µ-Ziq: RY30 Trax

British synth wunderkind Mike Paradinas takes a trip back to the '90s with another fascinating archival release.
RY30 Trax
Planet Mu

Eventually, every decade’s touchstones will be revisited and reevaluated. It’s hard to believe that the ‘90s are now being dissected with the same scrutiny as the golden ages of Motown, Woodstock and disco.

Yet here we are. Out of the era of Bill Clinton and Britpop came Mike Paradinas, a British synthesizer wunderkind who, under the moniker µ-Ziq (pronounced “mew-zeek”), helped craft the dance subgenre known as Intelligent Dance Music, or IDM. This musical style, which he helped establish with the aid of artists like Squarepusherhttp://ded5626.inmotionhosting.com/~popmat6/artists/squarepusher/, Aphex Twin and Autechrehttp://ded5626.inmotionhosting.com/~popmat6/artists/Autechre/, can be loosely described as “electronic dance music you can’t dance to”, or “dance music for people who hate dance music”. In other words, the beats are stuttering, unpredictable, and often fall out of their prescribed time signatures. Within IDM, a further subgenre known as “drill and bass” — a reference to the more popular “drum and bass” — was established.

Paradinas’ 1997 album Lunatic Calm went on to sell 100,000 copies and afforded him enough clout for Virgin Records to give him his own label, Planet Mu. On this label, Paradinas released his own music (in addition to the music of others, like Ital Tek, whose brilliant 2016 album Hollowed is getting rave reviews).

More µ-Ziq albums were released, and a unique provision in the Virgin/Planet Mu contract allowed Paradinas to make music under an unlimited number of aliases. One of these aliases was Jake Slazenger, and RY30 Trax is basically a batch of unreleased Slazenger-era recordings from 1995. Paradinas has been on a roll with archival releases lately, and this is one of many albums that revisit earlier times and namesakes. The cover image is an interesting scene-setter — it looks like a long-forgotten Polaroid of what I can only assume is a young Paradinas, sporting long, unfashionable hair and shades, looking more like a suburban teenager waiting in line for Rush tickets than a brilliant young man about to set the electronic music scene on fire.

There are many common threads between Paradinas’ µ-Ziq tracks and those of “Jake Slazenger”. True to the IDM credo, this is highly synthesized and syncopated stuff, but it works on a deeper level than your typical dancefloor fodder. Sure, throw on the opening track, “Mydropvip”, and your head will almost surely be bopping to the beat, but it doesn’t possess the kind of upbeat club euphoria you’d expect from “traditional” dance music. Much of RY30 Trax (named after Paradinas’ preferred model of Yamaha drum machine used during that time) evokes a moody soundtrack vibe — you could almost picture “Mydrovip” used during one of those “computer building” montages on Halt and Catch Fire.

Elsewhere, things take a darker, deeper turn, thanks to unique and creative sampling. “Dustar 3” employs sitar sounds to give off a minor-key, Eastern flavor, while a complex beat comes in and out at seemingly random occasions. At the same time, it’s not all gloom and doom: “Jaz Norton” has an upbeat, almost playful vibe that occasionally dips into less syncopated sections that still maintain a hopeful, optimistic atmosphere.

In fact, Paradinas — excuse me, Slazenger — seems to revel in changing gears and exploring the different moods that synths and sampling can offer. The year of the recordings seems irrelevant; sure, it’s 1995, but Paradinas was already looking back to the ‘80s at this time, long before it was fashionable to do so. Tracks like “Sinusoidal” and “Bombadub” sound like the innards of a vintage arcade video game. But the age of IDM usually ends up reining the songs back in to the (then) present, mostly in the form of a contemporary complex drum machine beat straight out of the playbook of Paradinas’ contemporaries.

Occasional outliers make appearances on RY30 Trax, like anachronistic experiments that – for one reason or another – were largely abandoned. “Me & My Hoss” is just as odd an out-of-place as its title implies, with a slow, dusty, loping, lo-fi sample dragging the song along in a somewhat relaxing yet drugged slow jam, like a country western ballad from Mars.

If you’re a fan of whatever music – or name – Paradinas is flirting with now, or in the past, you definitely have your work cut out for you. Although he appears to be focusing more on compilations of older work, those voluminous vaults are crammed with timeless stuff, and as long as Planet Mu is still in operation, there’s an outlet for this beautiful, challenging, melodic music.

RATING 7 / 10