) was taken seriously by the music press and by house and techno heads, who worshipped at the church of Detroit and Chicago, and who often scoffed at jungle and hardcore as “unsophisticated” or basic. Paradinas, like his Rephlex Records cohort Aphex Twin, refused to observe such a division and deliberately mixed up the styles he enjoyed, adding a dose of humour to counteract the disapproval so prevalent elsewhere in electronica then. “Rephlex as a whole was an antidote, and I was a part of that — using humour to poke fun at the Detroit purists. When you went to [London shop] Fat Cat Records in those days, it was very po faced. They didn’t like any record that had a bit of silliness to it. I remember going in there once with a Tower Records bag and saying, ‘What have you got?’ I’d bought a Prodigy record, I think it was ‘Your Love’. They said, ‘What do you want to listen to that shit for?’ I said, ‘I just really like it’.”
Though ‘Lunatic Harness’ was considered oddball then, its blend of genres and out-there riffs have become a feature of modern dancefloors, where clubbers are less concerned with genre and more open to experimentalism. Listening to it now, the record is far more inviting and structured than some of the albums associated with this sound by artists like Squarepusher or Aphex Twin, with lush melodies and arrangements emerging from the frenetic rhythms. When asked about its presaging of the drill ’n’ bass or breakcore sound — hinted at by artists like Alec Empire, Jega and Squarepusher at the time — Paradinas is typically self-deprecating. “There was definitely an element of that, but a lot of it was the fact I was so crap at making breaks,” he says. “I was trying to do jungle, but it came out a bit shit. ‘Tango N’ Vectif’ was me trying to make hardcore and techno, and failing, ’cause I just had a couple of bits of equipment. But it hung together ’cause of the lo-fi quality of it, I suppose.”
‘Lunatic Harness’, a new boxset version of the album is due for release on Paradinas’ Planet Mu label, comprising the original record, plus the ‘My Little Beautiful’ and ‘Brace Yourself’ EPs, and four further rare tracks. In the process of remastering this music for the reissue, he got inspired to make something new. “It was coming up to the 25th anniversary of ‘Lunatic Harness’ and I tried to find everything and remaster it, all the different DATs. I thought, ‘Oh, it would be quite easy to do some stuff with breakbeats again’. So I just got a folder of breaks off a label mate, and it all came together quite quickly.”
New album ‘Magic Pony Ride’, his first fresh material for Planet Mu since 2013, acts as ‘Lunatic Harness’ part two, pivoting back to the jungle and electronica blend that comprised that work. ‘Magic Pony Ride Part 1’ is all rolling drum breaks and delicate harp plucks, plus the undulating basslines that have become a feature of his best tracks, while ‘Uncle Daddy’ has a transcendental aura in its swathe of synth pads, chopped drums, acid blips and wordless vocals. “I’m a fan of tunes getting faster again and breaks coming back — it’s been coming back for 15 years I guess!” Paradinas jokes. “This ‘Magic Pony Ride’ stuff was a lot to do with me figuring out how to use breaks on the newer software, ’cause I used to use samplers, and you had to map everything out.”
The follow-up to ‘Scurlage’, his 2021 album for influential Madrid label Analogical Force, found Paradinas creatively revived and recalling a trip to Iceland for the record’s title. “I was excited again, definitely. I haven’t felt as excited by new material for a long time. I had written the first track on the album, ‘Magic Pony Ride Part 1’, and I was trying to think, ‘What does this make me feel like?’ The galloping beats made me think of that: the time I’d gone on a pony in Iceland. I thought it was a really stupid title, but somehow it stuck. The more people who are turned off by it the better, to be honest! I’ve obviously had a bit of silliness in a lot of my music.”
More poignantly, the album also focuses on the theme of family, with his daughter Elka featuring on two of the tracks, and the song ‘Galope’ dedicated to his late father. “My daughter is on a couple of the tracks, and then my son is on one of the tracks on the EP that is gonna come afterwards, I think in November, a nine-track follow-up. So I’m just getting the kids to work for free, really!” Paradinas says. “But my father died five years ago now, and I definitely thought about him with one of the tracks, ‘Galope’. He was Spanish, and ‘Galope’ means gallop. I thought it fitted in well with the ‘Magic Pony Ride’ theme. I suppose you just have to use the inspirations that are in your life, and with me the last few years, I’ve been bringing up two children with my wife, and since the pandemic, there have been no shows. You tend to think about what you know when you’re writing.”
There’s lots more to come from Paradinas now that his creative muse has been reactivated. In addition to the companion EP, ‘Hello’, he’s also embarked on a new project for an unnamed label: a pure ambient record. “I haven’t written an album of ambient stuff before,” he says. “I’ve made playlists of my ambient stuff, but I’ve always mixed stuff up a bit. This was an opportunity to do one style. It’s got beats in it — it’s got an ambient jungle one in it! The breakbeats are ambient, with loads of reverb. So it was nice to do a genre excursion like that.”
Elsewhere, there’s new material under Paradinas’ Tusken Raiders name. The series of ‘Housewerk’ EPs, previously available only via his Bandcamp, will soon be streamable everywhere and as a double-pack on vinyl via Furthur Electronix, following the ‘Boundary Road’ album he released at the end of last year. “That was my interpretation of techno from back in the ’91, ’92 era, as played by Colin Dale and Colin Faver, with breaks and acid and stuff.”
Paradinas’ Planet Mu label also has lots of plans, with new signings and fresh material from key label artists in the works. “There’s a new Herva album, he’s done this modular record where he’s built the modules and written the software himself, it’s like a suite of eight generative songs or tracks dedicated to his daughter. Next year, we’ve got a lot of exciting stuff. We’ve signed Mun Sing, who is half of Giant Swan, for a solo album, signed DJ Manny for another album, there’s a new Speaker Music album, possibly Venetian Snares, and there’s a Meemo Comma album. There’s a new Jlin album, but I’m not sure if it’s gonna be ready for next year or not. There’s some exciting collaborations on that one.”
Until then, we can bask in the majesty of ‘Lunatic Harness’ and ‘Magic Pony Ride’, and look forward to plenty more µ-Ziq on the horizon.
Want more? Read Bruce Tantum’s interview with Jlin here
Ben Murphy is DJ Mag’s features editor. Follow him on Twitter @benlukemurphy
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