Gold Panda on moving to Berlin, knowing when to quit and his second album.


Every artist has a moment when they should have gotten out. Noel Gallagher once professed that his was 11 August 1996, and he’d be right about that. “Goodnight Knebworth, we’ve decided it’s best for everyone if we split up now, bye!” No ‘All Around The World’, no ‘Gas Panic’, no “Liam threw a plum at me.” Get out before you’re sussed out.

Gold Panda thinks the same about Nas, who is currently in his eighteenth year of trying to better 1994 debut album ‘Illmatic’. Skim the cream from his twelve records since and you’d still not be anywhere near close. “Why isn’t someone saying to him, ‘Nas, this isn’t very good, mate’,?” says Panda (Derwin to his intimates). “I mean, does he think he’s making the best music he ever has right now? Does Jay-Z say, ‘Check this out, this is the best tune I’ve made, it’s with Mr Hudson’? Someone should be saying, ‘hey, Jay-Z, you know ‘The Black Album’, there was some good tunes on that. Do that again!’” Gold Panda leans back into his chair and allows himself to laugh, something that he does rarely for a man so quick-witted. Next month he’ll release his second album, ‘Half Of Where You Live’, but he’s been contemplating his own Knebworth moment ever since the release of his debut album in 2010.

The last time we met face-to-face was two weeks after the release of ‘Lucky Shiner’, a record Derwin named after his Grandmother. We were at the Shiner family home in Chelmsford, Essex, where, in Uncle Mick’s office, Derwin told me how touring was getting in the way of him making another album. A lot has changed since then. The touring never stopped as ‘Lucky Shiner’ unanimously pleased fans of intelligent ambient electro. Derwin moved to Hamburg and then to Berlin where he currently lives with his girlfriend, logistically positioned within a short plane ride to whatever European club wants him tomorrow night. Finding time to follow up his debut soon became not just out of the question but something he didn’t even want to face.

“The success of ‘Lucky Shiner’ made me scared to do another one,” he says. “I just thought if I don’t have another track like ‘You’, I’m finished, and I got around that by not making another track like it. I’ve just done what I wanted to do, rather than what I thought I should be doing. Now I’ve done this one I feel a lot better about it, and with the third one I’ve got a clean slate.

“I don’t think I can take criticism very well,” he says, “and that’s why I don’t like Twitter, because people can say directly to me that they don’t like something. One thing and it gets me really riled up or I feel shit. I remember not wanting to do another record because for me – probably not for Jessie J – the last one did so well that I felt I could just leave it there and do something else.”

When I ask him what changed his mind he points at his manager Gareth, drinking coffee across the room. “No, you just make more music eventually, and I’ve done ‘Lucky Shiner’ and it did well, so I can make another one and it can do not so well; people can say, ‘well, it didn’t do as well as the last one,’ but it doesn’t matter because the last one is mine as well. I own that one so it’s fine. If you like the first one more than the second one, just buy and listen to that one. It’s mine too.”

Derwin hated Hamburg and isn’t too sold on Berlin, although he does find solace in the fact that “at least there’s no Jessie J there” – she’s a recurring gag for him whenever we talk, an irrational thorn in his side, although he’s not about to plot to cut her head off or anything.

“I have a love/hate relationship with Berlin,” he says, “which means I’ve probably gotten used to living there. When I first moved there I hated it. It’s quite an architecturally depressing city, all those big flats. There’s something about it that I really don’t like and I can’t put my finger on it.”

Gold Panda moving to Berlin makes complete sense – the tale of a square peg that never fitted in in suburban Essex making for Techno Mecca where he can finally feel at home, be with his kind, come out of his shell. Aside from the fact that Derwin spends a vast majority of his time in International Airspace, it was never quite like that. ‘Recluse’ is a little dramatic, but Gold Panda is the electro artist that feels too awkward to look at the crowd, let alone hype them. When fans approach him he likes to pretend they’ve mistaken him for this Panda bloke. Sometimes he physically runs away. Berlin never held much romance for him; he simply thought it would be better than Hamburg.

“I don’t care about it,” he says, “because I don’t go out enough for all the techno and house to make a difference. It makes sense that I’d live there, but I’m not part of a scene there and I don’t go out a lot and I don’t DJ. Maybe in the album it has impacted, but I don’t feel like Berlin is in the record in terms of theme, but then I don’t know if I got into a lot of house music because that’s what my local shop was selling a lot of. Maybe by buying lots of records where I can identify the drum machine it made me want to make a record with one drum machine and a sampler, which is basically what this album is.”

Gold Panda’s local record store is OYE Records, in the Prenzlauer Berg district, where he’s been picking up warm, analogue house records that have clearly had an effect on ‘Half Of Where You Live’. It feels distinctly vintage throughout, with the deep ambience of ‘Enoshima’ and the bauble-reverb of ‘S950’ taking on dreamlike dazes free from digital tampering. The closing ‘Reprise’ – whilst no banger – is more of a nod to old school house, as a rare track that features (female) vocals that are, for the first time on a Gold Panda record, imbued with soul. The record’s top end is more instantly gratifying in a dancefloor sense – the opening ‘Junk City II’, which breaks for a vaguely oriental piano hook before a banging kick-drum drops, and the syncopated, smart ‘An English House’, in particular.

“I’ve tried to make it a bit more beat driven,” Derwin explains, “and that’s partly because I used an 808 drum machine, which you hear all the time now, but you never hear it from an 808 drum machine. The old house stuff I’ve been buying has drum machines how they are when you turn them on and press play, but when you hear it in all the Trap stuff, all the Hip-Hop stuff, it’s all sampled and put through computerized plugins to make it super loud and super compressed. I hate all of that. I find it obnoxious and horrible, which is probably me getting old, but I want to get away from that as far as possible, and that’s why there isn’t another ‘You’ on this one.”

Gold Panda knows his electronic onions. As a teenager he found Squarepusher’s ‘Big Loada’ LP and started making Gameboy loops on a pedal with a friend under the name Olivia Neutron Bomb; a moniker worthy of Derwin’s tongue-in-cheek approach to becoming a musician. For extra laughs he rapped as Rumpelstiltskin and toyed with an adolescent project that went by the name of Kiss Akabusi. But he knows what he’s doing more than he’d like to admit. Hours in OYE and aeons in clubs have given Gold Panda the skills to know every nuance of house, techno, IDM, trance and beyond. “I thought I didn’t know electronic music,” he says, “but now I can listen to something and tell you exactly how it’s been made.”

‘Half Of Where You Live’ runs from this norm. “It feels more focused,” says Derwin. “What I like most about it is that it doesn’t sound like other UK artists’ attempts at electronic music at the moment. A lot of stuff to me sounds like a demo to [digital software] Cubase or Ableton or something. I can hear the sounds. Everything’s so clean and polished, but my record doesn’t sound like that.” He pauses. “Maybe that’s me being crap.”

Derwin has to end sentences like that because he’s incapable of patting himself on the back. He admits that he still can’t believe the success of ‘Lucky Shiner’ is warranted, as much as it is and has been for the past three years. He’ll no doubt feel the same about ‘Half Of Where You Live’’s impending praise. “I think it’s a bit big headed to think you’re good,” he says. “I think I’m quietly good in my own way, because I can hear a track and think I know how they did that, I don’t want to do that, but I could. It’s kinda smug, which is maybe worse. God, I’m James Blake.”

In Chelmsford 2010, Derwin told me that he wasn’t happy with how ‘Lucky Shiner’ had turned out. It was “more pop and less weird” than he’d intended it to be.

“I kind of did what I wanted to do this time,” he says. “I wanted to make it harder and dancier but someone told me today that it isn’t.”

It feels more like his live show, I say, that’s always bass’d up ‘Lucky Shiner’’s subtle tones and poignant washes for something altogether more club-friendly.

“That was the idea,” he says, “because I’d ended up making a record that I didn’t think was a dance record, but people came to shows and danced. In turn, I tried to make it more dancey, have added songs that I think are dance tracks and people have stopped dancing. I don’t know what that’s about.”

Gold Panda’s personable approach to electronic music remains prevalent on his new record – that unnerving ability he has to make keyboards and synthetic sounds appear so human. That’s what made ‘Lucky Shiner’ the success it was, as if the place from where it came (namely his family) was too ingrained to not permeate the digital loops and chimes. Loops and chimes are here on ‘Half Of Where You Live’, indecently, ringing, twinkling, breathing, even, like music for frozen fjords. But Gold Panda’s home life isn’t what it was. It’s been aisle or window seat for the past couple of years, his home the world rather than a quiet street in Chelmsford, Essex. ‘Half Of Where You Live’ is personal for the places of Derwin’s life rather than the people in it. It’s a globalised dance record without overtly snatching from cultures and countries to knowingly be considered a travel companion.

“Sometimes I can imagine [places in the songs],” Derwin says. “Like, ‘Junk City II’ is slightly out of tune and slightly sounds like an early ’90s Japanese B movie set in a city with a slightly foggy atmosphere. ‘My Father In Hong Kong 1961’, I wanted to make a track that could be on a documentary about Asian people working too hard that was on late night Channel 4 in the ’90s or something. For ‘Brazil’, I was like, ‘I’ve been to Brazil, and this sounds like that’. And then other tracks are guided by the samples I find. I’d be lying if I said I sat down and planned it all out first.”

Gold Panda wouldn’t admit that even if it were true, no more than he would concede that he is yet to have a Knebworth moment. It might be happening now, with ‘Half Of Where You Live’, but it was never ‘Lucky Shiner’.

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