08.09.15

The 20 tracks that define Planet Mu, according to Mike Paradinas

For the past 20 years, Planet Mu have been behind some of the most game-changing and influential records in contemporary electronic music. When it was first established as a sublabel of Virgin Records in 1995, Planet Mu was a vehicle for the music of μ-Ziq, aka Mike Paradinas. The label became a fully independent venture in 1998, and Paradinas went on to release music that defined genres as far-reaching as IDM, jungle, glitch hop, beats, dubstep, grime, footwork, and beyond.

Celebrating their 20 years in the game, the label are releasing a 50-track, 3CD compilation of entirely unheard music from some of the label's key players. Alongside these tracks – coming from Luke Vibert, Venetian Snares, Kuedo, RP Boo, FaltyDL, Terror Danjah, and many more – is a 110-page book charting the label's history by electronic music journalist Rory Gibb. If the label seem to be in retrospective mode right now, there's still a strong eye on the future behind-the-scenes: new music from Ital Tek, Yearning Kru, Herva, and more is all forthcoming.

Here, Mike Paradinas counts down 20 tracks that have defined the label for him over the past two decades, with one track selected for each year of its existence. Speaking to Paradinas, it's clear that, besides the music, there's been one other thing that's defined the label during this time – money, or rather, a lack of it. "The difficulty of running a business when you have a very small amount of money has been the struggle," he explains over the phone, "The Mr. Mitch album's made a loss. The Rudi Zygadlo album. The Virus Syndicate album in 2004 made a £20,000 loss. All the footwork stuff, the first few albums made a loss in the region of £30,000. They happen all the time. It's really fucking hard to pay people. Young people don't have a lot of money. We've never had a cash cow, so it's been hard to invest in new artists when you don't have the money to invest. There have been times when I thought we'd go bust, but we survived."

Get stuck into some Planet Mu history below and listen to Mike's selections on our YouTube playlist.

01. µ-Ziq Balsa Lightning (1995)

Mike Paradinas: "In the beginning, the label was all my tracks – it was set up as an imprint on Virgin for me. In those days, major labels could afford to take a chance on interesting acts – if you consider me interesting. It was an exciting time. Photek and Source Direct both signed to Science, a sublabel of Virgin in the same office. Dave Boyd, who ran Hut Records, was in the office next door, so you could talk to each other. Whenever I went up there, it was a really nice atmosphere. The reason I got signed was because I did remixes of The Auteurs for Hut Records the previous year, in 1994. Lou Reed was really into that record. He contacted the label and came to a gig of mine in Dublin, which I didn't do in the end because my wife was in labour with my first child. I never met Lou Reed, and after that I never heard anything from him. I'm certainly not gonna hear anything from him now. Balsa Lightning was from the first EP ['Salsa With Mesquite'] on Planet Mu. This particular track reminds me of good times, when everything was going well."

02. Mike & Rich Giant Deflating Football (1996)

Mike Paradinas: "In '96, there weren't any Planet Mu releases – I didn't do any with Virgin. But in the future we're re-releasing the Mike & Rich album [a collaboration between Mike Paradinas and Richard D. James, aka Aphex Twin], which did come out in '96, so long as me and Aphex sort it out. I'd love to present it with a few unreleased tracks from those days. Giant Inflating Football was written before Balsa Lightning, during the World Cup of '94. I think we may have watched a match upstairs in his bedroom/living room area. Clissold Crescent is where he lived then, in Stoke Newington. It was nice to be invited by him to write tracks. He invited friends – Squarepusher, Luke [Vibert], Cylob, and myself – to make tracks with him. It was humbling for him to choose the ones that we did together for release. We were getting drunk and making tracks, which is something I didn't normally do and he didn't normally do. Drinking is a very social activity, so maybe that's why we were doing it – to get rid of inhibition. We were able to quite quickly write a large amount of material. Giant Inflating Football is named because it had some quite weird percussion sounds made by scraping and blowing in a microphone. It sounded like a big wheezing football. We took a bit of acid afterwards to listen to it, and we were coming out with some imagery like 'Beady Eyes', which is mentioned in one of the tracks."

03. µ-Ziq Hasty Boom Alert (1997)

Mike Paradinas: "Hasty Boom Alert was always a favourite when I played it live. It was inspired, unsurprisingly, by Squarepusher. I saw Squarepusher live in '96, not long after his album had come out, and heard these new tracks of his. I've often been inspired to write a track after going to gigs. It's quite mental with all the drums and everything, and it's got quite a Squarepusher-ish melody to it too, so apologies to him really. I don't think he was best too pleased when he heard it. It's always been a favourite of fans. A particular memorable time that I played it was in Tokyo in '97. It was a tour for that album, 'Lunatic Harness'. It was the first time I'd played in Japan, which was strange. Everyone was screaming, clapping, and cheering all the way through my set, but as soon as you stopped playing – where a Western audience would clap – they'd go quiet and still."

04. Slag Boom Van Loon Light Of India (1998)

Mike Paradinas: "Slag Boom Van Loon is me collaborating with Speedy J. I'd been collaborating with Aphex, which worked, and I'd also collaborated with Luke Vibert, which didn't work. With Jochem [Paap, aka Speedy J], we tried quite a few things before we found a space where we could work together easily, and that was more ambient and reflective music. We did quite a few tracks with me trying to push it in a more jungle-y direction before we realized that we should be writing in this sort of area. Light of India was the name of a takeaway we had while we were writing in his studio in Rotterdam, in the Cube Buildings. Light of India starts with a nice melody and builds up to this big crescendo of noise. It was a fun track to work on, always one of my favourites. We did a remix album with Coil, Boards of Canada, and Four Tet on it."

05. Jega Unity Gain (1999)

Mike Paradinas: "Jega was the first release on Planet Mu [since splitting from Virgin in 1998]. Unity Gain was a track used for the American version of his album 'Spectrum'. We also released it on 12" ourselves in 1999 on really nice clear vinyl. Jega was my flatmate in the early '90s. We went to architecture school together and we got into Detroit techno together. Being at uni together was fun – we went to Rage, which was Fabio & Grooverider's night, and we had our own night at university that we sometimes DJed at. Dylan [J. Nathan, aka Jega] started making music a bit later. His first releases were on Skam, the label affiliated with Autechre. I really wanted to release his music, and one of the reasons I started the label was to release his music. We were good friends; we spent a lot of time together listening to music and smoking joints. He's lived in L.A. for the past 10 years or so and he's in a different industry now, but we do speak occasionally."

06. Capitol K Pillow (2000)

Mike Paradinas: "Capitol K was another early signing, a guy called Kristian [Craig Robinson] who was living in London at the time, in Limehouse. I released his first album in '99, 'Sounds of the Empire'. Pillow was a follow-up single after that album. It caught the attention of radio and got on the b-list, I think, on Radio 1, so it was our first radio single. I don't think it helped sales that much, but it did alright. On the basis of that, XL Recordings licensed the second Capitol K record off us, which we'd already signed and released. That enabled us to have a bit of a cash lump sum to invest in the label, and from that point on we were able to sign more artists and push the label. And when I say 'we', I mean 'me'. So I was grateful for that track. Capitol K's sound was that of the dictaphone tape – when you stopped the tape you had the sound of it slowing down. He sampled it slowing down and speeding up, which went around in the background of a lot of his tracks, with reverbs and delays on them. It's pretty hypnotic. And with Pillow, he did a pop version of that sound, with him singing on it. It was a great pop song – one of our first really great pop songs."

07. Venetian Snares & Speedranch Fire Beats (2001)

Mike Paradinas: "This was the first Venetian Snares album that we released, and it surprised people. We did a full press mailout of it and there were a lot of reviews saying 'This is the most noisy record we've ever heard.' Nowadays people wouldn't blink at it, but we sent it to Mojo and Q and Select and had these outraged reviews. It was a great album. Venetian Snares has grown into one of our biggest artists – we've been releasing him for 14 years now. Speedranch was a producer of noise who worked with one of the guys from V/Vm and was affiliated with a lot of metal bands. He contributed a lot of noises and vocal sounds for the album. They did it over ICQ, which was an early messaging system. They sent the sound files to each other over instant messenger."

08. Hrvatski Gemini (Revision) (2002)

Mike Paradinas: "Hrvatski is the alias of Keith Fullerton Whitman. He records for Kranky and does more modular stuff and ambient stuff with guitars nowadays. Hrvatski was his alias for breakbeat manipulation. This is from the Japanese version of the album – it's a longer version of Gemini, which was just the electric piano. He added drums to it and turned it into this big, epic track. It was one of my favourite melodies of the year. He's got a track on our 'µ20' compilation as well. I'd love to keep working with him, but he's in Boston. He's a lovely guy and very intelligent as well. I contacted him after I heard an album that he self-released called 'Oiseaux', because he liked birds. I think I heard it through a forum – maybe the C8 forum, or the AllMusic forum. Everyone back then was just slagging each other off on these forums. They were horrible days and I miss them."

09. Remarc Sound Murderer (2003)

Mike Paradinas: "I'd been releasing music inspired by jungle, like Shitmat's first record, Venetian Snares, and some of my own stuff. Remarc was one of my heroes from the jungle era and his records were hard to get hold of, so I thought I'd re-release them. Soul Jazz were doing compilations of older artists and I thought 'Nobody has really done this for jungle…' It was 10 years on from the emergence of jungle in '93, so I thought it was a good time to put out an artist retrospective of someone who I considered to be one of the unsung heroes of jungle. People like Goldie and Roni Size had been feted by the press because they were on major labels, but someone like Remarc, who'd only been on the hardcore labels like Suburban Base and White House, would get ignored. This was a way of him getting some exposure, and a way of me getting records that I couldn't get on the second hand market – even though I probably spent more on licensing them in the end. In those days there were always phone numbers on the records, which I miss a bit – I might start putting numbers in the tags of the mp3s that we sell. I got in touch with Remarc through a phone number I got off a garage record he did. We met in Tesco just off the A406 in Ilford. I bought breakfast for him and he drove me to this studio in East Ham and we listened to a few things on DAT and came to an agreement. All labels have to do stuff cheaply unless they have an independent syphon of money coming in. I started it off in '98 independently, and by 2003 we could afford to take someone to Tesco. Before then, we couldn't afford even that – I would make a vegetarian lasagna at home. Remarc did well – we had a lot of exposure and press, and it even sold quite well – but we didn't make much profit as we had to pay massive licensing fees. We had a five-year license on this – we can't re-release Sound Murderer because we can't afford to."

10. edIT Ants (2004)

Mike Paradinas: "In 2004, we released the edIT album. Ants was a demo I'd received. I was listening to it while cooking in the kitchen. I rang up the telephone number on the CD – we'd graduated to CD-Rs by now instead of cassettes. It was the beginning of that glitch hop thing. This was slightly more electronic-sounding. Ed [Ma] from edIT has obviously gone on to fame in the EDM scene with The Glitch Mob, and they're playing to sell-out audiences all the time. I still get sent a lot of demos, but there's a very low hit rate. I get 12 demos a day, maybe 60 a week, and it's hard to listen to them all. But when I do, I'm disappointed. A lot of people are sending generic genre exercises – which, if they're good, can work. But if not, there's not much fun or anything that catches my ear, really. I generally try to find things myself, or take recommendations from artists or friends."

11. Vex'd Pop Pop VIP (2005)

Mike Paradinas: "In 2004, we released our first grime record, which was Mark One's 'One Way'. We released a few [more] dubstep and grime 12"s, so we were getting known as one of the few record labels releasing it. I started to get demos from artists of what became dubstep, like Distance and Pinch. Vex'd were one of the first to send me something really interesting. I thought 'This is different.' It wasn't generic dubstep – or whatever it was called back then. I contacted them and said 'Let's do an album.' It was really easy working with Jamie [Teasdale] and Roly [Porter]; they're such great people. The album was a big success. It was one of the first artist albums in the dubstep scene. I think Vex'd hadn't had a lot of notice with their first two 12"s – Pop Pop was played a lot on the grime scene and MCs would use it, but suddenly it was released on the dubstep scene and it blew up. We got engaged in the scene and released Distance and Pinch. Before I mention Pinch, I'd like to say that Vex'd went on to do a few more 12"s and Jamie obviously made the Kuedo album, which we released in 2011, and he's working for us now as an A&R."

12. Pinch Qawalli (2006)

Mike Paradinas: "This track went down a storm in the clubs after we released it. Dubstep was obviously really blowing up around 2006. It was probably the defining year for it. I'd been going to DMZ all the way through 2005, and by 2006 it was massive. It had moved upstairs to Mass in Brixton and was starting to get a bit commercial, really. But we released a lot of stuff around 2006/7. This is a lovely piece of music."

13. Luke Vibert Brain Rave (2007)

Mike Paradinas: "So in 2007, the record I've chosen is by Luke Vibert, because I haven't mentioned him yet. The album that this is from is called 'Chicago, Detroit, Redruth', and it's such a great record. Brain Rave was this great little track with his signature melodies and a pun in the title. I've known Luke since '94 or '95 I think, through being friends with Richard really. I'd first heard of him when Richard said 'I'm gonna go see my friend in Cornwall and we're gonna buy a 101', or something. At that point he was playing me Luke's first record, which was with Jeremy Simmonds and was released on Rephlex. That was a pretty exciting record, I always thought, a really interesting, analogue, experimental record very unlike the later Vibert stuff. I really loved his first few EPs and albums – it was all quite grainy, and I later found out thanks to Ekoplekz that it was because he'd done it all on cassette. That's why those early Luke Vibert releases have got such warmth. He's using Reason nowadays, so it's got more digital-sounding in production quality. It suits his lifestyle, because he can do it on a laptop, and I understand, because I do the same – I just use a laptop nowadays because lugging gear around is a fucking pain in the arse, and if you live in a one-bed flat, you haven't really got room for it. I sold all my gear because I had to move into a one-bed flat. Luke's a master of his own material; the mixdowns he does are pristine."

14. Starkey Dark Alley (2008)

Mike Paradinas: "By 2007, I wasn't getting the same vibe when I went to the clubs. We were still releasing records by some of the artists we'd signed, like Distance, but I was looking for another sound or for where dubstep was gonna go that wasn't just noisy. Starkey was someone I was interested in. He's obviously from Philadelphia. He was into the grime side of things, but people in the dubstep scene and the post-dubstep scene were interested in it. I was looking for something a bit more colourful and interesting after dubstep. The first Starkey album is just full of great tunes. He'd done a single with Keysound by that stage and had established himself with that, so there was a bit of buzz. He sent me 15 or 20 tunes, so I said 'Let's do an album.' You can make a bigger splash in the press with [an album]. That was probably my thinking behind it. You can't really get press with singles. You can get a bit of buzz, but the sort of stuff we've always released hasn't been that kind of sound – we're not really releasing deep house."

15. Floating Points K&G Beat (2009)

Mike Paradinas: "This single is still selling well. I heard Floating Points on Myspace – he had a page and I heard three or four tracks on there. Sam [Shepherd, aka Floating Points] was part of that post-broken beat scene in London. They were all into their soul and hip hop as well as that broken beat scene, which I'd never been part of or interested in really, but his stuff sounded a cut above to me. It still does. He did this one thing for us and I was grateful, because he started Eglo right afterwards with Alex [Nut]. They made a decision to do that all independently, which is quite good. I went to CD-R and met a few producers; I think I met Oriol there and we released his record in 2010. Om Unit I met there. I think I played there a few years later with Mark Pritchard."

16. DJ Nate Turn Back Time (2010)

Mike Paradinas: "Here was a sound I was evangelical about. It was 2009, seven years ago, in which I first heard footwork. It was on a blog which had posted a YouTube video, and I thought 'That's interesting. What the hell is that?' It sounded electronic, with people dancing in the street. It was a DJ Nate track. It was really exciting following the trail on YouTube, finding out who'd uploaded what. It reminded me of the tempo of jungle, and it reminded me of hardcore in the use of the samples, but it was also Chicago house. So I was very interested. It took a long time to find DJ Nate and get him to reply. We finally got a reply by emailing an address on an upload of one of his hip hop tracks. By then, we'd already got hold of a few other produces who ended up on 'Bangs & Works', so we had an in-road into the scene. It took about a year to get one reply, and then suddenly all these people started contacting us when they realized someone in the UK was interested in releasing footwork. They assumed no one would be into footwork. Why would they? It was really small, experimental, side of the juke scene. They thought people would be interested in the 4×4 party side of it rather than the syncopated, sampled side of it. Suddenly everyone was getting in contact with me and I was able to get 'Bangs & Works' together very quickly and put it out that same year. 'Bangs & Works' could've been our 2010 record, but I suppose DJ Nate has more emotional resonance with me because I'd been working on it longer. It was the beginning for me. DJ Nate wasn't really part of the juke scene, and in hindsight a lot of his tracks were sort of 'inspired' – or rip-offs, I suppose – of RP Boo tracks. There were a lot of producers who were making their name on remaking other producer's tracks – that's always happened in Chicago. We had to stop releasing footwork otherwise we'd run out of money. It doesn't sell particularly well, still. That's why we get about two [footwork] releases a year and try and really promote them, otherwise there wouldn't be a Planet Mu."

17. Kuedo Ant City (2011)

Mike Paradinas: "Here's Jamie again. Ant City was my favourite track off the album ['Severant']. I was always playing it in the car. It's a very emotional track. Obviously a very Blade Runner album – it was intended to be a tribute to Blade Runner, but that's because Blade Runner was a particular film with resonance for what he was trying to achieve. It's a break-up record, really. That's why it's called 'Severant' – cutting off a particular relationship and the pain associated with that. It tells a story, and that's why the album was successful – and also the fact that it was pretty bang up-to-date in its influences, with footwork and trap. It was one of the first trap-influenced albums of the IDM scene, I suppose. Later that year we released the Machinedrum record ['Room(s)'], which was influenced by juke and footwork, but only to a small extent. The press bigged that one out of all proportion. It was a good record, and it wasn't a good record because it was a footwork record – it was a good record because it had good melodies on it and up-to-date production. The way I saw it, one was a very white footwork record and the others were very black footwork records. And 'Room(s)', which Travis [Stewart, aka Machinedrum] had never intended to be perceived as footwork, was seen as being 'Oh, this is how footwork should be.' Those were my misgivings about that, but that doesn't mean I don't love the record. 'Room(s)' is a great album."

18. Traxman Footworkin On Air (2012)

Mike Paradinas: "Traxman is the cratedigger of footwork. He's into his history and his samples. He's kind of the J Dilla of footwork, I suppose. He's crazily good at finding samples and cutting them up. The thing about Footworkin On Air is the way he makes the sample fly. It's such a good sample – Earth, Wind & Fire, I believe. The 303 underneath, and the syncopation, it's all so beautiful and works so well together. It was the perfect way to introduce the album ['Da Mind of Traxman']. It's lighter than air. It showed some of our audience that footwork wasn't just a sample saying Fuck this fuck this fuck this fuck this, it was something different. That Traxman album reminded me of the era of drum'n'bass that Simon Reynolds calls 'artcore', when it went a bit self-consciously arty, like Omni Trio, Foul Play, and LTJ Bukem slightly – the softer jungle sound after a year of roughneck jungle. 'Conscious jungle', can we call it that? [Laughs] That's an awful phrase. So yeah, 'conscious footwork' if you like. This album had a beautiful sleeve by Optigram as well."

19. John Wizards LEUK (2013)

Mike Paradinas: "Again, totally different – a band from Cape Town, South Africa. I first heard it on Soundcloud. They put a mixtape out on Soundcloud and it was being blogged about. A couple of days after, I emailed the account, and at the same time Marcus [Scott, press and A&R] emailed me and said 'Have you heard this?' So we were totally on the same wavelength. The one I've put here was one of the tracks that stood out to me on the tape. There are so many ideas throughout its duration. It was nice to have all these African influences and a bit of electronics. It made sense to me on Planet Mu. John Withers, the producer, was aware of all the footwork stuff and was a fan of Planet Mu, and he said 'Yes' straight away. It was great to work with them. We signed it about midway through 2012, and it probably came out in September 2013, so it did take a while to get together all the mixes and to release it. We spent a long time mulling over what order to get it in and getting the listening experience to flow."

20. Mr. Mitch Night (2014)

Mike Paradinas: "The Night is the second track on the album ['Parallel Memories']. We'd released grime with Mark One back in 2004, but he was in Manchester. The grime press ignored Viral Syndicate because they were seen as neither British hip hop nor grime – so that album panned. 'Sounding like something Boards of Canada might do if they came from South East London' is what Marcus said about The Night. It's kind of nostalgic. It's not a new thing for grime – I've got this old Kano track from 2004 with that same sort of feel called Old Days, from a mixtape called 'Beyond The Booth', so there was nostalgic grime in 2004. But it gives me that same sort of feeling as stuff like Ruff Sqwad and Wiley's stuff, that synth-y feel. Instrumental grime was a big thing for me because I was buying all the 12"s back in the day. I always wanted to release a Wiley instrumentals compilation, but that never happened due to obvious reasons, so it's nice to be involved now with the Boxed thing. I think Mr. Mitch would like to do a vocal record – his mixes have a lot of vocals in them, from singing and from MCs. There were some harder tracks on the album and there were some vocals, but they didn't fit, and he agreed. And I'm glad, in a way, that it was an all-instrumental record in the end. We were trying to get Feel vocalled, and The Night. Skepta was meant to do The Night actually, but it just never happened. He was really interested. So it could've been that this was a very different record in feel. The second album, the idea is that we try and find some vocals, but it might be a while away. You can get a load of instrumentals together quickly, but a vocal album is gonna take a while."

2015 and beyond: Jlin Unknown Tongues (2015)

Mike Paradinas: "I've been working with Jlin since about 2011, when she appeared on 'Bangs & Works Vol. 2'. It was clear that she was doing something different, but it took a few years. She was writing tracks here and there which she thought might go on 'Bangs & Works Vol. 3', but I decided that 'Bangs & Works Vol. 3' wasn't gonna happen because I couldn't find enough that I was excited with in the scene. I didn't need to, either – 'Next Life' is 'Bangs & Works Vol. 3'. With Jlin, I don't think she had much self-belief. We'd been trying to compile an album for a long time, but because of our 'two footwork albums a year' rule, nothing came up for a long time. By then, she'd written Guantanamo and all these crazy tracks. So she was definitely the next choice. She's interesting because she's slightly outside the scene. Her production is more contemporary. It sounds like something from Berlin – she seems to have more in common with Amnesia Scanner or TCF than footwork. Jamie chose tracks that'd appeal to that scene. We have a single coming from Jlin at the end of the year that has more of a footwork feel – we separated them deliberately. She's already started writing a new album and there's great stuff on the way. She's got a lot more confidence in herself thanks to all the good feedback she's had."

Listen to Mike Paradinas's selections on YouTube. Planet Mu released 'µ20' on September 4th 2015 (buy). Mike also plays the Planet Mu takeover of Clock Strikes 13 on 28th November (tickets)