Natalye Childress chats to British electronic music don Gold Panda about his new album and living/not living in Berlin…
Although 32-year-old London native Derwin Panda, aka electronic music producer Gold Panda, currently lives in Berlin, he admits that he’s “not very good at being a Berliner” – something he partially attributes to his time on the road. “I don’t spend much time here…compared to a lot of people,“ he says. “[I’m] always leaving.“ When he is in Berlin, he says, he prefers to stay in his neighborhood, experiencing the city in a low-key way.
Given his transient lifestyle, it’s perhaps not a major surprise that his second album, Half of Where You Live, recently released via his own NOTOWN label, explores the idea of locations, both real and fictional. During a break between the European and North American legs of his current tour, the musician/producer took some time to talk about cities, travel, and the fear that he will never find the perfect place to live.
You were born in London and grew up in Essex, so when did you move here and why?
[Sofia Kourtesis and I] moved here nearly two years ago now, and we were in Hamburg first, for about six months, I think. And I had friends in Berlin that were [saying] I should come to Berlin [because] it’s better. So I did. And it’s cheap, actually. It’s a lot cheaper than Hamburg, and has a lot more going on, although Hamburg is a nice city. But I really like where we live. We live in Prenzlauer Berg, near Mitte pretty much…I really like it. I think if I was 10 years younger I’d like to live in Neukölln. But I’m 32.
What are your thoughts on the electronic scene and nightlife here in Berlin?
I make electronic music but I don’t really involve myself in any scenes or anything, so I don’t go out and DJ in Berlin. I play once or twice a year. So I feel pretty much outside of any kind of scene, and I don’t really feel like I connect with the city’s nightlife. Because I go and play, and then I come back, and I don’t really want to go to a club again or a live venue, unless it’s someone I really wanna see. I’m not a very, like, social person. I tend to stay at home and rent movies and go out for food instead. [Berlin is] kind of like a place to come and relax after being away, for me.
Which is interesting, because so many people claim that the Berlin nightlife is, you know, IT.
It is good; it’s got a really good vibe when you go out, I think. It’s got a really good feel and atmosphere…I feel like people look after each other a lot more, and I like the fact that you’re not allowed to take photos in a lot of places, which is great…I like the fact that, you know, you’re in a club and you have some kind of privacy there, where you can like, you know, make the separation between your work life and your night life. And the clubs are good.
I think it has a good nightlife, but I miss the stress of London and the energy, and, like, how everyone has to do stuff…to survive. [They] need to earn money and get stuff done. It is inspiring and I think it pushes you to do stuff. There’s some kind of limitation there, like a financial limit or a time limit. I know I’ll go back there and I’ll get pissed off with it but for some reason I feel like I miss it. People walk a lot faster in London. It’s just a big, a huge, ridiculous city.
You seem to have a love/hate relationship with London, but what about with Berlin?
I do feel like the winter is really tough and grey. And I’m from England and that’s grey! But this is next-level grey. And it’s cold. It’s really cold for me. So, I mean, it was really long this year. Everyone says the same thing. But it feels like different cities. I got sick of it, [I kept saying] “we’ve got to get out of here, it’s fucking rubbish.” And then as soon as the sun came out, it’s brilliant. I was like, “oh now I know why I live here.” I’m enjoying being here, [though] I’m not sure I want to stay here forever.
Where do you go to work on your music?
[Sofia] had an office but I kicked her out and turned it into a music room and an Xbox room, and it’s got all my stuff in it. I had all my stuff all around the house. You’d open a cupboard and there’d be a drum machine. There’d be wires around the kitchen and stuff.
I looked for a studio but I couldn’t find anywhere that I really liked, and I’ve never had a studio. And I’ve tried to make music in a studio before but it sounded just totally uninspiring and so I just thought, “well, I should just pick a room in the house and put all my crap in there, everything I own, and not clutter up the house with my rubbish, VHS tapes, and stuff.” So yeah, I’ve got everything in that one room. And I just make music in there.
The new album is about travel, and many musicians visit a lot of cities but don’t get a real feel for them in the short time they’re there. Has that been your experience as well?
Pretty much. You get to know a place if you go back there more and more. But, yeah, you kind of get a luxury guided tour, I guess. You know, you fly in, someone picks you up from the airport, you drive to a nice hotel – usually nice, seven times out of 10 – you go for dinner somewhere that’s been recommended so it’s usually good, and then you do a show, you get paid to go there, and then you maybe, if you’re lucky, have some time, just to look around the city real quick, and then in a cab and back.
So it’s kind of like a luxury little mini overnight experience. But you don’t really get to know anywhere until you’ve been there a few times and you get to spend a day there. Then you get more of a feel for a place.
In writing the album, was it a conscious decision for it to be about places, or did it just become that along the way? Since it’s not entirely clear in the titles, what specific places inspired the songs?
People always ask me this and I always feel awkward because half of it is thought out and the rest is just coincidence. And I mean, it’s instrumental electronic music. How much can it really mean? If you don’t title it, I wonder if it would connect with people as much.
[Anyway], I just spent lots of time not making another album since the first one, and then [after] coming back and having a week off to make new tracks…it could only be about places I’d been. But I’m also guided by sounds I find. I sample lots of old records…and I was lucky enough to find something that said “Brazil,” [which was used on that song].
“Enoshima“ was definitely after going to Enoshima with some friends. And then making something that reminded me of the sound of waves on the rocks and just trying to make it sound like Enoshima.
“Junk City II” – I call it two because I like sequels, ’cause they’re always bad. It’s just about a city that doesn’t really exist. But I watched some documentaries about how some people melt electronics down to get certain pieces out and then resell them. And I just wanted to make something that kind of sounded a bit smoggy. People always said, “your music’s so chill,” so I wanted to make something that was a bit harsher.
[With] “The Most Livable City,” [there are] lots of different polls where they decide which city’s the best, but there’s a magazine called Monocle. It’s a current affairs magazine, it’s pretty, it’s got great photography and great features. They recommend you an item every month and one of them was luxury luggage tags, and they’re like £250. And they do their most livable cities, and number one was Zurich. And I was like, “Really, out of the whole world it’s Zurich?“ I don’t know, I think that [the song] is a reference to a city that probably doesn’t exist.
I always get unhappy in cities or places I live. And I don’t know if I ever will find a place that I like 100%. I’m worried that I won’t find, like, the perfect place to live. And it’s the same with my music. I worry that I won’t make anything that I’ll actually be proud of.
Are you not yet proud of anything that you’ve made?
No, I’m way far from that…I think it’s a year ’til I come around to a track and go, “OK yeah, it’s not bad actually.” But I wouldn’t ever say that I’m really proud of any of my tracks. Maybe one or two, but that’s pushing it. But maybe that’s good, because I really wanna keep going to try and get there.
What would a song about Berlin sound like?
I don’t know. I can’t find the right thing about, the right sound for Berlin. I don’t know what it’d be. I feel like I could make a song about Brooklyn and it’d be lots of piano. But Berlin, I really don’t know. Maybe I won’t be able to make a song about Berlin until I leave. Yeah, so you have to go away from somewhere. Before I’d been away from the UK so much, I couldn’t actually see how much I liked it, or how much I like London.
Are there any specific spots – in Berlin or elsewhere – that you like to play the most?
For me, I don’t think it’s venues. There’s a lot of other factors that affect the show, such as the time you play, who plays before you, what mood people are in, what the weather is like, how you feel, what the monitors on stage are like. There are so many things that affect the show.
I just want to try different places. I don’t think I’ve played enough places…to really know. I like smaller venues with around 500 people max, and a low ceiling because the bass gets trapped. And to be close to people, where they can see what you’re doing and you can see them.
Where in Berlin do you like to go when you’re not thinking about, seeing, or playing music?
I have this joke that I don’t leave my post code. [10119. My friends invite me out and my response is] “nah, I’m not going there, I have to get the train, I have to cycle, I don’t want to do that.” And it’s basically because I get really lazy after going away so much that I just can’t be bothered.
[But] every Sunday, when the weather’s nice, I go to Mauer Park, but I avoid everyone, and I have this little route up the side. You go up the side, and then I think it’s the fourth entrance, turn left, and there’s a vegan burger van, and they do a tofu burger, which is basically, they just put everything on it. Super good. I get that [and] I feel good about myself when I eat that. And then there’s a quark bar…yeah, that’s good.
Antipodes Cafe, it’s super good. They do a breakfast that I have more often than I should. And Fräulein Burger in Mitte. Record shop OYE, which is also near where I live. Anywhere near where I live. [And] I like to go swimming.
I think Berlin can be a real up and down for me, but I think that’s just me more than the city. I think it’d be the same everywhere I live. But I do like it.
You can listen to Gold Panda tunes here.