If you saw Mike Paradinas in the street, you might not give him a second look - except perhaps to reflect on the advisability or otherwise of his ponytail. And yet this apparently unassuming individual is not only the creator of some of the most arresting and imaginative British electronic music of the last decade, he is also warlord of a private army of shifting identities.
As well as the -ziq name with which he is most widely associated, Paradinas has recorded under a legion of aliases, but it's the myriad of moods and textures incorporated within the new -ziq album, Royal Astronomy, that are currently elevating Paradinas to unprecedented levels of public visibility, threatening to relegate the exploits of such pseudonymous incarnations as Kid Spatula, Slag Boom Van Loon and deviant cheesy-listening supremo Jake Slazenger to
posterity's lonely sidelines.
"Scaling", the album's bewitching opening number, progresses smoothly from courtly fake string intro, to fanfare for Yul Brynner in The King And I, to the sound of Jeremy Paxman being attacked by a hormonally imbalanced seagull. It then fades into "The Hwicci Song": the march of the elephants from Fantasia rearranged for the lost tribes of hip-hop. And Royal Astronomy maintains these stratospheric levels of energy and invention more or less throughout.
Mike Paradinas's feet are not about to leave the ground, though. "What annoys me," he complains, "is not the fact that people seem to like this record, but that they can't take the other stuff I'm doing - which I like just as much but can't release because no one will buy it."
But presumably those multifarious noms de guerre have been a good way of expressing different sides of his musical personality? "I don't put myself into any persona," he says, crossly. "It's just a tradition in techno music: a device whereby different record companies can market music in a variety of styles without stepping on other record companies' toes."
This doesn't seem to be going very well. A polite enquiry as to whether different tributaries leading into a single river might be a good analogy for the way each aspect of what he does relates to the whole, elicits the following response: "Work on that one... it could turn out to be interesting".
As attentive readers may have noticed, Mike Paradinas was not standing at the front of the queue when the social graces were being handed out, but once you've acclimatised to the abruptness that borders on the despotic, there is something bracing about this man's disdain for soft soap. For all his obnoxious demeanour, it is hard to resist a sneaking admiration for someone whose capsule explanation for the more accessible turn his music has taken lately is "to stop me getting dropped by Virgin".
It is what he has left out as much as what he's put in that makes Royal Astronomy Paradinas's most appealing record to date. Each of the five previous -ziq albums contained their fair share of exquisite spiralling rhapsodies, but this time he's abandoned some of the wilful obfuscation and outright racket-making with which these delights tended to be leavened.
Inspired by prolonged exposure to Eumir Deodato's crystalline string arrangements while on tour with Bjork, he's also come up with some virtual chamber music. "It's a bit cynical in a way," Paradinas admits. "It means you can get compared to Philip Glass and Aphex Twin, like I always do." Paradinas shakes his head. "I introduced Aphex Twin to Philip Glass's music."
If Paradinas's career still seems to be somewhat overshadowed by that of his friend and sometime musical collaborator, that's probably because while Aphex Twin has cloaked his music in a beguiling dustcloud of myths and stunts, Paradinas, well, hasn't.
"I could have," he insists gamely, "but I knew people would only accuse me of copying him, so I thought `no, I'll be pure'." The funny thing about this absence of pointers and subtexts is that it makes -ziq's records more intriguing rather than less so.
The title of Despite his claim to be "not very good with language", Paradinas's album titles alone (Tango `N' Vectif, Bluff Limbo, Salsa With Mesquite, In Pine Effect and Lunatic Harness) display more verbal facility than the entire oeuvres of many a celebrated rock lyricist. Royal Astronomy turns out to have come not from the anticipated lame millennial or eclipse- related conceit, but a James Thurber short story about an astronomer who told a king the stars were disappearing, when in fact he was going blind.
Exactly what relevance this story might have to the life of a former architecture student who lives in a nice Victorian house in Worcester with his girlfriend and young son Caleb is for him to know and for us to find out.
Does Mike Paradinas think his music is communicating something about himself? "Well, I don't know if it's about myself," he says, allowing himself a rare smile, "but it's definitely communicating something."
`Royal Astronomy' (Hut) is out on Monday