In Conversation With: My Panda Shall Fly
18 November 2014
It can be hard to gauge someone in one conversation. It can be harder still if that conversation is not in person, but rather over the phone or via email. It can get messy, as a writer, attempting to give readers an accurate representation of an individual you have never actually met before. However, every once in a while there comes along a personality so interesting, that the profile basically writes itself.
Suren Seneviratne, the man behind My Panda Shall Fly, is one such personality. Suren, in interviews, videos and at concerts, always exudes a cool, controlled eccentricity. A producer with no musical training and a degree in Fine Arts, he is what you might call a self-made artist. An extremely visually oriented individual, Suren has (perhaps unintentionally) created a niche all by himself, all for himself.
Hailing from South London, Suren received a Fine Arts degree from Goldsmiths College, but not before spending half his life in native Sri Lanka. His diverse stylistic choices, in music, wardrobe and art can perhaps be traced to the cultural and aesthetic differences between the United Kingdom and Sri Lanka. Before his work on/as My Panda Shall Fly he was employed at the artist collective Lucky.PDF, where fun and frolic were in abundance, and much of his affinity for visuals seem to stem from.
Suren’s music videos have become his outlet for visual expression, seeing him collaborate with a variety of filmmakers to create work can that is sometimes surreal, sometimes psychedelic and sometimes just plain chaotic. I asked him how much creative input he has: “Most of the time I will reach out to a filmmaker or artist that I've been fond of to seek a collaboration. Saying that, I sometimes do enjoy taking a back seat and seeing what the artist has in mind. Either way, it is always exciting to see a photo or video work come to life.”
He makes sure to remind me to check out his own work, eagerly leading me to his music videos ‘Giant Shoe’ and ‘haus/transferring sorrow’. ‘Giant Shoe’ is compiled of images taken from an open source online library. Spaceships, astronomical entities, and strands of DNA take the viewer on a chaotic, cosmic journey. As for ‘haus/transferring sorrow’, well... see for yourself:
Initially My Panda Shall Fly was a trio made up of Suren and his two friends Finn Ryder and Theo Garman, but they soon realised their calling lay elsewhere. Ryder went off to India to find himself (spiritually, of course), and Garman made his way to Spain to become a prize bullfighter. It seems, from the outside, that ever since then Suren has been searching for new collaborators to work with, new friends to play with and fresh minds to tap into.
He’s collaborated with the likes of Benjamin Jackson, Adventure Elephant, Will Ward and Mau’lin to name but a very, very few. With so many individuals walking through his doors and throwing ideas at him, there have to be some guidelines, right? What does he look for in a collaborator? “Reliability is very important to me. I need to know that my partner is willing to spend as much time, effort and energy on a project as much as I will if we are to ensure a harmonious working relationship”, he says. “To this date, I am pleased to be able to say I have not been faced with any mishaps or accidents in this department and I am very grateful for this.”
At that point it was hard to control myself from asking him about his plans for India. Is he looking to collaborate with artists here or in Sri Lanka? “I’ve not worked with any classical or traditional Sri Lankan musicians before, nor have I sampled music of this type”, he said to my immediate disappointment. “I would love to though. The folk music of Sri Lanka is beautifully rich – as is the case across Asia – so I would be very excited to work on a project that combines this art with my current music practice”, he said to my immediate pleasure.
Having worked with such a variety of artists, you could say Suren’s work is, as clichéd as it sounds, hard to define. Not that that is ever a bad thing. In a world where everyone’s output is labelled, packaged and pigeon-holed, he believes “no one but the artist themselves should decide what their music should sound like. I believe an artist should be free to do as they please and do creative music that is a true reflection of their expression.”
My Panda Shall Fly’s studio recorded, relatively ambient beats are not a clear indicator of Suren as a performer. On stage he plays high-energy dance music, made by others Why? Because that’s what gets people moving, that’s why! He is under no pretensions about why audiences make it out to gigs. If his music is too downtempo for a particular crowd, he pulls out his favourite tracks by other artists without a second thought.
In my attempt to profile Suren I found myself thinking I knew him, personally. But, of course, I didn’t. After all we haven’t even met yet. I asked myself why I was drawn so inexplicably to his personality, Why I found myself thinking that within his beard lay all the answers to the infinite mysteries of this universe. And I think, 1000 words later, I have finally understood. He is ridiculous. If I sound like a bit of a giggling fangirl, forgive me; the reason I find Suren so interesting is exactly the same reason he makes a good artist - his unorthodox approach and desire to experiment.
His calling card, in regard to interviews, is his propensity to make stories up. I must have read through at least a dozen profiles, and watched a bunch of video interviews, and I still don’t know his real age. So, I had to ask. What was the weirdest story he ever made up and told an interviewer?
“I was 8 years old. I was in the car with my mom, driving through an automated car wash. I asked her, "Mom, what would happen if one of these broke down while people were still inside?" Not 2 seconds after I had asked the question, the whole thing came to a hault and we were stuck inside the thing for about 20 minutes until they got it fixed. My mom was pretty weirded out by me after that.”
Is he making that made up story up?
I don’t know…
Words: Aditya Keswani
Image Credit: Nina Manandhar