If pandas are elusive creatures, then Gold Panda is the rarest of the lot. The Chelmsford producer and remixer has made few appearances this year, popping up at London’s Dome in Tufnell Park in May as well as a handful of smaller UK festivals throughout the summer. So when news broke that he was returning to the capital this week, eager fans snapped up tickets if only for a glimpse of this cult favourite in the flesh.
His reputation is well-founded. The pen-named Panda made his entrance on the scene in 2010 with Lucky Shiner, a nuanced debt album of ambient electronica. Its first track ‘You’ went on to achieve mainstream recognition after being sampled on Charlie XCX’s ‘You (Ha Ha Ha)’ three years ago. Gold Panda’s latest album Good Luck And Do Your Best dropped this year, and is said to have been inspired by a trip the producer took around Japan with photographer Laura Lewis. A hardback book, full of images from their tour, has been released as a counterpart to the record.
Tucked down a back alley in Bethnal Green, Oval Space feels far removed from these verdant Japanese vistas. But as a place for showcasing alternative electronic talent in the city, there are few venues that rival it. Case in point is tonight’s support act Baba Ali, an unsigned neo soul singer whose looped bass and funk flecked beats immediately bring to mind a young D’Angelo. As Oval Space quickly fills up, Ali alternates between strutting before the crowd and hunching over his equipment. It’s an intriguing sound which, infuriatingly, is nowhere to be found online.
Only minutes after Ali has left the stage, Gold Panda materialises behind the decks, obscured in a dark hoody, and wastes no time launching into his new material. ‘In My Car’, the second track from the new album, is ethereal, with glitchy percussion loops over ambient vocal samples. It’s trippy, melancholy and minimalist: all hallmarks of the producer’s sound. Yet there’s more going on here than meets the eye, and as he fiddles with his MPC there is something clearly methodical behind the track’s beguiling simplicity.
As the set progresses the stage lights up with a collage of images that flash in accordance with the beat. Presumably these are the same pictures from the Japan trip: pink flowers, red bricks, fences, leafy greens and grey pavements all merge into a light, oxygenated landscape which combine urban and the pastoral. As he descends into bassier territory the decks glow ominously crimson and the lights strobe; it’s at these moments the deep house influence begin to creep in. It’s less reflective than the producer’s signature moments, but in a live setting much easier to dance to. For the remainder of the set, the crowd laps it up.
Like Four Tet, Bonobo or Floating Points, Gold Panda belongs to a sect of ambient electronic musicians currently pushing the boundaries on how we perceive the genre. It’s light and airy, deep and elating, but above all, it’s smart.