Records Revisited: µ-Ziq – Lunatic Harness (1997)

µ-Ziq - Lunatic Harness (Records Revisited)

The story of Mike Paradinas is that of a musician who has always taken his cue from others to create something completely his own. Behind the last almost 30 years of his musical creation under a dozen pseudonyms3 appear obvious names like Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Luke Vibert, Björk and Venetian Snares, but sometimes also unexpected ones like the Spice Girls and Blur (we’ll get to that).

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The amazing and incomprehensible thing remains that his music is among the most original that has emerged in all the decades of electronic music. Especially under his most famous artist name µ-Ziq, Paradinas has managed to create his own trademark sound that no one has ever really achieved. And this despite the fact that Mike Paradinas declares himself as someone who often starts working on a track by creating a cover version of someone else’s track, as he recently revealed in an interview with Miranda Remington for The Quietus.

In the Shadows of Others

As an example, for the album »Lunatic Harness«, which was released in 1997, he drew on the title »Secret Stair #1«, whose seed, according to his memory, lies in Blur’s »Beetlebum«. A more obvious would be »Wannabe«, which µ-Ziq nonchalantly snatched from the Spice Girls. Obviously, there is no sign of close familiarity after the µ-Ziq treatment in either case. While »Secret Stair #1« goes completely its own way with wallowing melodies and late-emerging amen breaks, »Wannabe« becomes a creepy stalker song for dangerous night walks through testosterone-infested back alleys.

If you believe Mike Paradinas, the entire album is actually a rip-off. Shortly after its release, Paradinas already dissed himself in an interview with Jason Gross, apologizing for not working harder on it. In his opinion »Lunatic Harness« was just a derivative of Aphex Twin’s »Richard D. James Album«.

Sure, »Lunatic Harness« has a long history of influences, and Aphex Twin cannot be completely ignored. Paradinas not only shared a friendship with him. His first two albums »Tango N’ Vectif« and »Bluff Limbo« were released on Aphex’ label Rephlex Records. Moreover, Mike Paradinas can pride himself on being the only one so far, whose album-length collaboration with Aphex Twin actually saw the light of day (Mike & Rich »Expert Knob Twiddlers«, 1996). But let’s face it, who in electronic music and modern pop music today isn’t somehow influenced by Aphex Twin’s 1990s output? There’s nothing to be ashamed of, really.

Welcome to the Jungle

The most important influences on “Lunatic Harness” come from a phenomenon bigger than both, anyway. »Jungle was probably the most exciting change in British music in the last 50 years«, Paradinas recalled in an interview4 I did with him in 2003. »Much more than punk. I was always looking for something like Jungle. It was just never there. When it did appear I was going out to all the shops in London which would pop up out of nowhere in the basement and spent a day with all these 12-inches and finding the most mental one.«

»Jungle was probably the most exciting change in British music in the last 50 years.« (Mike Paradinas)

In the 1990s, Jungle set a point in music history with its very British blend of dub, reggae, dancehall, hip-hop and funk, as well as its unusual roughness, speed and devastating sub-bass, whose continuum reverberates to this day through a variety of permutations such as drum & bass, ragga, grime, dubstep and bass music. Most influential for “Lunatic Harness” were – besides Aphex Twin and Squarepusher – the releases of the label Suburban Base Records. »I was buying all the Suburban Base 12 inches I could at that time. I was very much inspired by D’Cruze’s album “Control”. There are a lot of things I copied from the album, just little breakbeat tricks. Him and Remarc«.

The Union of Alien Worlds

Just as the song “Secret Stair #1” no longer has anything to do with the inspirational »Beetlebum,« the various sources of the entire album “Lunatic Harness” are difficult to trace (for outsiders). Even the Jungle continuum has taken on a form entirely its own. Breakbeat structures, cut-up techniques and samples may be recognizable. But Paradinas injected his trademark into this foundation: melodies and shapeshifting. And lots of them.

Already his µ-Ziq predecessor albums on Rephlex and Hi-Rise Rec. were always a journey through lush textures, blooming fields of melodies and constantly changing soundscapes. Paradinas rarely had any interest in monotony, neither at album length nor at track level. More importantly, Paradinas was one of the very few electronic musicians who managed to interweave vast amounts of melodies without it seeming kitsch or overloaded. Even the most childish and ridiculous melodies found their right place in his songs.

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Alas, it was also the melodies that made »Lunatic Harness« a late album in the Jungle continuum. By 1997, the phase was long over. »Well, I was really bad with Jungle. It was just a bass and the cut-up. Mixing it up with these melodies didn’t make sense at all.« Luckily, between 1995 and 1996, he somehow managed to make it work. And created an album with »Lunatic Harness« that even after 25 years is still original, beautiful, playful, mental, and multi-colored. It is not Jungle as we know it but carries the energy and excitement of the time.

1 µ-Ziq, Jake Slazenger, Tusken Raiders, Gary Moscheles, Kid Spatula, Frost Jockey, Rude Ass Tinker, Chris Morrison, A Plaid Tusk, Slag Boom Van Loon (mit Speedy J), Mike & Rich (mit Aphex Twin), Heterotic (mit Memo Comma), Short Circuit (mit Caspar Cox)

4 All direct quotes are from the 2003 interview and are published here for the first time.