Language has a lot to do with a culture’s uniqueness: and there are some words in the Japanese language that simply don’t exist in English. These are beautiful and sometimes bizarre expressions that evoke ideas you or I would need whole sentences to explain.
‘Komorebi’, for example, captures the idea of sunlight filtering delicately through trees, while ‘ukiyo’ means the floating world, detached from the bothers of life. And, rather wonderfully, ‘irusu’ means pretending to be out when someone calls round.
I mention this because Gold Panda’s new album, Good Luck And Do Your Best, was inspired by a chance encounter on one of his many trips to Japan when a taxi driver in Hiroshima tried to translate the phrase ‘Ganbatte, Kudasai’. “As we got out he said ‘Good luck and do your best’ to me in English. And I thought ‘That’s got to be the album title’. I guess you say it a lot in Japan but it doesn’t really translate. You just can’t say that phrase in English, you say ‘Good luck’ or ‘Do your best’ but you don’t put them together, not naturally anyway.”
And this is far from the only inspiration Japan has provided him with: it’s a country that’s been close to his heart since he lived there as a nineteen- year-old teaching English. “Everything I do is influenced by Japan because I’ve spent a lot of time there and I became such a fan of it.I try to go back twice a year to keep up my language skills, and now the friends who I made when I was nineteen are all getting married so I get to see another generation.”
Yet when Derwin set out to Japan for one of these trips in 2014 it was not with an album in mind. Accompanied by photographer Laura Lewis, his plan was to collect field recordings from his trip.
“The original idea was to do a book and include a CD of these field recordings and that would be it because I didn’t want to do another album… but then I ended up doing another album.”
So we can thank a Hiroshima taxi driver for being the catalyst for this new record, one which is his most coherent, most positive to date, a record that is warm, expansive and inventive. He explains simply, “I had the title and then I just made a motivational positive album.”
“I was trying to do a record because of Berlin… I don’t think I make club music so maybe that was a bit of a misstep.”
Not that’s what he originally wanted either. “I didn’t want to do positive, happy music. If you’re doing dark electronic music it feels like there’s something more genuine about it in some ways, so I’d always been embarrassed about doing happy electronic pop music.”
But this positivity is painted in joyful hues, inspired by the unique colours of Japan; the haze of the beautiful pink and green light that rains down on the country in certain months. And with this record he’s created a bewitching sonic approximation of these vivid twilight hour colours.
“At certain times of the day there are these pastelly colours; it’s like having a filter on everything. The first time I went it was April when all the cherry blossoms are out and these pink and greens were the dominant colours on packaging and on buildings – and then the light dips and there’s this warm glow about everything. I don’t know, maybe it’s smog, you just don’t get it here.”
Being somewhere he loved and felt at home, travelling round the streets of Kyoto and Tokyo, gave him the freedom to create something that was him. “It’s a lot more natural. I think with the last record I was trying to do a record because of Berlin and that’s kind of a double-edged sword. Berlin’s got such a rich history you want to make a club record and I don’t think I make club music so maybe that was a bit of a misstep. I think this one is the best, most together of the Panda albums.”
“All my other albums have been done very quickly and this was done over two years. I was worried that would mean it wouldn’t have a similar sound but actually it sounds more together than the others and I think that’s because I’ve had time to pick tracks that fit together.”
You can hear it. The imagery and colours, the exploration and travel he took inspiration from reveal themselves on tracks like ‘Time Eater’ and ‘Halyards’. And you can tell how happy he is with it; “I feel like there’s no fluff. There’s songs and they’re poppy and I’m happy with them all production wise.”
Yet for all this exoticism, the track ‘In My Car’ was inspired by something literally closer to home.“I bought a car second hand from my parents’ neighbour – he looked after it really well, washing it every weekend so I said ‘Yeah, I’ll take it’. I was really excited about having a CD player in a car: I thought I can make tunes and listen to them while I drive round and maybe that can be my thing. But I got the car and it fucking doesn’t play CDR so the only way to hear my tracks in my car is to get my album mastered, get it made and then get the actually CD and then play it!”
As the interview draws to a close, we return to talk of Japan. “I thought about doing a travel blog. I always feel like I should do more to share my Japan with people but then I don’t want it spoilt, I don’t want to give it all away.” Yet this album feels like that gift: an insight into his love of the country, a love letter to its unique culture. As we leave, I ask him if there are any other untranslatable phrases he remembers from Japan. “There’s ‘Otsukaresama deshita’. You say it at the end of work and it’s like ‘You did a good job, thanks for your hard work’” Japan, you took the words out of our mouth.
Photos: Tim Boddy
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