How Panda Eyes wrote his album while coming to terms with an incurable disease

This week sees the release of Panda Eyes’ highly anticipated debut album – Continue. A major creative leap for any artist but one that seems especially poignant considering the life changes Panda Eyes was going through.

Suffering extended periods of exhaustion and sickness earlier this year, he became unable to sit in front of the computer for much longer than 20 minute periods which, in turn, created bouts of serious frustration and depression. After several tests, he was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. And while it’s manageable and not fatal, there is no known cause or cure.

As he revealed in this movingly honest video about his life earlier this summer, there were many points when he questioned everything and came close to quitting. Thankfully he didn’t. As the title suggests, Continue is about perseverance, rising to challenges and finding new paths and solutions.

It’s also about class A bass music in all its forms and flavours: From springy slap-bass popping 110 BPM animated funk such as Turning Point to Kenzo-level dungeon wall slapping underground 140 sludge like Dark Matter, Continue is the sound of Panda Eyes dismantling boundaries and questioning everything he’s done so far, everything that’s happening musically around him and everything he wants to do in the future.

This year hasn’t been easy for the Zurich artist. But he continues (no pun) to rise to every challenge and flip both his music and his mindset with positivity and a philosophy we could all benefit from.

Props on the video, man.

Thanks. I kinda made it for myself, really. It felt good talking about things without having to tell someone in person because they have to show you sympathy which isn’t what it’s all about.

You just want to get it off your chest…

Yeah exactly. I feel like the more I’m open about who I am, the more people appreciate that honesty. I know it kinda kills the mystery but I appreciate the real person behind things that I like; there’s an honesty and openness to it.

Realness is so important right now

I think I could be more real. There’s definitely a persona every one puts on when they’re in front of a camera. I need to work on that a bit. I want to get it to a point so a friend of mine could watch it and say ‘that’s him, that’s the real Oskar’

Can you explain more about your auto immune disease… That must have been terrifying finding out about it?

No I was pretty angry. The doctor was a dick about it, he was trying to show me fake pity and I didn’t like his manner. I wasn’t shocked or scared. It was like ‘okay that just happened’ and I walked out trying to see all the positive things – maybe it’s a wake-up call about my lifestyle or about how I appreciate things? I tried to look at it positively. At first I thought I was strong enough to defeat it; there’s no known cause why should I accept there’s no known cure? I don’t trust the pharma industry all that much – it’s not true. The more symptoms that came I couldn’t ignore it. I accepted it slowly.

And all of this was happening while you were writing the album?

Just after I started basically. I had to relearn how to work again so the quality didn’t suffer while I take breaks and sleep. I’m very sensitive. If something doesn’t work then I have a bad aftertaste and don’t go back to that project. But if I had to take a break to sleep then I would have to come back to that project whether I thought it was shit or not. I have to have more patience with myself and be more positive about what I’m doing. It was a challenge but I love challenges. It’s not going to stop me. I have to continue making music. Even if nothing comes of it, I have to make it because making music is my way of handling things. It’s life therapy for me.

I guess life is the concept of the album bottom line?

Yeah. For me Continue means do what you do. I’m always stressing myself that what I do has to be better than the last thing and everything has to be better and better. Things don’t always have to be the best all the time. That’s not even possible. The idea of improvement is a value you give yourself. It’s an objective judgement. It’s bullshit. If you make something different to grow as an artist you can’t guarantee it’s going to be better because it’s different. You have to accept that it’s not about the goal it’s about that part of the journey and how you’ve learnt from it.

Yeah nothing is perfect all the time. You have to try new things – something that’s apparent from the very start of your album with tracks like Turning Point.

Yeah it’s good to step away from the big dubstep snares. It bugs me that people try to get big by just making the big tunes for DJs to play. There aren’t enough people saying ‘I made this experimental trap or house tune’ Or DJs or promoters are like ‘oh we won’t play that here’. The more people who have the balls to play something else, the more open our minds are and the more we develop. So yeah the album is to get away from the fear that I have to make the style the whole scene is going in or else my journey will stop.

It’s mad. So many of you feel the same way though. Who’s to blame? Fans? Self imposed pressures from artists? Promoters booking artists?

All of us are guilty. The whole scene. It isn’t supportive enough, there’s not enough encouragement. I feel it can work to play something else if you’re confident with it and put it in the right context. For me it takes the fun away if I have to live in a fear of being in a cage.

That’s the pressure of having to make an instant impact. If a two-second clip on Soundcloud doesn’t impress then people move on. We’ve lost the space for ‘growers’

Yeah. People are too quick to say ‘you’ve changed!’ and not spend time trying to understand the journey that artist is on. You see it all the time with fans saying ‘we want the old you back! Don’t change!’ to anyone who’s stepped outside the box that has been made for them. But artists need to evolve and get out there and try different things. People need to respect this, the community should be more educated about how it works. If everyone is too scared to do that they’ll lose the passion and magic. If you continue in the same pattern you’ll feel trapped. You have to constantly try new things and push what you expect of yourself as well as what people expect of you.

I feel like tracks such as Insomnia and Dark Matter, the darker tracks basically, are some of the strongest examples of you doing that.

My best friends are all about grime and deep dubstep so their influence on me is there in Dark Matter at least. That’s a direct result of me asking myself why we like the music we do. These are questions that I ask myself all the time: What am I doing? What kind of music am I making and why do I make it like this? What kind of music did I make in the past and why did I do that? The more I started to think about that, the more I made different music. Why does a guy make happy music? He’ll say he likes the vibe. Why? Because it’s happy. But that’s not enough of an answer for me any more.

Speaking of happy; the album has a flow to it and finishes on a very positive note. Was the arrangement important to you?

Yeah it was. First of all I wanted to make it two parts – one is dark, one is light – but instead we arrived here with the order it’s in. It feel natural and like a story.

I’ve been trying to find samples of bread being chewed and pans being flicked throughout this story…

There are none! That was a new experiment and challenge I set myself. A lot of the most interesting things are miniscule vocal cuts which I find on an acapellas and samples. I make a tiny cut and make a whole melody from it. I love how you can take something so small and make something huge out of it. A milli second – reverse it, edit it, process and manipulate it so much it’s just a frequency. You can’t copyright a frequency. That’s the most interesting thing.

So what comes after the album?

I’ve got lots of different works in progress and I’m paying attention to how they develop. I don’t want to rush them. When I’ve finished a tune, it’s like completing a game. Like ‘okay that was fun! Next game!’ So for me I’m working on tracks that I want to continue coming back to as productions then also as finished pieces of music. Like a good game, it doesn’t matter how many times you complete it, you still love it. That’s the challenge. To satisfy myself. But to do that I need to know where it’s going. It needs to have an end point.

Otherwise you’re just floating

Yeah. And knowing when to cut it off. I’m never 100% happy with a tune but who is?  It’s like asking for something to perfect. It can’t be. Nothing is. When you’re in the process of learning something new every day you always want to apply it to everything.

You could carry on forever and never release anything.

This is it! That’s why we continue… Don’t do it. Continue, move forward.

Panda Eyes – Continue is out now

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