Gold Panda

Coming to Santa Cruz all the way from his London-based lair is the trailblazing and internationally acclaimed producer Gold Panda. Although he’s been around since bands were still making it on Myspace, not much is known about the man known for making ethereal, catchy, musical journey-inspiring sample based music. We got the chance to sit down with the man himself before his upcoming show at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz to get a little more info on what made this panda so golden in the first place.


You’ve been jet-setting all over Europe, even an island festival in Croatia, and now you’re coming to the West Coast. How do you travel? Do you record on the road?

I don’t really like recording on the road. I guess I would like to record while I travel, but I don’t have the right equipment with me since I need to bring all the stuff I use to play live. So instead of recording I usually watch lots of films. In Europe if you get on a short flight it’s around one to four hours max, so usually it’s a perfect amount of time to watch a 90-minute film. I also play a lot of PS Vita, mainly Street Fighter [laughs]. I’ll try and go see something if I have time. I played about an hour outside of Berlin recently and we went and saw the Bauhaus, which was super inspiring. I like to go to museums and galleries and such but sometimes it can be hard to find the time, so if I’m busy I just have some tea and take notes and relax before the show.

You lived in Japan and studied at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. Was music always the plan, or did you want to pursue a different career?

I started making music as a hobby when I was 15 years old. My uncle gave me a sampler and an old Atari computer, and I started trying to make hip hop, but I was really shit. I realized I couldn’t sample big bits of music because of copyright, so I tried to find the smallest samples I could, like one note or something and go from there. It was just a hobby.

I was working jobs where I didn’t have any responsibility so I could just do my own thing after. My favorite job from back then was just stuffing envelopes for the council. I would just show up and stuff envelopes for seven hours a day and it was totally mindless. I could just listen to music and radio all day, whether it was music or current affairs. There was no brain power required so when I got home I wasn’t tired, I could just make music. I didn’t have to worry about dealing with customers or after work responsibilities. I was still doing this when a friend of mine who made techno was always telling me I should do music as a career. Then he passed away and I thought, oh shit, maybe I should give this a go. I was never really banking on it, but I’m glad it worked out in the long run.

You’ve mentioned that you really like anime. Did that have anything to do with you living in Japan? What are you watching right now? Favorite series?

I got into it when I was a teenager, so before I went to Japan for sure. Akira and Fist Of The North Star were the ones that got me really hooked. I’ve kind of lost my love of manga recently—I just feel like the animation has gotten cheap and computerized without as much detail as there was. For instance, I just tried watching Attack on Titan and I was pretty underwhelmed, just no substance in any characters or drawings, and it felt so still. They just don’t feel the same as they did in the 80’s and early 90’s which was the peak. Maybe it’s just me but it feels different now. I still read manga, I’ve been reading this one called Vagabond. It’s alright, it passes the time. I wouldn’t say it’s great but it makes me wanna read the next one.

What was your entrance into the music world like?

I only sent one CD out to a record label called LO that was based in London, but I never heard back. I thought if I was gonna do it I should just do it myself. I didn’t really wanna get knocked back by anyone or told it wasn’t any good. I worked at a record shop for awhile and I remembered seeing loads of bands getting signed from Myspace, so I was like, this is easy, you just make a really cool Myspace page with some photos and like one track, just no information and no way of contacting you. A record label called Wichita found me and offered me a remix for one of their bands called Bloc Party. It just kind of took off from there. I released [my debut album] Lucky Shiner like three weeks after that and all of a sudden I was on the road.

There are three-year gaps between your first full release, Lucky Shiner, and your following albums, Half of Where You Live and Good luck And Do Your Best. While you still released music in the meantime on EPs, those are solid gaps. What were you doing during this time?

It’s a combination of touring which took up a lot of time and also makes you tired. Also, when you’re working with a record label it takes about six months from when you start on an album to the release if you’re lucky. They wanna get press and get the artwork ready. Unless you’re doing it yourself with Bandcamp and stuff like that, it just takes so long to make a record and it gets kind of frustrating. Right now for instance, I’m trying to get my new label City Slang to let me release more stuff, but they are worried about over saturation these days. Labels right now really want you to work a release for two solid years touring on it and promoting it. I would say the lifespan of an album is much shorter now, but the time between releases is much longer since you can no longer really make money from album sales, so you have to tour on it longer than before.

I would like to do more. Kingdom is an EP I released recently that is me trying to put out stuff quicker and in a different way and try out more improvised music with fewer barriers, just record it as it comes out and release it. It just takes longer than you think every time. If I started over again today I would probably stick with DIY. Maybe I would have a smaller fan base but I don’t think that would bother me.

Even though your songs don’t have lyrics, between the track title and the feel of the song they usually tell a good story. Are you always consciously trying to do this from the start, or does the story develop on its own?

It’s a combination of things. When I was making Kingdom a bunch of things that were vaguely related happened. I finished a track on the Eurostar [train] right when the refugee crisis was happening and loads of people were trying to get through the tunnel. There was a man who actually walked the tunnel from Calais to the UK but was immediately arrested and sent to jail as a deterrent, but it’s so easy for me to cruise through the same border with my passport and privileged life. Then a neighbor who moved his family from Afghanistan used his last bit of money to buy a smartphone online and while he was out someone signed for the delivery and stole it. I actually used some of the Kingdom proceeds to buy him a new phone. It was just kind of a darker feeling around my life and that came out on the album. I guess it’s more about being a dreamer, someone who thinks up little stories for things. Also with the track names you can infer things to people and they tend to overthink it and make up their own stuff, too.

Can you talk a bit about your live setup?

It’s really simple for me actually, well at least to me. It’s two AKAI MPC 2000’s. One is triggering melodic stuff and the other one is percussive, drums and such. They are both routed through a twelve channel mixer, then I can press record while it’s playing and just take stuff onto the loop. I also have some guitar pedals that I use. It’s pretty free and it’s pretty messy and it can go wrong, but the fact that I can make mistakes makes it really exciting.

Gold Panda performs at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 24 at the Catalyst, Santa Cruz. $14. 

You can listen to his new EP “Kingdom” for free on Bandcamp