London electronic music producer and super-amicable interviewee Gold Panda came to fame a few years ago with raved-about remixes for big shots like Bloc Party and Simian Mobile Disco. His subsequent debut album Lucky Shiner was a phenomenal happy-sad collage full of exotic samples and chopped and screwed sounds, and was an instant success with critics and fans alike. Three years later and he’s toured the world and even released a follow-up record called ‘Half of Where We Live’. Last Thursday he was at Dour festival and we nabbed him for a chat backstage about working in a sex shop, selling his record collection to learn Japanese and why he’d never go to a festival himself ever. So get a cup of rosy ready, this interview’s a long one (sound of knuckles being cracked)…Photography Gem Harris
What happened to your panda hats?
I’m 32 years old, I can’t wear panda hats anymore. I wore them for my very first gigs. When I realised people were taking me seriously I thought I should just stop. I really regret the hat thing.
I tried to find your real name online – impossible! Are you consciously trying to keep it a secret?
Yeah, I don’t want people to know. I don’t see why everyone has to know everything about everyone all the time. People always think that they’re entitled to know stuff.
It must feel weird to have a Wikipedia page about yourself…
I don’t take any of it seriously. There’s a Wikipedia page for pretty much everything now.
Well, not for me!
Haha. You should make one yourself then!
Do you google yourself sometimes?
I’ve googled my real name and not much showed up, so that’s good. I don’t use Facebook or anything.
You live in Berlin now. Are you another victim of Berlin hype?
I don’t like it actually! I met a Peruvian-Greek girl, a promoter in Hamburg. She lived in Hamburg for about ten years and two years ago we moved to Berlin together. I tried to learn German and stuff but I never have time; I’m always touring. I did Japanese at Uni so I thought German would be easy, but it’s not. I like the neighbourhood I live in, Prenzlauer Berg, but as a city – I’m not sure about it.
My neighbourhood is nice, and quiet and relaxed but I don’t go clubbing, I don’t care about the nightlife thing…
Even though you make electronic music? And with clubs like the Berghain?
Yeah…I don’t care about the hype party areas like Neukölln or Kreuzberg…and actually I haven’t had much time to explore the city. I don’t know. I go through phases where I love it and then I hate it. When I leave, I don’t want to go back, but when I get back, I don’t want to leave anymore.
There must be some things though that you like…
My regular coffee shop is called Antipedes and there are some nice record shops. But I don’t think I want to live there forever. Nothing’s really happening. And they say Germans are so hard-working and efficient but it’s a myth. I have problems with setting up my bank account and getting electricity…the bill is always wrong! My post goes to different people’s houses every day and I have to go pick it up myself!
I don’t really like the remix culture. Usually the original is much better. And it’s just a way for record labels to sell the same stuff to you one more time and make more money
Is it true that you sold your record collection to finance your Japanese studies?
That must be a hard thing to give up!
No, it was easy. I thought I’d sell it and after learning Japanese I’d get a job where I make so much money that I would just buy them back. But that didn’t happen and then I couldn’t find a job that I cared about.
Do you have a collection again?
Yes, I started again. But it’s different now. Before it was mainly hip hop and now it’s really everything.
Where does your fascination for Japan come from?
I don’t know, I got interested when I saw animations as a teenager. There were only four channels at the time in the UK and no internet. So I would tape stuff off the television. But it wasn’t just Japan, also China and Hong Kong. Anything that had a futuristic Asian feel.
I used to be really into Manga and Anime and computer games. But the animations got terrible, the drawings are really bad now and it’s all computer graphics. There used to be so much detail. Devilman, Akira…those were nice.
How did you get into music? Did you grow up in a musical household?
My dad had a lot of records, that’s how I got interested in vinyl. I didn’t really know about CDs because we never had a CD player. He had lots of rock’n’roll stuff. On Saturday nights he would just drink some wine and listen to records. And then I started buying records myself, when I was about 11, I think.
Do you remember your first one?
Yeah, Soul II Soul. It’s called Get a life.
You even sold that one?
No, that one I kept. I kept about 100 actually. Anything with sentimental value.
Did where you grew up have an impact on the music you were listening to?
Yes. I grew up in South London and everything was just hip hop or reggae or RnB. And then I moved to Essex with my family when I was 15 and everyone was listening to Blur and Oasis and I thought it was stupid music. I got even more into hip hop.
I still feel uncomfortable on stage but I just do it. I have to do it
When was the first time you made music yourself?
It started really early. Me and my friend used to record stuff from pirate radio stations and loop things and loop beats and rap on them with one tape player next to a speaker and keep recording the same loop over and over until you have a five minute instrumental. Then we’d rap on it and record it again onto another tape. I think we were 13 when we started and then my uncle lend me a sampler and an Atari computer when I was about 16.
In the beginning of your career you did a lot of remixes. Why?
For the money! They asked me. I would never do a remix just like that. The first one was Bloc Party and I asked for 500 Pounds and they said yes and I did it. I still do it sometimes but much less because it takes up a lot of time but it’s not that interesting. I don’t really like the remix culture. Usually the original is much better. And it’s just a way for record labels to sell the same stuff to you one more time and make more money.
When you were younger, did you dream of being on stage one day?
No. Haha, not really.
What was the first time like?
It’s really weird. It’s really hard. I still feel uncomfortable but I just do it. I have to do it.
Do you remember your very first gig?
I did some stuff before Gold Panda with some friends. But I do remember my first Gold Panda gig. It was in a place on Brick Lane in London and there were only two people there. And then my uncle came and brought loads of people, basically my family. And I felt stupid. But I did it and I just kept doing shows and I started getting paid. First 50 Pounds… then you just keep going.
Was there a moment when you realised ‘Wow, I can do this for a living’?
It just happened. I always had shit jobs so I was ready to quit.
What was your last job then?
I was working in a sex shop. I didn’t really want to do it so I was happy to quit. It was an easy job though.
There must be some funny anecdotes from that time. What did people buy the most?
Men buy things to make their penis bigger and single women buy vibrators. Vibrators definitely sell more than anything else. And pills that make you get an erection. Herbal pills.
But so when was that moment of realisation? When did music become your job?
I was doing music just for fun. A friend of mine who was also doing music told me ‘You should always do music’ and I thought ‘No, I’m shit, I don’t want to do it’. And then he died and I thought, fuck, I should just try and do it, because I’m always unhappy with every other job. So I moved to London, looked for a job and couldn’t find one for ages. And I just decided to get any job and ended up in that sex shop. I was making tracks at night during the week. It was at the time when Myspace was really big and people would get signed straight from Myspace. And I looked at peoples’ pages who were getting signed like Crystal Castles and thought: this is so easy. You make an enigmatic page, you take all the comments away, you just put some jpgs and that’s it. So I did it and 3 months later I got contacted from Wichita Recordings for that Bloc Party Remix. They also asked me for some more tracks to show them. They were a label but asked me if I wanted to be the first person they manage, they were just getting into the management thing. And I said yes and we had a few cocktails, shook hands and I sad ‘Where’s the money’ and they said ‘Ah, there’s no money there, but we can get you gigs and you can do remixes.’ And that was it.
Festivals are everything I hate about the world in one place, in a field! No toilet paper, drunk people, and loud music
I’ve never really understood what it is that you electronic producers do on stage when you perform. Can you explain?
I have a machine with lots of melodies on it. Then I have a machine with drums that I’ve made. And I have a drum machine doing harder drums. Then there is a big mixing desk in the middle and I have some loops in that machine. And then I press play and it triggers the other two machines. I can adjust all the machines while they play. I can record something in, change drums, … You have to have some stuff prepared. It’s impossible to do everything live.
Is it always the same set or does it change from gig to gig?
It’s different each time. At the moment I’m doing roughly the same tracks in the same order. But I can never do them in the same way. Stuff always goes wrong. I don’t know anyone who’s doing it the same way I’m doing it. I stopped using a laptop but it doesn’t make that much of a difference. I use one for the last track, maybe, just to do some synthesiser because I can’t bring my synths.
Was it difficult in the beginning to perform live?
I make music in the same way. I used to bring a laptop and a controller. But then I decided to get like a mini version of what I work with in the studio at home and take that on tour. I feel comfortable with that. And it’s not as technically cool maybe as other people’s stuff but for me it works. Before I used to worry that I’m not doing anything on stage, but now I’m too busy to think about anything and before I know it I’m finished. I’m much happier.
You’ve played a lot of festivals and some very big prestigious ones like Glastonbury. What’s been your favourite so far?
My favourite…I don’t know. I played here at Dour two years ago and that was pretty good. But too be honest: I don’t understand festivals. I wouldn’t go as a customer ever. I don’t understand why anyone goes. It’s everything I hate about the world in one place, in a field! No toilet paper, drunk people, and loud music. I want to be at home with my tea and a movie and my girlfriend. That’s way better.
Sounds like you have the wrong job then!
Yeah I usually just come and play and leave straight away. Sometimes I stay and have some beers but I’m not really a party person.
You posted something on Twitter about getting drunk with Daughter backstage…
Yes. They’re really young and had a bottle of rum and just kept pouring it into my cup.
Do you hang out a lot with other musicians?
You tend to run into the same people everywhere. For example Bonobo is playing after me and I just met him in the street in London. We both live there. Most people are cool.
I’m glad I’m not in a band. I don’t want to fucking carry a drum kit and three amps and sit in a van with all these stinky dudes
Do you sometimes wish you had bandmates and wouldn’t have to do it all alone?
I have my tour manager Pete and we do stuff together. I’m glad I’m not in a band. I don’t want to fucking carry a drum kit and three amps and sit in a van with all these stinky dudes. It’s fun for like a week maybe. It’d be good though to have a band on stage; then I could blame someone else if stuff goes wrong. Me and Pete just fly somewhere, have some bags, do it and get out. It’s cool.
It took you three years to do a second album – why?
I was just touring. I didn’t have any time.
I assume you’ve heard of the expression sophomore slump. Did you ever think about that while doing the album?
Yes, I was really scared to do another album. I actually thought I would just quit and do something else. I thought I had done all the music, why should I do another one and then people criticise me?
So you felt there was more pressure on you for the second album because the first one worked so well and expectations were high?
Yes. I just thought I’d make a totally different album. First I thought I should make another track like ‘You’, or 12 tracks like ‘You’ and then I could buy a fucking house. But you don’t want to do that. Then everything becomes irrelevant. What’s the point? It’s so boring. Bands who do that just do it for the money. When you have a successful tune, you try to do it as many times as possible and make money and you can quit music or whatever people do.
What are the main differences in comparison to the first record then?
I played in a lot of clubs so I tried to make this one more beat-driven with a harder live-set. I feel like this one is a bit more focussed and a bit emptier. The first one had a lost of stuff in that didn’t really need to be there. I removed a layer of sound. I wanted simple tracks with just a few elements and I think it worked out. Now it’s done and I’m already excited to do another one, more excited than I was before the second one.
I feel like there’s no pressure now. I feel like I can reinvent Gold Panda and can do something totally different if I want to.
Do you read the reviews?
When it’s a bad review I try to read it because I want to see what they say. But most people don’t know what they’re talking about. If these people get paid to write reviews then I should be a reviewer. I could write that. Unless you’re really tough, you shouldn’t read reviews. That’s what bad about Twitter also: if someone doesn’t like you they just write to you there. You can either ignore it, which is the best, or you insult them back.
Do you do that sometimes?
Yeah but then I delete it after because I don’t want to be an idiot. Sometimes it’s fun to insult people who think they can get away with anything.
Gold Panda’s newest single Brazil:iamgoldpanda.com