Gold Panda has been inadvertently labeled as the glo-fi sunshine sound of our yet to be ephemeral summer. However, as Derwin explains, much of his music has been misconstrued by the vanguard of self assuming music critics like myself. I was lucky enough to conduct an exclusive interview with Derwin just before his gig with ‘Caribou’. I met a modest and unassuming musician, bemused by his popularity…
Note: this is an interview from the Pelski archive carried out by Charles Darkly and was recorded on 22nd August 2010
Darkly: How do you describe the genre co-ordinates in your music?
Gold Panda: I am not sure what genre I’m supposed to be in. I’ve been making tunes since I was about 15, and some have described it as Post-Dubstep in Japan, and Glo-Fi was another, due to the shimmery effects. Others have made comparisons with Washed Out and Neon Indian, but I don’t know much about those guys. I was really into hip hop when I was younger, so I guess that’s had an influence.
How do you feel about the left-field hip-hop and dubstep like Hudson Mohawke and James Blake for instance? Or do you display interest in other areas of electronica?
Yeah what I’ve heard I liked, definitely. However I’ve been listening to a lot of minimal techno recently, a load of bleepy stuff. Theirs a label called ‘Raster-Noton’ in Germany and another in the States called 12k run by ‘Taylor Deupree’ that I’ve been listening to. They have these really hi-fi sounds that I really like, they capture a lot of the glitch vibes that were around in the 90’s.
I noticed there was slight undercurrent of minimalist tendencies in some of your songs. For instance, the drum patterns in ‘Police’ have quite a sharp techno vibe. Would you ever consider branching out into minimal techno?
Yeah I could do, I wasn’t really into techno when I was younger. However at one point when was living in Japan I was living with a mate who was a DJ, and she used to play a lot of minimal stuff, and I didn’t think anything of it at the time. Then I started to get more into it, subconsciously I guess. The sounds are so clean, so yeah I guess it’s a possibility, I’ve always been interested in minimal.
Your music was once described by the BBC as – ‘…an instrumental soundtrack to half remembered, dreamy summers days…’ Now it seems that people often attach a random summer’s day to music that they consider fitting to a bucolic context. However, we all know the imagery that one attaches to music can be quite far from the emotional incarnation from which it was made. For instance, I was listening to ‘You’ today, could you reveal any of the emotive aspects behind this track?
I often attach the emotive content afterwards…but it’s weird what the BBC say about a ‘dreamy summer’s day’, because I fucking hate sun, and I generally hate happy stuff. So I always try and make depressing music, but it turns out happy. My Japanese friend pointed out that maybe I’m trying to be happy through my music, hence my music turns out that way. It’s funny because I’m always trying to make something sad that soundtracks how I feel about life in general, and maybe a lot of it just turns out happy, when I really want it to have a sense of loss in there and a feeling of loneliness.
Yeah I had a feeling that the quote from the BBC might have misrepresented you to a certain extent…
Yeah I think its very easy to write that, most people probably don’t even listen to the music, and just copy and paste what the BBC said into another description elsewhere, which can be quite annoying. And yeah, ‘…the half remembered summer days…’, I don’t really have any that i can really think of. I think my stuff is more representative of a wintery or autumnal climate. I guess I’m just not too great with heat really, it just gets too hot.
I dunno really, I’m 29 now and I got a bit depressed when i was twenty and it lasted for the last 8 years. I was thinking…I’m rubbish, I’m shit, i’m a loser – what the fuck am i doing with my life? But I had a mate doing Techno or just music in general really, and then he passed away, and he was always telling me to do music. So when he died I just thought I should do it. I wasn’t really enjoying anything else I was doing, and I didn’t really have a job I was interested in, and my only other passion was Japanese.
Do you speak Japanese fluently?
I’m supposed to, I’m on the highest level, so I’m gonna try and knuckle down and take my final test. When I completed the course and I graduated, I thought I’d be able to get a job working in a bank of something. So I went to all the interviews and whatever, and then I realised I’m not interested in a city job, and I couldn’t really find anything I wanted to do with it.
But why sell your soul to the 9 to 5 anyway when you could do something awesome like this…
Well yeah it’s turned out that way, but I didn’t see it coming at the time though, I had no idea it was all going to go so well. I don’t know how it came about to work so well, I mean I just did a couple of remixes for mates, and then ‘Wichita Records’ asked me to remix ‘Bloc Party’.
I think it’s quite self explanatory – your music is innovative and original it’s own right, and people are always looking for something new.
Cheers, but the thing is i don’t hear that, I just hear rubbish. After I’ve made it I just think God what is this!
Well I guess that’s what is just so intriguing about your music, it’s a mish-mash of different sentiments, genre and various ideologies within music. I mean, everyone is taking a pure concept and throwing everything into the mix these days, people often screw it up, and you’ve managed to create your own sound without sounding like everyone else whilst doing it. For instance, one track that sticks out in my mind is ‘Triangle Cloud’, can you tell me a bit about that?
As for ‘Triangle Cloud’, it’s just a loop really, and I think it repeats three times. So I just got a drum beat, slowed it down…and I’ve got this Yamaha organ that i got for 99p, it’s absolutely massive looks like a Hammond organ, with two levels and pedals and everything. Then I just played a melody over the top, I mean I can’t play anything but I just made it up and that was the melody. So yeah, it’s just a loop three times, with a sample of someone saying ‘Alright’, and that’s it!
You make it all sound very simple, which I’m sure it is not the case.
Well I think it took about ten minutes to make. If I make a track over a couple of weeks I end up hating it, so it has to be done quick and a lot of it is just mistakes.
So is the average track made in a day or something?
Yeah I’d say two days max I think. Anymore than that then it just ends up somewhere in my computer and no-one ever hears it.
You must have a back catalogue of a ridiculous amount of tunes then?
Uh yeah I guess so…
How many would you say roughly?
Somewhere around a thousand.
(Mild exasperated gasps made by me)
Do you have any plans for some of the back catalogue? Do you ever dig stuff out the archive again?
Sometimes I go back and listen to tunes again, and think to myself that ‘this might be good’. But the thing with that is…that those tracks had their time and it didn’t work out, and I don’t really want to keep going back to try and make it work. I think that if a track hasn’t worked, then it just hasn’t worked, and then it becomes rendered on the hard-drive and then you might listen to it now and again and think to yourself ‘That was alright’. And then you don’t bother finishing it, or whatever…
You played with ‘Caribou’ a while back, who must have been great to support. I read somewhere that he uses mathematical theories to correlate patterns within his composition, then applies them to his song writing. Which is an interesting approach to say the least…
I noticed the sounds of the Orient are very apparent in some of your music. Are there any particular aspects of Japanese lifestyle that have influenced you?
Well when i was in Tokyo, and Tokyo is really busy -I mean there’s so many people and it’s really quite a mental place. But I think it’s really easy to feel lonely there. I had this overwhelming sense of loneliness which was probably due to being a foreigner. You never really become accepted into the culture, due to always sticking out like a sore thumb, no matter how well you speak Japanese. And as much as their culture is becoming more and more Westernized, I just got this feeling of loneliness, and i get it in London too when I’ve lived there. You just feel really lonely, I mean you’ve got your friends around you and a million things to do, but there’s still this underlying sense of solitude. I mean maybe that’s just me being a bit of a nutter. When I stay at my family’s house in the countryside, I don’t feel that at all, it’s a different sort of loneliness, like being secluded and cut off, but it’s not like the loneliness you can feel in a city. So yeah I guess I work with those kind of emotions when I make a track, where I’ll use different vinyl to represent how I’m feeling. So i guess the emotions just kind of get lost in the tracks, but if you stripped a track like ‘You’ down to it’s basic parts, there would be some sounds in there that would be really quite melancholy.
A degree of your music revolves around sampling, which you then arrange into your ‘Gold Panda’ format. This removes you from the instrumentalist approach, helping you avoid standardised computer settings in music production software, allowing you to create a rare and personalised sample bank. So where do you go to sample your sounds? And how does it become to be arranged in a ‘Gold Panda’ fashion?
I can’t think of anything too weird…but I wouldn’t say my music was arranged by the way. I write most of it on an MPC Sampler, where i write all my sequences. I really hate arranging stuff, I just can’t be bothered to do it. So normally I’ll just press record and play through the track in different orders, so it’ll normally just be done in one take, and then I move onto the next sequence and then the next one until I think it sounds right. Then when I’ve got a vaguely basic structure I just throw other sounds in. So I don’t sit around thinking about arrangements, I just make loads of sequences, then do it again, put them in a different order and then think ‘That’ll do - but I don’t like that bit.’ If I can’t be bothered to re-record it, I’ll just edit that bit out, and put something else in there. That’s how it works really.
With sampling, I’ve got loads of old records, loads of old tapes with crap that I recorded when I was younger – like cars going past, or my Dad talking. Sometimes i use the sounds of things going wrong which sounds weird. My organ is really fucked up for instance, and when you turn it off and on it crackles. So I just record that, turn it up and make drum sounds out of it. Just stuff like that, lots of mistakes and bits of random thought, I haven’t got the concentration to be too meticulous. I mean my live set is a total mess, but I don’t really know how to do it any another way because I don’t really have another way to do it. I guess I could just turn on a laptop and press play, but I can’t really think of another way of making it less messy. Even if I practice I’ll never get any better, so fuck it, I just do it. I’d be quite happy to do an improvised noise set for half an hour to be honest, I like abrasive sounds with jarring noises, the kind of thing that makes people think ‘I wish he’d stop doing that!’
Any Gold panda future plans you can let us know about?
There is an album, which ‘You’ is on, but I’ve kind of taken it apart, because I wanted to put some other tracks in there instead, so I think there’s gonna be an e.p first and then an album. Because I want the album to be a body of work, rather than just a collection of tracks, or just a load of radio singles. I want it to be a piece of work from start to finish, like a novel or a short story or something. I would like if you could hear a certain theme or sound throughout it. So that’s how I want my album to be – I’ve got no reason to rush it, I’m not signed to a label or anything. I’ve got no-one telling me what to do, I’ve got management but they’re pretty cool with everything and just give me guidance. So that’s just how it is really, it’s more for me than anyone else. I just want to be happy with it, and have it in a vinyl in a really nice sleeve. Then I’m gonna write another one.
And when can we expect the album to drop?
Probably after summer, with an e.p soon. There’s a twelve inch coming out on ‘Ghostly International’ which is just ‘You’ with two other tracks, it’s for the States mainly, but it’ll probably be available over here. And the ‘You’ 7 inch was released on May 10th, and the mp3’s are already out.
Awesome, and lastly…this is a bit of a random one. Whilst I was smoking some inter-web fag ends, I read an alleged rumour that you worked in a sex shop at some point. I think I’ve only ever been able to venture into a sex shop for a few minutes, being the prude that I am. But I was interested to hear about the experience – any weird encounters?
Ha! I got quite used to all of it really…but I guess it’s just stuff like when people come in and buy stuff they’re gonna put up their arse, that’s pretty weird I guess! And then old people inviting you to an orgie and stuff like that. Some guys would just come in and try on woman’s shoes! They would ask for size 12 stilettos, which we used to stock – and they’d come in and try them on standing at the back of the shop saying – ‘Oh Yeah!’ Get their fix, take them off again and walk out! You would have to be really careful to not let people get too mad in there – but all in all it was a pretty normal thing, with people trying to have sex and masturbating on a daily basis! But what could you do? I needed a job, I couldn’t do anything else and all the people who worked there were really nice.
I guess it was a quick veneer into the sexual undercurrent of Britain – why the hell not? I’m sure you must have found some inspiration to make a track out of there somewhere.
Yeah I guess so – pornos and sex feature in a lot of peoples music. And as a job the hours were okay, it wasn’t hard or difficult…ah yes, so many jokes!
And just out of interest, when you leave a joint…do you eat, shoot and leave?
Ah the Classics!
I’ll leave you with one of my favourites….
Interview by Charles Darkly