Once a week for the next four weeks, we're dropping a Planet Mu mix that digs deep into the label's storied roster. First up: Ital Tek, who hones in on his favorite tracks from 2005 to 2008. "I've tried to highlight the breadth of the catalog from these years, from Tim Exile and Ben Frost's lush soundscapes, to Vex'd and Distance's industrial power, and the main man who made it all happen—Mike Paradinas AKA µ-Ziq," Ital Tek explains. "I've included a few of my tracks from my 2008 debut album Cyclical. "Tokyo Freeze" (2007) was one of the first proper tracks I ever wrote and I'll never forget getting the call from Mike which kicked everything off for me." Scroll down for the tracklist.
Planet Mu has a lot to celebrate. The indie label has weathered 20 years of seismic industry shifts and musical evolutions without losing their crucial position at the fringes of electronic music—from IDM to dubstep, grime to footwork, there's little doubt that Planet Mu has been a platform for pushing crucial artists into the spotlight. To mark their 20th anniversary, the label has released a three-album compilation of 50 unreleased tracks, spanning from an older guard of artists like Jega, Remarc, Hellfish, and µ-ZIQ, to current favorites like Jlin, Ital Tek, Boxcutter, and Machinedrum.
"The ones I picked felt right, like they were still saying something," explained label boss and formidable crate-digger Mike Paradinas over the phone from his home in Brighton—where the cries of his fourth child could be heard in the background. We spoke with Paradinas about unearthing gems for the compilation, the label's secret to longevity—"We do stuff on the cheap, and I think that's why we've survived—except for the music"— and why he felt overwhelmed with embarrassment the first time he walked into a club.
THUMP: Hey Mike! Where are you right now?
Mike Paradinas: I'm at home, which is near Brighton. I had a month off last month, we got the new baby. He's very good, sleeps well, everything is cool.
How are the celebrations going for the label's 20th anniversary?
I don't know when the time to celebrate will arrive. We've been preparing this compilation for a good year, it's taken ages to get the music and artwork together.
How did you go about picking tracks for such a sprawling compilation like this? Where do you even begin?
Methodically. I just went through 600 to 700 unreleased tracks which I had listened to before, trying to find unreleased goodies. I started late last year, and was doing it on and off until April or May.
Were there any criteria for picking tracks, or was it an instinctive thing?
It's always an instinctive thing for me. The easy way would be to say it felt right. But I suppose all these micro-decisions go on in the your subconscious and you learn to trust your instinct. The ones I picked felt right, like they were still saying something. A lot of tracks that wouldn't have held up today got weeded out early on.
When you say "wouldn't have held up," what do you mean?
Either dated, or not saying anything beyond what that artist was saying originally. Although the Jega track "103," I don't think it's saying anything more, but it's particularly pretty. A lot of the stuff I left off was dubstep. Make of that what you will.
Did you unearth any gems during this sorting process?
There are few artists, mainly newer ones like Anti-G and Jlin, who didn't have any leftover tracks; I had to ask them whether they had anything. Remarc came up with a gem when I asked him for something. The Jega track, that was 17 or 18-years-old. I vaguely remembered it. The DJ Nate track was sent to me 18 months or so ago when he started to make footwork again, and that reminded me of releasing his album, which was a pretty amazing time. There were a lot of gems on there, but I don't tend to forget tracks. I had in mind the sort of thing I wanted.
Did you intend to arrange these three albums chronologically?
I didn't know it was going to be a compilation of unreleased tracks at first. We went through a few ideas, maybe a DVD of live footage or remixes. All of these ideas have been done before. The nicest idea was to go back through the archives and dig up these gems. It's not chronological. The first and second CDs show where Planet Mu is now and how it got there. CD three, even though it has some newer tracks on it, is about our first five or six years.
Speaking of how Planet Mu got to where it is today, do you see certain landmarks or important shifts in the label's history?
There were several points where if I hadn't had these thoughts or been thrown at these events, Planet Mu wouldn't be the same. The first was in 1999 when I was DJing a lot of Hellfish & Producer's tracks, and I thought, I'm just releasing a lot of demos that are being sent. I'm not going out and searching. I should just call the people whose records I'm playing, rather than writing to people to contact me.
The second thing is when we released a Remarc record of old material from 1993 to 1996, old jungle stuff. It was our first re-release, and took a long time to get together, but that was another time where I came up with an idea, tried to find the artist, and called them up to see if they were into the idea.
It seems like your strategy is often guided by wanting to make something that isn't available, available.
Another reason why I wanted to do a re-release of Remarc is because I had some of his 12" that I bought when I lived in East London, but couldn't find the tracks I wanted. I used to go to [record shops like] Boogie Times in Rumford. Suburban Bass was run out of them, which released Remarc's stuff. They didn't always sell the record they were playing, they would keep it for DJs. If they didn't know you, they wouldn't sell it to you. I only chased up what I wanted from mixtapes, and later when eBay started up, I was buying a lot of jungle and garage on the Internet.
In 1996, I was living in Wooster and buying what became grime and dubstep, but at the time was just called dark garage. By 2004, grime got its name, and dubstep coalesced out of the scene. It was hard to tell just from buying records that they were from different places, South and East London, because the shops would sell them under the same banner. When I started releasing dubstep on the label in 2004, I got to know a few people in the scene. I went to Big Apple in Croydon and met Hatcha, and FWD>> and DMZ, so we started releasing a lot of dubstep. They were all formative moments, really.
You've moved around the UK quite a bit, from London to Kent to where you are now in Brighton. How have these cities played into the development of the label?
I grew up in London, and the first scene I grew up with was techno. Actually no—I went to this Latin music club in Brixton called the Mambo Inn. That would've been 1987, before house music existed. I remember a metal door and a large black guy you had to pay to get in. My friend Bruce, who was older, bought some drinks because we were all 16. I can't even remember seeing the DJ, it was quite dark. There were all these amazing dancers, but I hated dancing. I was pretty embarrassed because I was white and not dancing and standing against the wall [laughs].
That was inspirational, seeing amazing dancing—that links up to footwork because they're jazz dancers, which is quite similar. I was quite into old funky records; they called it rare groove, which is anything inspired by James Brown [chuckles]. Then house music came along and they changed the name to acid jazz to cash in.
What are your hopes for the label's next 20 years?
We want to be a major label and take over the world, but I don't think it's heading there. We'd like to have an artist which helps us financially—a cash cow who bankrolls the label. For Ninja Tune, it's Bonobo, and wIth Hyperdub, it's Burial. We'd like to not worry too much about money. Practical things like that.
I read an interview with [Warp co-founder] Steve Beckett a few years ago in an aeroplane magazine, maybe at the time of their 20th anniversary. He was talking about Warp going into films, and said that the model of independent labels where you sell 3,000 records is over. Back then we were selling 3,000 records, and now a lot of labels are selling less than that, even for albums that gets a lot of press and love.
Did you agree with Steve's assessment?
No [laughs]. A lot of labels just release music on Bandcamp and keep it small. We could do that in the future.
Would you feel satisfied doing that?
I reckon, yeah. I'd just have to wake my wife to get a job. I was running a label at the time when we had a lot less overhead. We do stuff on the cheap, and I think that's why we've survived 20 years. Except for the music. We work a lot to try and get each release right, trying to help the artists to sound as good as they can. I think that's our strength, really.
Speaking of making music sound good, in the pamphlet that comes with the compilation, there's an interview where you said, "the idea and the emotion is more important than the production, and the production can take away from that." Can you elaborate on that?
Hmm. Not always, obviously. Sometimes good production is the whole point of why something sounds good. I'm thinking about PC Music or a lot of Amnesia Scanner.
When I said that, I was thinking about tracks that have been overworked. Certain artists will give me a demo and try to finish the track, but the demo will sound better because it sounded live, more energy. When you overwork something, a lot can be lost. I think some people cram a lot of detail into a track, and that obscures something. A lot of techno producers are good at this—like Surgeon, his mixdowns are amazing. Trying to balance a mixdown so you don't smother a track—it's a dark art, really.
What does the label have coming up?
I've got a list in front of me of about 30 people we're working on new releases with. We've just done an album with Yearning Kru, an English guy who lives in Korea who makes creepy, mostly beatless sound collages. Anther with Herva, an 18 or 19-year-old Italian producer who has released on All City, Don't Be Afraid, Bosconi, Delsin. But he's really coming into his own sound with this album. I've been listening to it every week for the last six or seven months, and it's just come together, I think. It's called Kila, which is Swahili for everything. Ital Tek will be doing his fourth album with us. Another Venetian Snares album, and a new Jlin EP. All really exciting artists.
Last question: what's the secret to your longevity?
I'd rather be doing this than anything else. That helps.
Ital Tek Planet Mu 20th Anniversary Mix (2005 - 2008) Tracklist:
Exile - Sliiime
Milanese - Mr Ion
Ital Tek - Tokyo Freeze
Ital Tek - Cyclical
Pinch - Qawwali
Boxcutter - Bug Octet
Vex'd - 3rd Choice (Loefah Remix)
Ital Tek - Deep Pools
Ben Frost - Theory Of Machines
µ-Ziq - Gary's Gruesome Grime
Vex'd - Pop Pop V.I.P
Distance - Delight
Starkey - Miracles (Jamie Vex'd Remix)
Equinox - Acid Rain V.I.P. (Breakage Final Chapter Mix)
µ-Ziq - Ease Up VIP
The regular and limited vinyl editions of µ20 are out now on Planet Mu, with the limited-edition deluxe box set out on October 2. Get them here.
London! Catch U-Ziq (live), Ital Tek, Ekoplekz + Special Guests at a Planet Mu party at Village Underground on November 28.