Portrait by Michael Donkin
Suren Seneviratne doesn’t remember how he conceived of the name My Panda Shall Fly. “Somehow these words were flying around and we just grabbed at some of them,” the man behind the strangest alias in UK bass music says, reclining on his bed in red sweats, gorilla slippers and a woolly hat. “We felt the name sounded stupid, but we loved it.” Originally comprised of Seneviratne on a laptop alongside close friends Finn Ryder on guitar and Theo Garman on keys and percussion, My Panda began as an ad-hoc live electronic three-piece. “We played two gigs a week for about a year, usually at nights we just didn’t belong at,” Seneviratne remembers. “Promoters would stand there thinking, ‘Why did I book these guys?’ All of a sudden, Theo went to Spain to learn bullfighting and Finn went to India, and it was just me. I took on the name as a DJ and carried on.
A lover of animals who grew up in a house of “15 dogs, 10 cats, lots of birds, fish, a turtle and a monkey” in his native Sri Lanka, Seneviratne held tight to the name after the band separated. “I never thought my music sounded good enough to play out while I was DJing, which I was doing a lot. I was thinking, ‘Am I ready? Is it good enough? Is it finished?’” Even after producing beats in his bedroom as a 15-year-old, and later in college, Seneviratne has only recently shaken off his self-doubt. “It wasn’t until I was sleeping over in the studio, polishing things up, that I realised it was time to believe in what I was doing,” he admits.
His debut EP, Sorry I Took So Long, came out on the label of cult Glasgow producer and electronica artist Dam Mantle. Flirting with UK garage, dubstep and R&B, but getting into bed with none of them, Sorry I Took So Long is described by Seneviratne as “a mid-tempo cruise – very percussion-heavy, loads of shakers, maracas and cowbells with keys over the top”. Its opening song, “Injury”, is “a gentle track – not made for the dancefloor. To make sense of it, it helps to see the video. It’s basically a cat walking around. It’s a leisurely track, from a cat’s point of view.” A fine art graduate like Dam Mantle, Seneviratne has commissioned a video for each track on the EP, even though, as he admits, “It’s uncommon for electronic songs to have videos. But I never considered not doing a string of them.” Still, the record is anything but self-indulgent. “The only point where I’ve let my interests as an artist and as a musician overlap has been in making the videos,” Seneviratne says firmly.
“Yoyo”, the EP’s slowest track, is a low-end odyssey of distorted keys and off-center beats. The video follows Seneviratne, his hair a mess of unruly braids, his body shrouded in a plastic cape, through a darkened cul-de-sac. The dubstep swing and retro-processed electronic sounds of “Xerox” have been given a suitably vintage visual representation by artist Daniel Swan and animator Soju Tanaka. “Daniel had made an 8-bit-style game landscape with analogue equipment and Sodju had a character,” Seneviratne explains. “I basically acted as a facilitator.”
Turning UK bass’s dark side on its head with beats that are brisker, brighter and brimming with playful samples wasn’t a conscious aim for Seneviratne. “I just let go and made stuff that felt right to me,” he shrugs. An extrovert where most producers are deeply introverted, Seneviratne prefers to share his creative experience with others. “The live act is my new focus,” he explains. “I’ve managed to drag Finn, from the initial line-up, back in, and it would be perfect to come back as a three-piece after such a strange journey.” Crystallised in Sorry I Took So Long is the sense of fun, fearlessness and creative liberty Seneviratne clearly enjoyed with his friends. “The album title is just a little message, a reminder of where I’ve come from,” he says, “but also the start of something new – and hopefully it’s something worth waiting for.” §
Sorry I Took So Long is out now on Growing.