Nomadic producer Gold Panda reveals Half of Where You Live

To currently Berlin-based producer Gold Panda, the success of his debut LP Lucky Shiner came as a shock. He tells us how embracing his previous struggles – and travelling the world – has fed into his kaleidoscopic new album, Half of Where You Live

Feature by Simon Jay Catling | 06 Jun 2013

Not every artist aspires to better their profile, as not all artists can handle the internal turmoil that success brings; the outside forces it attracts promise to build a ‘career,’ yet simultaneously threaten to impede creative thought. In the autumn of 2010, Gold Panda found himself dragged away from his bedroom and his Akai MPC2000XL – the machine he’d employed on his debut LP, 2010’s Lucky Shiner – and into the glaring sunlight. Even as the music press fell over themselves to place him in end-of-year lists and run feature upon feature about the new electronic hope, the then Essex based producer – real name Derwin – began to feel conflicted. Having suffered from depression in his younger years – it still shadows him today – his interviews around the time seemed weighted with a dawning realisation that, where music was once his own private wormhole, it was now getting tugged wide open and away from his control. “It was hard to accept I was doing OK,” he admits of Lucky Shiner’s aftermath.

Among the many cruxes of his discomfort at his newfound popularity was the need to tour; in several interviews he spoke of his trepidation at playing live, and of the long periods spent away from home. “I hate it,” he told The Quietus at one point (albeit half-retracting it shortly after). Yet, nearly three years later, he’s still here; in fact, it’s the very process of touring that’s informed new album Half of Where You Live. As surely as internal struggle occurs with success, similarly you’ll never know how it’ll resolve itself until you’re caught in its eye. For Derwin, he’s succeeded in transforming a point of inner discord into something that acts as motivation – in short, travelling the world beats sitting at home with his thoughts.

“I made music to stop me being depressed and down on myself,” he explains. “But I was maybe overly emotional with the older stuff; then I turned 30, lost a bit of hair, toughened up a bit and my life changed completely after that last record. I’m able to pay rent on my own flat and be a bit more grown up.” Perhaps it’s his age that’s shielded him from the blast of his own impact; having spent long enough cooling down from the hot flush of adolescence and performing life’s mundane play for a time, he has a greater perspective on his success than younger peers might have. “I’m trying to be positive and make the most of it,” he insists. “To actually go out and do this is still a big thing for me, and I need to do it to keep myself motivated. Otherwise I’ll just go very introverted and shut myself away from stuff. I’m forcing myself to do it so that I get out there, meet people, make tracks and see things.”

“To actually go out and do this is still a big thing for me” – Gold Panda

So he travels. Our conversation takes place while he’s on a Los Angeles balcony, and he talks of playing mountainsides in Seattle, of tropical storms in the Philippines and playing under a roof of leaves. A trip to São Paulo informed the percussive 808 claps and hi-end scuttling of Brazil, lead single on the new album. Japan and the Far East remain a frequent point of reference too, in track titles like Enoshima, My Father in Hong Kong 1961 and Junk City II, and in the oriental sounds that frequently pop up in the fabric of the overall record – a trait shared with his previous work. Derwin is reticent to place much of a narrative upon any individual elements or passages, but even he admits that Japan’s influence on him holds strong: “I actually try to avoid those sounds because I didn’t want it to become gimmicky, like, ‘Oh, Gold Panda just likes Japan,’ but they often tend to end up making my favourite tracks,” he says. Having watched post-1980s Japanese financial crash anime and the dystopian films of Takashi Miike, the producer first visited the country in 1999 and has been back several times, including to teach English there for a spell. There’s a sense of history repeating itself in Japan, a country whose debts run at over 235% of its GDP. Of his last trip there in April, Derwin says: “I’d never been asked ever in my life for money in Tokyo, not even by the homeless – they keep themselves to themselves in these blue tarpaulin shacks under buildings – but I got asked three times for money for food this time... it’s pretty unheard of, and a bit scary for a country once doing so well.”

If Berlin, where he now lives, informs Half of Where You Live, then it’s not in the obvious way that you might expect of a record written by a house and techno-loving producer treading its streets. Derwin didn’t move there for music, and he claims he actively sought out “the most expensive, family-friendly, posh area I could find,” ignoring all the fashionable neighbourhoods suggested to him by friends. “I don’t want that anymore,” he says. “When I get home from tour I don’t want to go clubbing. I want to chill and relax, do some food shopping.” His is a relatively insular way of living and creating, with a home studio set-up (“I really enjoy those moments where I wake up at 1am, or I can’t sleep and get an idea and I can just put it down straight away”), and the occasional forage around local record shops – his 2011 DJ-Kicks compilation on !K7 offered a glimpse into his crate-digging activities in between albums, veering from Closer Musik to Matthewdavid and Pawel.

“A couple of record shops near me specialise in old house music,” he enthuses. “I can name all the drum machines in those records and I like the way it sounds like they were just pressing ‘record’ and playing and muting stuff in and out. There was a comment under a YouTube video of this old track I’d found for someone that said ‘this is shit, it’s so basic,’ as if all music in 2013 has these ridiculously complex beats. But I think it’s great that these records were just basically drum machine, jams and a bit of synth. It influenced me to make this record.” Following suit, he’s discarded Ableton and his laptop, and returned to “how I made music before even Lucky Shiner...” That is, with a couple of drum machines, a synth, a sampler and an 808 drum machine. “The 808’s a machine that you hear referenced all the time in popular music these days – but they never sound like a real 808Every time you play one the drum sounds are never exactly the same, because the circuit board heats up and it takes a bit to get going, he says fondly. “The physical interaction with it is so nice. All this footwork and trap stuff that claims to use an 808 never does, and if it does it’s a sample from a CD. Sequence-wise it can’t do all those crazy timings.”

Gold Panda material has always maintained a certain breadth, containing enough intermingling layers so as to constantly toy with and bewitch the senses; but they’re never applied as a means to an end. Both the use of repetition and focus on one or two main melodies ensure that components are placed around relatively simple, direct structures. It’s an approach that is, in part, a reaction to the bloated plug-in addictions of some of Derwin’s younger contemporaries. “On a lot of electronic tracks these days I’m like, ‘fucking hell, this kid’s like 21 and I could never have done that,’” he says. But musically I find them boring, they’re like demos for Cubase or something. You’re expecting the voiceover guy any second advertising the software’s possibilities. I find it soulless, and I don’t want to become one of these internet forum gearheads with loads of technical knowledge but no tunes.”

Half of Where You Live certainly has tunes – and if they’re not of the same brash hue as You, Lucky Shiner’s breakout track, they’re perhaps all the better for it. In particular, Community and We Work Nights are gradual earworms that whirr and tick around the cortex. “But I still don’t believe that I’m doing this seriously and that people like my tracks,” Derwin ponders aloud, his familiar, self-effacing doubt slipping into what’s been a comparatively positive conversation. “I’ll do a show and think, ‘God, no one liked that,’ then I’ll get 50 Twitter replies saying it was brilliant – I need those positive responses! They make me feel like I should continue doing it, because there’s nothing else that I feel like I’m good at. I mean, I don’t even feel like I’m good at this… but I don’t know what I’d do without it.”

Half of Where You Live by Gold Panda is out 10 Jun on Ghostly International/NOTOWN Recordings

He plays Electric Brixton, London, on 12 Jun