By Christina Li
By Dave Pehling
By Ian S. Port
By SF Weekly
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
µ-Ziq's days are numbered. Poor guy's just released his sixth full-length album, but instead of celebrating he's walking around with a death sentence hanging over his head. Well, that's not quite right: Mike Paradinas still hasn't decided whether or not to kill him off yet.
µ-Ziq is Paradinas, of course. The strangely spelled name, pronounced "mew-zeek," is one of the more than half-dozen aliases the British musician has employed in over a decade of releasing his noisily poignant electronica on independent labels such as London's Rephlex and San Francisco's Reflective, as well as more established imprints like Hut and Astralwerks. He's worked as Kid Spatula, Tusken Raiders, Rude-Ass Tinker, Jake Slazenger, and Gary Moscheles, among others. But the µ-Ziq project, comprising the core of Paradinas' hectic-eclectic output, is his best known.
Now, in one of the more curious reactions to the explosion of online file-sharing through services like KaZaA or Soulseek, Paradinas is holding µ-Ziq hostage, so to speak.
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"If I find any copies [of the album] on any P2P networks before the release date, there'll be no more µ-Ziq records" was the warning he included on advance copies of his new CD, Bilious Paths -- his 18th full-length overall.
Well, surprise, surprise: Months before the record's June 2 arrival, it was readily available on any number of file-sharing networks. Accordingly, in April, when Paradinas announced the album's release date on his label Planet Mu's Web site, he added the caveat, "It's on soulseek already apparently so that's my last under the name µ-Ziq then." Almost as an afterthought, he added: "But it was a stupid name."
The implications are intriguing: Surely, this would be the first time an artist had put a project out to pasture as a purely symbolic punishment of his audience (note to 311: I've heard that Evolver has sprouted legs and hit the P2P networks running). But when I reach Paradinas by phone in Worcester, England, the situation becomes less clear. "I might, I might not," he says in a soft Midlands accent, when asked if he's really ready to retire his most famous alias. "It's up to me, isn't it? I can lie if I want."
Typical. Paradinas, one should note, is a notorious trickster, from his penchant for name-changing to his habit of dressing up rave music in Stockhausen's lab coat. And Bilious Paths, true to form, is as tricky as they come, a breathtaking shell game of beats and noise. If this is the end of an identity, it's one hell of a way to go out.
Paradinas is one of the heroes of the movement that, for lack of a better term, goes under the name of IDM, or "intelligent dance music." But his career has drawn equally from populist rave culture, which, in the early '90s, lured him away from his band Blue Innocence (a project he once described as "an Italo-house Jamiroquai vs. the Charlatans") to pursue a solo career wreaking havoc on a sampler and an Atari computer (although Bilious Paths represents Paradinas' shift to the Apple platform). While his early experiments with four-track recorders and synthesizers conjured cold, angular, alien landscapes, and seemed designed for solitary listening in bedrooms much like the one they were composed in, by the mid-'90s Paradinas had infused his tunes with the street-wise swagger of drum 'n' bass. Chopping up breakbeats into small, modular bits, he strung them into wildly dynamic sequences that wriggled and squirmed around the downbeat, trading drum 'n' bass' programmatic thunder for something far more unpredictable -- like a bag full of pingpong balls hurled into gale-force winds.
His 1997 album Lunatic Harness remains a masterpiece of emotive programming. Classic drum breaks (such as the oft-used "Amen" loop, sampled from the Winstons' funk tune "Amen Brother"), beatboxing, and nimble electro patterns underpin mournful synthesizer lines recalling classic mopetronica from Kraftwerk to New Order. Listening to it, one doesn't quite know whether to fall into a romantic swoon or launch into a loose-limbed apoplectic dance.
Bilious Paths plays out the same dialectic between tension and release, although a new element seems to have entered the mix: anger. The opening track, "Johnny Mastricht," is an apocalyptic explosion of distorted drums, glaring synth stabs, and lunging bass lines, with a welter of desperate voices buried deep in the mix. "Siege of Antioch," which barrels along at drum 'n' bass' double-time clip, is even more aggro, shot through with whining high-end and industrial-strength noise. And "Silk Ties," which layers digitally distressed hip hop samples over a cascade of 50-caliber beats, takes classic rave-era hardcore -- the hyperkinetic breakbeat genre that gave birth to jungle -- and updates it for the "shock and awe" era, letting loose like a load of cluster bombs.
So you could be forgiven for thinking that Paradinas is an angry man. But the producer himself hears his music differently: "controlled aggression," tempered with "a certain amount of happiness."
"I like music to be quite immersively harsh," says Paradinas. "People say it's angry or aggressive, but I don't find it like that. Hard sounds for me are more bouncy and dancy, whereas I probably find things that other people find to be dancy rather dull." Indeed, for all its rough edges and ruptured-speaker interference, he considers Bilious Paths a dance record, inspired by the drum 'n' bass of the "clown-step" school -- which he insists is a bona fide new genre, though I suspect he's putting me on -- as well as the syncopated swing of U.K. garage.
Touches of garage are all over the record, which is perhaps unsurprising. With jungle having entrenched itself into a traditionalist, insiders-only scene, U.K. garage has emerged as the popular sound of young, urban England, making it the perfect appropriative fodder for Paradinas' heretical methodology. Where in the mid-'90s Paradinas turned "proper" drum 'n' bass on its ear, fusing its trademark cadences with pensive melodies and dance-floor-clearing squalls of noise, a tune like "Johnny Mastricht" explodes garage into an alternate universe: too noisy for pirate radio, too uneven for clubs, too dense to allow room for MCs.
This, ultimately, is one of Paradinas' greatest talents: the ability to reimagine a genre, looking from the outside in. It's not so much that the styles he tackles need reinventing; thanks to newcomers like Dizzee Rascal, U.K. garage is as healthy as it's been in several years. But Paradinas, taking the role of the loyal opposition, manages to see through the traditionalists' blind spots, bringing to the music diverse influences -- the Sturm und Drang of proto-industrialists like Cabaret Voltaire, the pastoral washes of classic ambient -- that younger DJs and producers may never have heard.
Still, Paradinas is leery of dwelling too much on the implications of his revisionism, however clear the strategy seems on record. "I'm inspired by a lot of things," he avers, "but I try to make music that sounds unlike any other, a little bit unworldly."
The sonically effusive Paradinas is just as taciturn when it comes to the matter of the record's leak. "I don't really care," he finally admits. "It could be a good excuse to get rid of the name." After a decade as the artist with a handle almost as maddeningly unpronounceable as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince's symbol, is he ready to travel under a more manageable moniker?
"I like making music," he says. "I don't really give a shit about the name it's released under, personally, but I guess it matters to distributors and things like that. They've got an investment in the name. We'll see how this one goes; if it's a complete flop, then it doesn't matter much either which way."
The strange thing is that Paradinas doesn't seem particularly peeved about the leakage of the album. In his April note on Planet Mu's Web site, he actually invited listeners to download the album and post reviews on the site's message board. I suspect that his pique is the affectation of an artist who chooses to express himself in over-the-top productions -- leaving his personal communications veiled in inscrutable sarcasm.
And so the threat to decommission his principal project comes to seem more like a perverse test of his fans' loyalty. Will they stand by him? Given his willingness to cite the review from the message board reading, in its entirety, "Total Shit," perhaps he doesn't care. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that one of the defining characteristics of Mike Paradinas, as the central persona uniting all his distinct aliases, is the appearance of not caring. Except that I don't believe him: When I mention how labor-intensive some of his drum programming sounds, he seems almost hurt. "It's not meant to sound labor-intensive, it's just meant to sound funky. But perhaps I've failed," he says.
Failed? Not by a long shot. The music, passionate and sincere, comes through loud and clear. Paradinas' public statements, though, suggest that should he tire of the game, he's got an alternate career in the dissemination of disinformation. Perhaps the United States government is hiring?