Various Artists ‘μ20’ (Planet Mu)

The iconic label marks its 20th anniversary with a bumper compilation

Two decades of releasing boundary pushing electronic music is certainly something to be celebrated. Although in typical Planet Mu style, this is no self-congratulatory “best of” package. Instead, we get a 50-track compilation of unreleased material and remixes from throughout the label’s history, but with a focus on the new and unfamiliar.

The various strands that make up Planet Mu’s DNA are all here – from the early days of IDM and breakcore to label head Mike Paradinas’ later embrace of grime, dubstep and footwork, and of course plenty of tracks that don’t fall easily into this reductionist narrative. Discs one and two largely draw from the current decade, and listening to these strange, disparate selections, it’s remarkable how they feel perfectly at home on this sprawling set, from Ekoplekz’s swampy analogue techno to the synaptic overload of Venetian Snares.

Rather than a time capsule cementing 20 years of Planet Mu, ‘µ20’ is actually more concerned with looking forward, as the majority of the tracks are dated in the last year or two. The future is certainly bright on this evidence, with producers like Jlin and Mr Mitch serving up experimental takes on footwork and grime, and promising newcomers such as Herva and Silk Road Assassins ramping up the anticipation for their first proper releases on the label.

If you’re weighing up whether or not to get the box set version, here’s what might swing it for you. Disc three (not available with the standard edition) goes further back in time and focuses on some of the less contemporary artists in Planet Mu’s stable. Most of these previously unreleased tracks are thrilling in their own right – particularly Tim Tetlow’s ‘Stelophane 101’ – but what’s really exciting to hear is just how much territory they share with the first two discs. The melding of noise and beauty, hedonism and contemplation: it’s all been there since the beginning.

The main reason to buy the deluxe version is Rory Gibb’s 100-page book charting the history of the label. It’s seriously extensive and very well researched, offering up revealing insights from Paradinas as well as artists such as Ekoplekz, Remarc, Boxcutter and RP Boo. Your understanding of the Planet Mu catalogue will be all the richer for having read it.

There’s such a lot of good material here, it’s easy to forget that this is essentially a rarities collection rather than an edition of ‘Now That’s What I Call Planet Mu!’. The issue of quality is elucidated in the liner notes by Jamie Teesdale (aka Kuedo), who says, “Mike doesn’t consider much else other than whether the thing’s good”.

Paradinas’ singular approach to running a record label – finding something you’re passionate about and trusting the public to get it – has resulted in the release of some wonderful music over the years. Music that floors you with its beauty, music that makes you want to lose it in the rave. It’s great that Paradinas has taken time out to properly mark this anniversary, but you just know his focus is already back to finding that special new sound. Here’s to another 20 years.

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