Not many DJ mixes warrant the term "essential listening". This one does.
The English electronic music producer Derwin Panda, aka Gold Panda, has made quite an impression in quite a short time. Since his first self-released single in 2009, he has delivered several EPs and become a blogsphere sensation. His 2010 debut album, Lucky Shiner, was very well received by critics and electronica fans alike. Now, before starting work on the follow-up, Gold Panda has had time to put together a DJ Kicks mix. And, if anything, it will only boost his reputation.
Though he does not consider himself a DJ proper, or maybe for that very reason, Gold Panda has put together the rare mix that demands your attention from the first second. It is fresh, dynamic without being gimmicky, and at times simply stunning.
Over the course of 22 tracks representing musicians of several nationalities, Gold Panda surveys the more esoteric reaches of electronica. Though most of the tracks are from the last few years, several date back to the late 1990s and early '00s. What's impressive is how seamlessly it all fits together into a single listening experience. Experimental, abstract, minimal, glitch…call it whatever you want to. In the end, it is simply entrancing. Gold Panda has created a mix that is hand-crafted for headphones, where the intricacies and quirky sound effects can't get lost in the background.
Not that this is one of those DJ mixes where all the tracks sound more or less like slight variations on each other. Rather, all the different sounds and approaches play out at about the same energy level and tempo, taking multiple approaches to a common atmospheric effect. So, Melchoir & Pronsato's "Puerto Rican Girls" is jazzy and groovy, with electric piano on top and a ephemeral woman's voice underneath, while Bok Bok's "Charisma Theme" is full of 8-bit-like rhythm box chatter. SND's "Palo Alto" features rich, blanketing synth pads and not much else, while Matthewdavid's "Like You Mean It" is like a sun-drenched 1970s soul-jazz melody, chopped up, spliced together backwards, and run through a reverb unit. Yet it could all be described as mellow, disorienting yet blissful. Or is that blissfully disorienting?
Several tracks have a kaleidoscopic, slightly metallic rhythmic feel that recalls Asian gamelan music. Take, for example, Gold Panda's own "An Iceberg Hurled Northward Through Clouds", a brand new track and a highlight at that. The intermittent, gently pulsating bassline exists merely to hold all the chiming percussion together. Zomby's "Godzilla" is a primary-colored synthesizer fountain, while 2562's "Dinosaur" takes a more cut'n'paste approach to a similar sound.
Gold Panda's DJ Kicks does get a bit darker as it goes on, with some tracks coming across like the soundtrack for a sinister, alternate-world Mario Bros. game. But the best moments on a mix that hardly includes a dull track are the quieter, more reflective ones. Closer Musik's evergreen "Maria" from 2002 relies on a music-box-like arpeggio that simply makes you stop whatever business you're attending to and just listen. Opiate's "Amstel" sends a simple piano line through ghostly white noise, producing a similar stop-in-your-tracks effect.
Maybe it is ironic that one of the year's best DJ mixes was created by someone who really isn't a DJ. But getting impressive sets out of people primarily known for their "artist" albums is nothing new to the DJ Kicks series, which is now in its second decade. Gold Panda has delivered one of the best.