After releasing albums on Aphex Twin’s Rephlex label and a string of successful remixes, Mike Paradinas better known as µ-Ziq has been at the forefront of electronica home-listening for over 20 years. What started as an imprint for him to release his own music under Virgin Records supervision, slowly but consistently Planet Mu became one of the most influential and forward-thinking electronic music labels. In an interview for Fact Magazine Paradinas explains:
“I signed to Virgin Records in 1995 to release my debut, Salsa With Mesquite. Virgin had specific distributors for each type of music and so they needed to set up a label for me. I had a couple of days to come with the name. I liked Planet E, Carl Craig’s label, so I thought I’d call it Planet Mu. That was it. Also, one of my old unreleased tracks is called ‘Planet Mu’ and it was the name of my studio, by which I mean bedroom.”
Right after Napster became a threat, major labels had to reinvent themselves and find new ways to run their business and independents such as Planet Mu had to hold tight to their budgets in a time where consumer behavior was starting to shift. The label almost went bust several times according to Paradinas but his work ethic and passion for innovative and ground-breaking music is what allowed them to survive the tough times. To celebrate the work of a true visionary we compiled a list of 5 albums that we think helped to define underground electronic music as we know today.
Kid Spatula – “Full Sunken Beats”
“Full Sunken Breaks” released in 2000 displayed the label’s sound by creating a liberating sonic narrative that highlighted the quest for innovation and unattachment from traditional forms of electronic music such as Techno, House and Drum n’ Bass. This feeling is captured through “Hard Love” where Paradinas infuses hard-techno kicks with dull synth lines and violently crafted bass lines. Moving along in “New School Bikes” modular synthesis, abstract vocal textures and Miami Bass style cowbells construct a hypnotic atmosphere that keeps going throughout the record.
µ-Ziq – “Bilous Path”
From time to time, we stumble into a piece of art that helps to define a new movement, challenges past traditions and inspires a new generation to search for innovative ways to express themselves. “Bilous Path” is one of those artistic statements which transcends genres and traditionalism and helped to define a new wave of inventive and futuristic electronic sounds. µ-Ziq is one of those producers who pushed into new realms of experimentation than mere breakbeats but also maintained a high level of finesse in his productions without compromising on creativity.
At the time of release “Bilous Path” got hidden into the abundance of music being released under the shield of IDM and received blend reviews from the few publications that covered underground electronic music at the time.
Venetian Snares – “The Chocolate Wheelchair Album”
Grounded on muddy waters, nature and a unique rebellious attitude, Venetian Snares is the brainchild of Aaron Funk, a legendary breakcore producer that helped to define the sound of forward-thinking electronic music production. Released in 2003, “The Chocolate Wheelchair Album” is packed with sci-fi vocals, trumpet lines, and funk guitar chops. Besides drawing influences from early jungle breaks and abstract textures a la Aphex Twin, Funk’s music really is a fresh air of weirdness and introspectiveness.
Throughout the years, Venetian Snares tried at all costs to avoid interviews and releasing music as much as possible, legend says it if wasn’t for Planet Mu label’s boss Mike Paradinas most of Funk’s works wouldn’t have seen the light of day. Intriguingly perverse wackiness defines the “Chocolate Wheelchair Album” where at times it feels as if Alfred Hitchcock’s ideology met with Prince’s musicality to envision a new sonic aesthetic.
Boxcutter – “Arecibo Message”
Frequency modulated radio waves transported the Arecibo message into space in 1974. This historical event inspired Boxcutter to produce a spatial lysergic futuristic voyage that transcends in time, a pluralism of distinct electronic textures cleverly displaying Boxcutter’s creative genius. As the music industry changed at the break of the Millenium due to increased illegal downloads so did the rising electronic music scene at the time. In 2005, Boxcutter released “Brood” his debut album via Hotflush and brought waves of excitement to the dub scene. Soon after he signed to Planet Mu and with the support of Mike Paradinas, he kept developing his signature sound and in “Arecibo Message” he encapsulates all these experiences in a pleasant auditory journey.
“Sidetrak” kicks things off with disruptive drum breaks, soothing vocal chops, and contentious Reese bass lines and give hints of the marvelousness that is still to come. In “Kab 28” expect the unexpected where Boxcutter constructs a melting pot of early electronic styles but infuses his personality and production style.
In the current musical climate where artists feel the need to comply with trends dictated by streaming algorithms and playlist placements, electronic music became stale, lacking originality and the spirit of innovation that marked the humble beginnings of machine-centered compositions. Riding against the wave, Boxcutter challenged the status quo of the time, and still today, the ”Arecibo Message” is miles ahead creatively of cookie-cutter manufactured records that are currently on the top dance charts.
Ital Tek – “Hollowed”
Far beyond the boundaries of traditional, dull and lackluster electronic music “Hollowed” is an experiment through exploratory sound design methods, packed with mesmerizing percussive patterns, crumbly basses and crisp kick drums. As the darkness creeps in and light, hope, and happiness seem like a lucid dream, tracks such as “Reflection Through Destruction”, “Terminus” and “Nex” enhance our senses to escape reality and immerse ourselves in an excentric and magnificent sonic experience. On further inspection, it’s clear how much time was spent on audio mangling. Via Pop Matters, Ital Tek explains the process:
“On this record, a huge amount of time was spent on sound design and just creating the sonic world for what the album could be. I also need to give myself the tools to make the album, so I give myself a lot of time recording stuff. I’ve got a whole selection of recordings of different instruments, making sample patches and recording vocalists”
In a quest for constant evolution “Hollowed” is an artistic statement that distances itself from earlier dance-oriented tracks inspired by early dubstep aesthetics and paves the way for new possibilities in forward-thinking electronic music.