Dollars to Pounds: My Panda Shall Fly

April 18, 2013

San Francisco-born Kim Taylor Bennett fled to Europe at 11, lived for a spell in London and once played guitar onstage with Green Day. She’ll report on new British music every other week.

My obsession with My Panda Shall Fly started with an awkward attempted embrace. Not between me and Suren Seneviratne, the man behind MPSF, but rather, at the 1min48second mark of his latest video for “Opening Brace.” A collaboration with fellow animal-centric electronicist, Adventure Elephant, the video documents a fictional day in Suren’s life. He showers, naked except for his hands ringed with bling. He pops down to the corner store for a mango Solero. And he sits on the edge of a single bed and tries to hug his distinterested, scrunchy-wearing wife Veronika. The Sri Lankan musician’s not nearly as deadpan as the character he plays in his video. A lot of his anecdotes are delivered with a bemused sense disbelief, as if any given chain of events comes as a slight surprise. At Goldsmiths University where he studied fine art, Suren spent his student loan collecting things. His haul included a trunk of cool vintage badges, old cameras and a bag of old ties. “I don't even wear ties! Man, I'm the worst.” Suren is also fascinated by ancient Sanskrit texts found in India that describe an alien attack on earth. According to these Sanskrit epics, flying crafts called vimanas carrying fire breathing gods descended and decimated 10,000-strong armies. He’s good company.

Picked up by Dam Mantle’s label for the release of his debut EP, “I’m Sorry I Took So Long” in 2011, Suren’s output is certainly eclectic, veering from super chill ambient-leaning tracks, to warp world video game-recalling techtronics, to synth and glitch tunes with a 2-step kick. Check out the video for “Opening Brace” and read my interview below.

When did you move over from Sri Lanka? I came with my mum in ’96. She had quite a few of her relatives living in Londob so we came to live with them, I guess to start a life. My dad stayed there. I didn't realize at the time they'd separated.

So how old were you? About 9.

You were 9 in ’96? In all your interviews you're like, "I'm 39, I'm 24!" Who knows! Man you're lucky that I'm just not making stuff up because I usually do. I like making stuff up because they might ask something silly like "Describe your sound." Ok! Donkey meets goat! I'm 26 now. You've got my real age! It was kind of interesting because at some point, I did spend half my life in Sri Lanka and then half here in London. It's such a stark contrast, life there, even colors and sounds.

Here, grey, there vibrant green, some blues… Right. But then, ultimately I want to be in London. I can't imagine having started in music if I'd still been living there. It's just not a thing that's thrown around as an idea for kids to maybe get into. You get musicians there, but all of them are really old! I'm going to Sri Lanka at the end of April to play this Electric Peacock festival which has been going for a few years. It’ll be this insane kind of special moment for me to go back to essentially my real home. So crazy to imagine how it's advanced so much that they could accommodate a weird person like me with the kind of music I make.

What did you get up to as a kid over there? I was just playing outdoors, messing around with animals. I've got this huge love for animals. This sounds insane because it's not something that's even feasible here, but we had this huge house and garden and we had about 18 dogs. Ridiculous! It was a dream. Loads of dogs, loads of weird cats, and just other general weird animals. I only got interested in music when I moved to London.

What did you start to get into? Around ’98 there was this huge explosion of UK garage, it was just incredible. Being kids back then when there was a lot of hanging out. That doesn't really happen now, you'd go and knock for your friends and you'd just hang out and get into a bit of trouble. You weren't online, that's for sure.

So how did you find out about music? I lived in Clapham Junction and the biggest group of the time was So Solid Crew. We also used to listen to loads of pirate radio stations because we'd get a load of drum & bass. Everyone was saving up to buy their first pair of turntables. I remember my friend buying his first pair and then always going round, buying vinyl, buying garage and just learning to DJ and mix. From then on an unhealthy obsession with it began. I started to make music on software on the computer everyday, not doing homework, mum just going crazy. I was so glad to have grown up on UK garage because it gave birth to all the bass music we have now.

Originally MPSF was a trio. Were you lying when you said one of the band left to find themselves and the other went to become a bullfighter in Spain? No! Finn he's the one that went to India. He's just one of those weird guys, loves his organic foods, nice coffee. A trip to India was always coming up for him. Then the other guy—Theo—prior to becoming a bullfighter he studied photojournalism. We went to Spain to play this gig, we saw a bullfight, so obviously…

He was like, "Brilliant, that's what I want to do!" No, when we saw it we were like, "Okay, this is fucked up." There’s was blood, the bull died, people were cheering, it was messed up. We came home and at some point, maybe a month down the line and he left to train. Quit his job being a full-time nanny. That was his job! Adults trusted him to look after their kid!

How does the music you were making with them differ from the stuff you're doing now? It was pretty ambient. It wasn't about being really weird and hippy and going to psytrance festivals. It was perfect, because the two guys were two of my best friends. It was the first collaboration that really meant anything to me.

It feels like ever since they left you’ve just been trying to find other friends to make music with. I can’t keep track of how many collaborations you've done: Benjamin Jackson, Will Ward, Microburst, Adventure Elephant, a bunch of others. Are you a little lonely? Yeah, you know what, that must be the reason! Especially when I play live. We were young at the time and there was a real burning passion for music because we were just discovering it, learning about it and getting out there to do it at the same time. Amazingly, the music we were doing was like improvisation so it helped that we didn't rehearse much.

I do think there are elements of ambient electronica in your music now though. This new stuff sounds sort of aquatic to me. Hah! Music for fish! You know how Brian Eno did Music for Airports? Maybe I could do the music for fishtanks. That’s gold. I need to write that down. 

I’m very into the video for “Opening  Brace.” Did it take much convincing to get you stark bollock naked? Oh God! To be fair, the director Chris Toumazou did have the idea of me in a shower at the very beginning. And I was like, that's fine. We were just messing about and laughing. Literally the week before it was going out, the version was of me fully naked…

It might have been distracting if you had your junk out. That's the thing, I think that would have been a bit over the top. Maybe a bit distasteful!

Was that your girlfriend in the video? No! Can you imagine? My actual girlfriend! You know what's terrible, because of the stupid angle it looks like I'm going for her boob. It would be so weird if the character I play in the video was a real person. I'd feel so sorry for him: his wife is like a mail order bride who obviously doesn’t love him.

Who would you most like to collaborate with out of Cat Power, Pussycat Dolls, Lamb of God, Grizzly Bear, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs or Seal? That's an amazing list that stretches the whole gamut of music! Grizzly Bear is too current. You know what? It'd have to be Seal! Just imagine what would go down there. What would we talk about!


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Dollars To Pounds
Dollars to Pounds: My Panda Shall Fly