A snapshot of the world through the raw electronic producer's starry-eyed vision
Taken from the June Issue of Dazed & Confused:
It’s funny that Gold Panda’s way of infusing warmth into his music is by ripping it apart. The Chelmsford-raised electronic composer dismantles tracks and plunders samples as if tearing into a buttery, oven-fresh roast chicken. “Quitter’s Raga” and “You” (the latter from Lucky Shiner, his debut album) were forebears of the chopped beats and vocals that have shaped the texture of modern R&B and dance music. When Gold Panda (née Derwin Powers) debuted his prismatic electronica with a series of 7”s in 2009, the glowsticks of the mid-00s electro-revival were on the wane. His globally minded exotica seemed to embody a new sincerity, and his remixes brought an emotionally weighted nuance to the scruffier acts of the time – Telepathe, HEALTH – as he layered their tracks with his starry-eyed sound. His new album, Half of Where You Live, is inspired by the slightly shrinkwrapped experiences of touring: from bellboy to dressing room, with scant chance to get the grit of the terrain under your nails. Yet for all the composite elements – minimalist piano, disco-funk, boom-kick rhythms – it’s Gold Panda’s most intimate work to date, maximalism traced with the tip of a finger.
Dazed & Confused: Is Half of Where You Live a record about place?
Gold Panda: I've done nothing but tour since the last record, so the album is mainly snapshots of cities I visited for 15 hours at a time. Now that everything's so open with the internet, there's an obsession to know more about the world. You feel like you should know everything, but you realise how little you know when you go somewhere and don't know what the capital city is.
D&C: What do you think we lose by being so digitally minded?
Gold Panda: Interacting with people on normal levels. I feel like now there's less chance of spontaneity. Everything's so regimented; I think it's quite restrictive, actually.
D&C: Your new track 'Brazil' evokes a real sense of the place, even for someone that who's never been there.
Gold Panda: I just liked that "Brazil! Brazil!" chant that you hear on the track; it's that excitement of arriving in a country everyone says is crazy. São Paulo's a sprawling metropolis, but it's really strange; you're in the middle of an incredibly well-off country and it looks like Tokyo but without any neon. The buildings all look like old, weather-battered windowless blocks, kind of like the (Terry Gilliam) film Brazil.
D&C: How has living in Berlin changed your practice?
Gold Panda: I've gone back to making music how I made it before I got a laptop. I've got the perfect MPC! Everything I've done from (this year's) Trust EP onwards is done that way. I got bored of looking at computers and then trying to do it live without just pressing the spacebar. There are so many options now with a laptop, but I need to be limited. It feels more real to me now because that's the way that hip hop was originally done.
D&C: Which old hip hop do you use as a prototype?
Gold Panda: Any DJ Premier stuff, anything underproduced and raw. Hip hop now has lost its appeal to me. I was into the crustiness of the beats and the crackle of old samples being played.
D&C: Were you a fan of the rave era?
Gold Panda: The KLF and that stuff was awesome, because it all used the same hip hop style. And jungle later was all chopped-up funk breaks sampling a reggae tune or a Wu-Tang sample. From '92 onwards, the drum-machine period was over and it went back to samples, and that's when I got into music. I didn't get into Detroit techno or Chicago house at the time, but now I go back to it I can hear drum machines that I liked, and I can hear the rawness, and that's way more exciting for me than anything current.
D&C: Your new material departs from the chopped & screwed sound that put you on the map...
Gold Panda: (laughs) Yeah - right! I think I've done my chopped & screwed track with 'You' and it's clearly my most successful track. Initially I was like, 'Oh, I should just make an album of loads of tracks like that,' but I can't physically do it. I'm not interested enough in it -I feel so detached from it.
D&C: You were born in Peckham. Do you ever go back?
Gold Panda: I never want to go back there, because of all the shit that went on in the 80s and 90s, with the Peckham and Brixton riots that came from stop and search.
D&C: If you had stayed there, would you have been one of the firestarters in the recent riots?
Gold Panda: Yeah. I've seen people who've got nothing. They're packed together and they see people who've got everything, and it all seems so unfair. I can only relate to those experiences that I had. I think it's different if you grew up there to those people that moved there now because it's "happening".
D&C: When you play shows and people come together, does that give you an inspiring vision of community?
Gold Panda: Yeah, totally. I mean, I never intended to do dance music, but it's kind of ended up that way.
D&C: Your new album seems like the least dance-oriented thing you've done.
Gold Panda: Well, it's very weird 'cus I actually tried to make it more dancey! But people have stopped dancing as a result...
D&C: Are you an emotional person?
Gold Panda: Yeah. Too much, maybe. I never would have had the confidence to send my music to anyone, but I got approached on MySpace, so I was saved. But I find criticism quite difficult. If somebody says anything bad about me on Twitter it really gets to me.
D&C: But you seem to treat Twitter like a joke. What's your background image?
Gold Panda: It's this guy eating noodles in a washing machine; it's a screenshot from a Japanese TV show called No Laughing (a segment of variety show Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!!) - it's been on for years. There are five guys that do 24 hours without laughing and if they do they get hit with a bat. There was a bit in the show where they did a test of strength and one guy had to eat boiling noodles in a washing machine, spinning round in it.
D&C: Where do you find the best samples?
Gold Panda: Vinyl is my only source, except maybe VHS, or some field recordings that are sampled. There are six record shops in Mitte within ten minutes of my house. I've got my little area that I like to walk around; it's got a synthesiser shop, health shops, a really good coffee shop and a Korean guy who serves noodles. There's a swimming pool there, and I've got a swimming regime but I never stick to it - all the people in Berlin get very naked. Germans have this kind of proud nudity. It's unnecessary to me! I'm more worried about my body than other people's. I don't want to share it with everyone all the time.
D&C: Would you ever work with a guest vocalist rather than just samples?
Gold Panda: Well, my girlfriend Sofia (Kourtesis, producer and DJ) did vocals on 'An English House' and she's sampled somewhere else on the album, giving me some advice on Skype. But I'm so selfish - I like to be in control of everything and not involve anyone else. I got sick of doing remixes. I don't look back on them fondly, except for maybe the Lykke Li one ('Sadness Is a Blessing').
D&C: When you listen to your music do you hear failure?
Gold Panda: Yeah. Technical failure. I hear good stuff about it as well, though. I think I hear the failure when I've just made it; as soon as I made 'Lucky Shiner' I could just hear problems and things that I hated about it. Part of me wants to feel a sense of achievement, but what happens when I feel that? Just stop making music? Maybe that's why you create so much - you always want to do another thing that's better. I would like to make an album that I'm really happy with from beginning to end.
D&C: When was the last time you were walking down the street and thought, "Wow, things are so great!"?
Gold Panda: Never! I never feel like that.