1 His new album tells a story. Or at least the title, ‘Royal Astronomy’, does
Mike was reading a collection of pieces by Slaughterhouse Five author Kurt Vonnegut called Fates Worse Than Death, and came across a reference to a story about the Royal Astronomer, written by James Thurber. The astronomer, went the story, was worried that each time he looked at the sky through his telescope, he could see another star going out. He sought an audience with the King, and told him that the world was going to end, because the stars were disappearing. In fact, the story explains, the astronomer was going blind.
“Royal Astronomy is the condition that people get when they’re older and start to blow things out of all proportion,” says Mike. “It’s like that thing people say: ‘Things aren’t as good as they used to be.’ Not that I’m saying that my music’s crap, but in that way, I could be the subject of a Royal Astronomer. Or I could be one myself, because there’s always someone younger than you.”
2 He’s toured with Bjork
“She’s very musical. We had conversations about music,” says Mike, “but I can’t remember them because I was drunk most of the time. I toured with her most of last year, and I got a lot of ideas for the string stuff on the new album from stuff she played me. She had string players with her and when you hear them every day for three or four months, it’s bound to influence you.”
3 He’s taking the piss out of The Verve and Embrace
When rock music worries that it hasn’t got gravitas, it calls in the string section to ‘serious’ it all up a bit. Characteristically, Mike decided that in order to take a bit of a pop at his Hut labelmates he would release his string-based music by way of a sly satirical aside.
“I think it’s cynical putting strings on a record,” he says, “because I could play exactly the same notes on synths and people would think it was crap. Just because it’s got strings, people think it’s more important, which is just stupid.”
4 His new single wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the Post Office
New single ‘The Fear’ is something of a departure. Not only does it feature singing, but it was constructed from a correspondence begun three years ago.
“A Japanese girl called Kazumi sent me a tape of her singing over some of my music three years ago, and I’ve taken bits of her singing, and sampled them and built tracks around them. We started off with me sending her stuff to sing over, but it didn’t work, at least not to my satisfaction, so we tried it another way. It’s not good enough for a hit, though. It’s a bit wimpy.”
5 He’s clever. Everyone else is stupid
Mike‘s new single and LP are very pleasurable sets of music to listen to. It’s a state of affairs he’s not altogether happy with.
“I’ve got a lot of stuff that I consider to be a lot more forward-looking, but no-one takes me seriously when I release it. So I’ll release something that people think is good, which is annoying, but Hut want to make money. People’ll get into it 30 years later. I feel that the only important music that’s being made now is being ignored. But you have to make a living somehow.”
6 He’s got a number of aliases, and done many collaborations
Jake Slazenger. Slag Boom Van Loon. Mike & Rich… working under various pseudonyms, and with electronic music colleagues like Speedy J and the Aphex Twin, has yielded Mike a number of extracurricular outlets to 5-Ziq. Next year, he plans another, on his own label.
“I haven’t completely decided,” he says, “but it probably won’t be that different. There’s stuff I could put out that no-one would like except me, and what’s the point of that if all you’re going to get is a good review in some obscure magazine?”
7 He’s down with the witches
The next single will probably be ‘The Hwicci Song’, an eerie bit of strings and scratching, which sounds not unlike Michael Nyman trying to reconcile himself with hip-hop.
“It was called ‘Wikki-Wikki Song’ after the electro hit of the same name, which you probably won’t have heard of. I think it was Reggie Griffin (Newcleus, actually – Ed). But then I was reading in the local Worcester News thing about the Hwicci (a witch) who lived in the area just before the Romans came. So that seemed to fit.”
8 He’s a bad neighbour
Mike used to do all his music in a room at the top of his house, and play it back through his dad’s somewhat antique stereo. To the relief of one set of homeowners, he’s since moved, and now uses the old lynchpin of 5-Ziq recordings to stand things on. The old neighbours have further reason to be grateful: “Got these new decks and a Samson amplifier, so I can play gabba really loud,” he says.
“I like frightening the neighbours.”
9 He’s, well, parsimonious…
He’s just come back from a European festival, where he roadied his own gear because “it saves the price of a flight”. He knows exactly what’s sold what. He knows who’s lost what money on what record.
The photographer buys the coffees.
10 He’s something of a cold fish
But let’s not sweat it, eh? No-one ever said you had to be a nice bloke to make great records.
Interview by John Robinson