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Mike Paradinas on How Boardgames, Spliffs, and Vodka Influenced His Off-the-Wall LP with Aphex Twin

One half of Mike & Rich recounts the making of 'Expert Knob Twiddlers' ahead of its upcoming 20th anniversary reissue.

by Gary Suarez
Aug 29 2016, 3:15pm

Photo courtesy of label

Back in the mid-1990s, the now antiquated phrase "intelligent dance music" still possessed that gratifying new car smell. Warp Records' 'Artificial Intelligence' series had presented new forms in techno, creating opportunities for like-minded producers largely from the UK and Europe pushing these sounds to curious places often distant from the straight-faced seriousness of Detroit artists.

For Mike Paradinas, whose personal musical tastes ranged from the aesthetically minimal to the absurdly maximal, it was a time of creative growth and productivity. He captured the ears of discerning electronic music listeners through pseudonymous projects like µ-Ziq and Jake Slazenger for Warp and Rephlex Records, the latter imprint operated in part by Richard D. James, better known as Aphex Twin. Even with their rising profiles during this period, they managed to come together for a project that would come to be known as Mike & Rich. In 1996, Rephlex released the delightful and devious results of their home studio collaboration, 'Expert Knob Twiddlers.'

Now twenty years since this veritable holy grail of a record first appeared, and nearly as long since it became an out-of-print collectors item, Paradinas has facilitated a reissue due out Sept. 2 via his own imprint Planet Mu. The remastered 'Expert Knob Twiddlers' features a slightly reconfigured tracklist, with a handful of bonus cuts and mixes not found on the original. For this latest instalment of Diggin, Paradinas looks back at the Mike & Rich project, offering insight into its creation and the logistics of bringing it back two decades later.

*****

We were physically together in a room, in Richard's studio mainly. There are a couple of tracks which were done in my studio, but most of it was done around Richard's. I didn't know I was going up there to record with him the first time, I was just hanging out and listening to records. He said, "Why don't we go the studio and set up the equipment?" It was something he did with a lot of his friends. I'd heard the tracks he'd done with Luke [Vibert] before that. I think he'd also done tracks with Global Goon, who was also a flatmate of his then.

When you went around there, he was always making a track in his studio. I'd wait in his room, I could hear what he was doing in his studio, trying to finish a track. When you had the Ataris in those days, it was all on floppy disk. You wanted to get it down before you turned the machine off. Things always went wrong. There was always a chance that you'd lose the track, so you wanted to get a version of it down before you turned the equipment off. The first track we did together was "Vodka," because we were drinking vodka, we weren't very imaginative with the name. We were both pretty pleased with that. Well, I was.

I think it was a reaction to what was going on. It was a time where Jeff Mills and Robert Hood were in the ascendant. In the UK, Mute was releasing a series of Tresor albums, there was stuff from our scene like Black Dog and B12. Autechre's first album had come out as well. It took itself quite seriously. There were a few producers starting to make more quirky music. I had already been recording Jake Slazenger stuff, some of which Richard wanted maybe to work with me on. I didn't let him, for some reason. A couple of people I was influenced by at the time were Atom Heart, who had this project under the name Lisa Carbon Trio, and Patrick Pulsinger, who had released a really interesting sort of jazzy techno record. Richard was inspired by loads of stuff.

Around the time we were making Mike & Rich, he was making Melodies From Mars and he had just made ...I Care Because You Do. He kept playing the first track on that record which hadn't come out yet. I remember him playing a lot of jungle stuff, like Splash's "Babylon," Jon Hassell and Brian Eno's Fourth World, Phill Niblock, and that sort of thing. I brought along Philip Glass records. Music In Twelve Parts, I had the box set, not just the little record with "Part One" on it, we were playing that all the way through. He borrowed that and a year later he was collaborating with him. We were listening to a lot of late-60s and 70s Moog records like Dick Hyman's "Give It Up or Turn It Loose," funk records done with synthesizers.

We weren't mocking anything. It's from a love of the music, all of it. There was a bit of drink and spliffs involved, you know. Normally, I didn't do anything like that while recording, and I doubt Richard did either. This time it loosened us up. We would do a lot of listening and not much recording. I was trying to write to sound like Richard and Richard was trying to sound like me. A lot of the keyboard solos and funky stuff, which you might expect from me, is actually Richard, and vice versa. On the earlier tracks, I wanted to do more techno-y stuff, and he was doing the more funky stuff. But once we worked out what it was going to be like, we were just going with whatever was happening. "Winner Takes All" might've been one of the last ones, and "Upright Kangaroo," which was done in my studio with my burps. I didn't like it, Richard liked it. I thought that was the weakest track.

Expert Knob Twiddlers cover artwork

I believe [the cover] was Richard's idea or Johnny Clayton's idea. Johnny Clayton did the sleeve, and he's redone it this time for the re-release. He was another flatmate of Richard's, he lived upstairs. They had the Downfall board game; it had a 12" cover. They must've thought, "Why not make it into the sleeve?" I remember going and seeing the artwork at Richard's house printed up on paper, as they had it in those days. There are a lot of misspellings on the original cover, including my name, which they did on purpose. They spelled my name differently on each format, the cassette, the CD, and the record. I think in one of them it's spelled right.

It came out on Rephlex and it was hard to get American distribution back then. That sort of music hadn't really taken off, and the internet wasn't such a big thing in those days, you couldn't buy online obviously. I've been asking Richard about [reissuing] it for a long time, and finally he said "yes," about the time Syro was released. He's got a lot of other things he's doing at the moment and he's very busy with his family. It's a good time because it ended up being the 20th anniversary approximately, but it wasn't planned that way.

I hadn't listened to it for a long time. Since we've been redoing it, the ones I've been enjoying include "Reg," which I didn't really enjoy the first time around. There were a lot of them I thought were a bit silly, the ones with my vocals in like "Bu Bu Bu Ba" and "Reg." At the time, the one I really liked was "The Sound Of The Beady Eyes," I think that was the most fun for us to record together. It was like eleven minutes long and we edited it down to around seven minutes. A lot of them are edited from long jams. Richard found a load of tracks, I recorded my DATs off his DATs. I put the old CD in the car and went for a drive, "Jelly Fish" was track two, and it didn't show off to its best advantage. It sounded a bit weak as the second track, so I thought I'd put it as the third track instead and maybe it'd sound better. I think the whole thing works a bit better now, showing off each track to its best. The order matters; when you listen to something in different orders it shows off different aspects of the tracks. It was fun, one of those things that probably won't happen again. We're all a bit older.

As told to Gary Suarez.