Acclaimed producer Gold Panda is making all the right noises on smashing debut album Lucky Shiner.It’s a long way from the Soho sex shop he used to work at, he tells JIM CARROLL
ALL WE have to go on is the furry alias, a first name (Derwin) and those beats. That, though, will do for starters. The London-bred producer known as Gold Panda would probably prefer to refer you to the sounds anyway.
His smashing debut album Lucky Shineris where you can begin to find out if he’s as cuddly as his moniker suggests. This bundle of tunes with brilliantly arranged collages of sounds (a little smoky J Dilla hip-hop here, some slow-motion techno sweeps there) are as post-modern, shimmering and shadowy as music gets in 2010.
It’s an album where Derwin makes sense of a multitude of fractured beats and enthralling, dreamy ambiences by finding a common thread to keep each track in check.
Derwin’s apprenticeship in sound began when his family moved from Peckham in south London to Chelmsford in the sticks. In an attempt to escape suburban ennui, the teenager found himself spending more and more time with a sampler he’d borrowed from his music producer uncle.
“I just put more and more time and effort into it,” he remembers about those early efforts in his bedroom. “I started out making really obvious loops from the drum beats that I had. I sampled my dad’s records and I was trying to be like Puff Daddy because I was really into hip-hop. I liked the way people like Mobb Deep sounded or how RZA sounded on the early Wu-Tang stuff. That kind of turned my head.”
Derwin realised that making music was something he really wanted to do. “I’d just sit in my room and sample and realise you didn’t have to stick to the same loops as everyone else. You had the means at your disposal with the technology to change stuff totally.
“I also found that you can make a lot more from a lot less, so I stopped relying so much on samples over time. I still buy old records, and I love the sound of the vinyl crackle and taking them apart. I didn’t know any other way to make music. I don’t play an instrument.”
It took until 2007 for Derwin’s Gold Panda guise to get some attention beyond his circle of family and friends. Then, Wichita Records came across his MySpace page, which contained a motley selection of remixes he had done for friends’ bands, and tapped him to do a job on Letter to My Sonby Bloc Party.
He got paid for that one and realised he didn’t have to rely on mundane day jobs to make a few quid. Up to then he’d been making ends meet with a succession of odd jobs at HMV, Stansted airport and a sex shop in London’s Soho.
“I always liked jobs with no responsibility, because you don’t have to think too much about going to work and keep most of your thoughts for the tracks you’re making,” he says. “Jobs like that were easy because you could arrange them to suit your own time. Like, I’d just work in the sex shop at the weekends and have the whole week to do nothing but work on my tracks.
“With the sex shop, I needed a job, I couldn’t do anything else and all the people who worked there were really nice. Yeah, the people who came in to buy stuff they were going to put up their arse were a bit weird, and you had to be really careful to not let people get too mad in there, but the job paid the rent. I guess I never realised it would come up in every interview I’d do, though.”
These days, Derwin can afford to just immerse himself in the music. The results to date have been impressive. “With Lucky Shiner,I really wanted to be a proper album with a beginning, a middle and an end. I loved Manitoba’s Start Breaking My Heart, because it was so cohesive and worked so well. I know it’s a cliche, but I didn’t want to just put a bunch of tracks together. That would have been too easy.
“In the end, I did the album really quickly in my uncle’s house in a little village in Essex. I work fast, and I have a really short attention span, so most tracks took just a day. If I spend ages on something, it tends to become too contrived. I prefer to keep it simple. I haven’t got the concentration to be too meticulous.”
Derwin’s family provided a lot of the inspiration for the album. “ Lucky Shineris my grandmother’s name, so it’s about relationships and family. They’re the most important things for me and my family have been incredibly supportive to me with my music.”
There’s a strong Asian influence to Gold Panda’s work that comes from his fascination with music from that part of the world.
“At the start, that came from the samples. You can sample anything, and the stuff I heard from the Middle East and Far East was really interesting to begin with.
“I was hooked on Japan when I saw an anime film called Akira. I did a Japanese diploma and learned to speak the language and lived in Tokyo for a while. I thought I’d end up getting a proper job in the city with a bank or something if I had the language, but then realised that wasn’t for me.
“Tokyo is an amazing place, a mental place, but it can be really easy to feel lonely there. No matter how well you speak the language, you don’t fit in because you don’t really belong. That kind of seclusion and those feelings of being cut off and all alone do work their way into my tracks.”
Since Lucky Shinerwas released, Derwin has been trying to get used to the acclaim.
“Some of the stuff people have said about the album has been a bit over-the-top and a little ridiculous,” he says. “But all of this means my life’s completely changed from what I was doing a few years ago so I’m still getting used to that. It’s a nice feeling.”
Lucky Shineris out now on Notown/Wichita