Embassy Rooms, London - 8 June, 1999

"It was a true 50/50 split - half great, half crap"

My girlfriend suggested I attend this gig. I'd never heard of the band until she mentioned them and prior to the evening itself I hadn't heard any of their music either. She simply suggested that it was supposed to be techno-oriented (her soft spot) and why don't we go?

The band name uses the Greek letter µ (mu) - so its pronounced 'mu-zik'. The venue is underground in Tottenham Court Road - a throwback to the 1930s and a cross between a old-fashioned nightclub club and a rep theatre - the walls are decorated with a mixture of original old film and stage posters, and black and white photographs of early stage productions. Big pattern flock wallpaper, very low lighting, a fug of cigarette smoke and clearly in desperate need of air conditioning, it was a terrific setting. The stage was arranged with seating for what looked like a small classical recital but this was accompanied by two large video screens either side of the stage, each bearing a discrete 'µ-ziq' logo. There being no support act, a seven-piece string section then took up their positions on stage and began the 'gig'. A straight- forward instrumental that was pleasant enough if uninspiring followed, the bass strings causing the PA system to distort the sound several times. Five minutes later Englishman Michael Paradinas (who is µ-ziq) then joined the septet and the beats began coming.

A four-note sequencer loop and thumping yet mellow drums took us into more expected territory. A Japanese female vocalist, Kazumi, then added lyrics for the first time. Paradinas incorporates influences of many styles into his compositions. Big beat, techno, 60s kitsch organs, filmic violins, samples of everything from voices to distorted guitars all vie for position against a backdrop of frantic drum n bass percussive patterns and loops. Many of the sampled drum breaks (ad-libbed live from a sampler by Paradinas throughout the evening) were dropped in deliberately off-beat. This created a complex jumble of off-tempo percussion that for me undermined the otherwise imaginatively simple keyboard hook lines.

Fans of the French electro scene (Air, Cassius and the like) and UK low-fi electronic bands such as Broadcast and Stereolab might find some of µ-ziq's music to their liking. The new single, 'The Fear' is about as mainstream as u-ziq comes, but with its blend of tuneful distorted electric guitar samples, funky keyboards and heavy percussion it's still an aquired taste. The Brilliant Strings (as the septet were named) departed the stage half-way through the one hour set and the d n' b kicked in big time. Gone was all pretence at melody and simple, catchy ideas - sadly in favour of an unimaginative, derivative and inane hybrid of d n' b and techno. With this stark progression in style, I felt abandoned wondering what had happened, left to watch idiots like the overweight bloke in front of me slowly sway and wiggle like an incontinent pratt.

Things got slightly better towards the conclusion when Kazumi returned to perform vocals on a very Bjork-esque track that saw the return to appealing layers of uncomplicated loops. For the record, I'm not against drum n bass or techno - both styles of music feature in my music collection, but the line stops at slamming hardcore stuff for the same reason I don't like any style of thrash music - it's unimaginative, dull and doesn't make me want to dance. Any idiot can create thrash noise - and what's the point in doing something that anyone else with the same equipment could do? As somebody who went to the gig with no fore-knowledge of what to expect, I still thought it was a good night. Eye(ear?)-opening and challenging one moment, annoying and boring the next. It was a true 50/50 split - half great, half crap. The problem is, if Paradinas believes the whole thing is great then the chances are the good stuff is a fortunate fluke.

Rob Dyer