Expert Knob Twiddlers was recorded by Mike Paradinas and Richard D James during a manic burst of energy in the summer of 1994. Individually, the pair had been resetting the parameters of what techno could mean as µ–Ziq and Aphex Twin respectively. Together they made a bizarre record that paid homage to easy listening, forgotten funk, and whatever awkward shapes they could force their synths into.
Finally released back in '96, the album has remained deleted for years - now Planet Mu are reissuing the album in a remastered state, which seemed a perfect reason to give Mike Paradinas a call to talk about the music he made in a different age - as he points out, the 90s are nearly as far away from now as the 60s were to then...
How come the reissue now?
Richard found all of the original tapes, and digitally extracted all the tracks, then sent them to me to put them together again – they were all long jams edited down into tracks. I hadn’t listened to it for maybe ten years.
Was it quite a nostalgic process to listen back to the record for the first time in so long?
Yeah it does remind me of those days quite a lot, it was a nice time so I don’t mind remembering. It’s a bit different from these days, but I still enjoy the music – Richard does too, it’s a bonus that we both don’t think it’s shit…
Is there anything you hear on it you wish you’d done differently?
Well there was no opportunity to go back and redo tracks in 94, you had to record it as you were doing it, we were using MIDI instruments and Atari computers and it was really hard to save anything, because when you’d turn the equipment off and on again it would sound different, sometimes the floppy discs wouldn’t have saved properly- these days you look back and think, well floppy discs are quite archaic aren’t they?
Have you still got a bunch of floppy discs?
No! I threw them all away – I mean my Atari broke so I’ve nothing to play them on anyway.
Having lived through the hardware years, do you think the current fetishization of old skool production methods is a madness?
No I don’t think it’s a madness – I understand why a younger generation want to get back into doing it the difficult way, because it can sometimes lead to good results. But I’ve been there and done that so I’d rather have a laptop. I don’t have the room for a studio in my house, so I'm happy I can have all my synths in a laptop and do a track in bed. If I had unlimited money then maybe I’d think different, but I like having it all small.
So there wasn’t the sensation that you wish you still had some the kit?
There were some drum machines that I missed – some that were so bad they were unique. No one else used this old Alesis machine like I did. And I do wish I still had the Dr Rhythm – I think it was a DR-55, and the DR-110 sounded just like an 808.
I looked at 808s online the other day and they’re going for about $3000...
It’s ridiculous isn’t it. I just want to forget about that gear fetishization – you can spend a lot of money on it, it takes longer to do tracks, and it takes up a lot more space. I know Richard has a lot of kit thugh – he’s a guy with 3 buildings with about 10 different studio set ups in his garden, but it’s not something I miss.
Do you think doing this sort of project with Richard would be possible again?
I’d like it if it happened. Ummm. I don’t think it will, I think he likes pottering around on his own, or with his Cornish mates down there.
On the record there’s the tune that the pair of you were both notoriously drunk while making. Is that a process that’s been repeated?
No that was the only time – I believe that’s the case for Richard as well, I mean he’d have a spliff occasionally. I stopped taking all that years ago. Anyway, I made a track once when I’d had a couple of beers and it turned out really bad. We weren’t planning on making music when we made that track, we’d just had a few spliffs and some vodka and started making stuff. We did listen to it a few weeks later on acid though.
Ha! Anything to report from that?
It was good! I was at Richard’s house, and he played me a few tunes from his Melodies from Mars album that never came out – he played it three times through before he noticed that the DAT tape was repeating. We’d just thought it was a really long album. There were about 5 or 6 of us in this tiny little studio sitting on a quilt or something, leaning against equipment that now would be worth thousands of pounds. He had loads of Moogs in there. The acid wasn’t that strong though. Half a tab maybe.
Talking about this reminds me how far away the 90s are
Yeah, about as far as the 60s were to then.
When I speak to up and coming producers in dance, I sometimes feel bad that they’re so aware of their ‘brand’, it seems so far from the scene you paint
Well I think Richard was always very aware of his brand
You think so?
I know so. It was the sort of thing he liked discussing. He managed to get quite a good profile quite quickly. He had the music at the time to back it up, which is something a lot of people who were good at self-promotion in those days didn’t have
I feel like this wasn’t something you’d do yourself.
No. I could barely string two sentences together when I was 20. Richard was a good bullshitter, he was good at speaking to the press. A lot of his lies would have a big basis in truth. I don’t know sometimes with what he says to me, if he’s winding me up or if he’s telling the truth. But the music was always the most important thing to him – not the releasing of it, just the creation.
He's notorious for having a mountain of unreleased tracks - are you sitting on a load of unheard music as well?
Yeah, I’ve started putting it out now – I put a load on soundcloud last year, that instant feedback is something I think musicians like soundcloud for. You get addicted to likes and comments. But as a label boss I’ve got to tell artists to hold a bit back for the release, or it’s all out there already. I find running the label takes most of my time – I’m writing very little music now. I do the occasional remix, I’ve just done a remix for Kuedo – he’s got an album coming out on Planet Mu in a couple of months. It’ll have the same melodic sensibility as his last LP, but more Southern hip hop vibes, less of the Blade Runner influenced melodies. The second half of the album almost goes into Musique Concrete stuff. His first album, Severant, was our best selling LP ever. But maybe Mike & Rich will take over heh.
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