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panda riot

Brian Cook talks Pedals and Sonic Sculpting

From well-received early singles, to sparkling remixes, to their debut LP, Northern Automatic Music on Saint Marie Records, Chicago’s Panda Riot have continued to evolve from beachy cuteness to a dream pop band demanding to be taken seriously. And they are to be taken seriously. With all the hard work evident on their most recent album Infinity Maps, seems like the critics are finally catching up as well. We sat down with the chief architect and sonic sculptor Brian Cook, to talk about composition, pedals, sampling, as well as future plans. Press play and follow along, won’t you?

DKFM: It can’t be JUST us… this album seemed to take an absurdly long time to finally be released into the world. Tell us about the journey to release?

Brian: It takes a while for the vibe of an album to wear off. We could have made an album right after Northern Automatic Music and it probably would have sounded similar, but thats not what we were after. I  spent about a year teaching myself to build guitar pedals and then actually building them. I ended up building about 50 different pedals for this album. I built them based on what the song needed–even it was just one little moment in a song, I’d build a pedal just for that. It took awhile too because we have our own studio. We were experimenting more with the recording and the composition.  When we record something into the computer it isn’t just about taking what’s there and making it sound better. We’d try to push things beyond that. For instance, we may record a drum part, then chop it up in the computer, listen back and then try to recreate that version live; record it and then merge the 2 versions. So you end up having a mixture of organic and inorganic elements.

DKFM: It seems that there are more layers, more competing textures, that there’s just more going on in Infinity Maps than you’ve attempted before. If anything, seems like an incredible attention to detail. Talk a little about the recording and mixing process.

Brian: From a technical/gear perspective, I built out a computer that could handle and process large numbers of tracks smoothly. We also bought a pair of Mackie Controls, which is a digital control surface that talks to Logic Pro. Having 16 faders and not having to mix with a trackpad or mouse is super freeing. It really bridges the analog console approach to the digital realm. Moving faders, twisting dials feels much more natural. And once you have the ability to manipulate recorded elements fluidly with a computer it can become an instrument in its own right. All this equipment–the Mackie Control and the Mac Pro are from 2010 or earlier. The pre-touch screen stuff is brilliant and cheap nowadays.

DKFM: Tell us a little about the unique guitar textures you’re getting on this album. What goes into making the Panda Riot sound?

Brian: I had a pretty specific approach to recording and mixing the guitars from the start. I would do a take and then send that signal back through a different amp, pedal, mic combination a bunch of times.  The cool thing about that is that it doesn’t end up sounding like 100 overdubs since all the tracks are derived from the same performance. When it came to mixing I’d have about 8 different textures of the same part (x2 takes) to play around with, so for rhythm guitars I could then blend all those together.  It’s similar to working with a drawbar organ in a strange way where it’s one big sound but you can play around with the harmonics and texture.

The chaining of pedals and understanding what the best order is to exploit a certain sound also takes a long time. But it’s that very precarious chain of events that’s special. You twist one knob and the whole thing could fall apart. Twist another and it’s magic.

DKFM: Infinity Maps is notable for solid songs, bookended by luscious short song snippets in between. Was that a fortuitous use of existing material on the cutting room floor, or a conscious decision to give the LP even greater depth and colour?

Brian: Overall the idea was to treat everything as a moment. Some moments or feelings are more fleeting than others, but that doesn’t make them any less important. Everything was composed based on what the album called for.

One of the things we were focused on was thinking of songs or parts visually like a film. You have moments, scenes, establishing shots, lighting etc. With that in mind, it was pretty clear what each song needed to be.

Chimera, Infinity Maps and Parachute use elements or were directly sampled from elements of Aphelion for example. Parallels samples Arrows. Glass Cathedrals samples Night Animation. I’ve always been a fan of early hip hop and sample spotting. It’s cool to hear a piece of music show up in a different context and take on a new feeling or meaning.

DKFM: How do you think the album’s been received thus far?

Brian: We’ve gotten a really great response so far. It feels good to have it done and out there. And people seem to be picking up on the aspects that we spent a long time trying to bring out.

DKFM: You headed out on tour, bringing the Panda Riot roadshow to the West Coast last year. Now that the album is getting traction everywhere, making any fresh tour plans to amplify the signal?

Brian: We did a small tour on the East Coast in June which went over really well. We are planning on playing out a lot more. The songs off this album translate really well in a live context which is a relief. Because when we were writing the album we never considered how hard/easy it would be to play live.

DKFM: What’s next for the Panda Riot Express? New video productions for the existing songs? New songs in the works?

Brian: We are planning on releasing Infinity Maps on Vinyl in the Fall which we are pretty excited about. We’ll have some new music videos between now and then too.

DKFM: Finally, what one thing should everyone know about Panda Riot?

Brian: We are all descended from outer space aliens.

Follow Panda Riot via their website, and social channels: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Catch the fever.


Everything arrives at the same time. We’re doing our part in keeping it all together, and giving it all due respect and love. We start with the ridiculously long-awaited full-length from Bellavista. Rex & Co. broke away from Tamaryn to try to polish and perfect this presentation, and the hard work has paid off. But that competes with another LP we’ve been waiting on, Panda Riot’s Infinity Maps. Finally. See (or at least hear) what we’ve been buzzing about for months now. But we’ve also been spooling out world premiere tracks from Renato Malizia’s TBTCI Records compilation, also released today. While Renato has been at the forefront of promoting this sound globally, this is a special project, born of love, laser-focused on the best music Brazil has to offer the shoegaze & dreampop scenes. From station stalwarts like Loomer and Justine Never Knew The Rules, to “new to us” bright surprises like The Us and I Kill Kane, this compilation is a labor of love from all involved, and the quality shines through. Grab your own copy of Come On Feel The Noise: BraZil Class of ’17 at TBTCI’s Bandcamp site.

That’s a long-arse first paragraph, and we’ve only covered the albums! We’ve got new tracks in from Tearjerker, Fawns of Love, Softer Still, Colour of Spring, Doorbells, Beachglass, Sonic Jesus, Secret Meadow, Palm Haze, M!R!M!, Daoda, Giant Surprise, and much more. So, so much new.

New Tracks Weekend kicks off 8 pm Eastern, 5 pm Pacific, and continuing through Sunday at midnight Eastern, 9 Pacific. It’s the first weekend we’ll spin some of these tracks, and may be the last weekend for some others. Remember, you can listen listen via the station page at DKFM,  on Shoutcast, and on TuneIn Radio for iPhone/Android/Windows. Plus we have our branded apps for Apple’s iOSAndroid and Blackberry: listeners can vote thumbs-up/thumbs-down on all the new tracks, helping us determine what graduates to permanent rotation. Your voice counts! Or load up the “Internet Radio” tab of your iTunes desktop client, and you’ll find DKFM Shoegaze Radio under ‘Alternative’. You can even keep up with the new tracks and artists you may have missed, as we’re live-tweeting every track on our sub-Twitter DKFMTracks account. Now you’ll know what you heard, or catch up on what you missed. Keep up with our new Facebook group for real-time discussions of what you’ve heard, and sound off!

And, as always, thanks for listening, and thank you for your support!

Cup runneth over. New Tracks Weekend this weekend features the newest and brightest stars in the firmament. Kicking off with a few choice cuts from the forthcoming Panda Riot LP, due in June. Plus we’ve got the latest pre-release tracks from My Favorite Things, Ciel, Processions, Foliage and more, before you’ll hear them anywhere else! And we’ll shovel in the new releases from 93millionmilesfromthesun, Colour of Spring, Supercandy, Volunteer Cheerleader, Swimming Tapes, A Thousand Hours, Jet Trash, plus the Bethany Curve reissue, and the new and (allegedly) final release from Vancouver’s grunge kingpins, Weed. Packed out!

But we don’t stop there. We’re still deep into the new Pia Fraus, Tennis System, Oeil, Cigarettes After Sex, Schonwald, Slow Crush, Terry vs. Tori, Rat Columns, Girlpool, Eternal Something, Telyscopes, Aurora L’Orealis, IS BLISS, and so much more. No incentive to do anything this weekend other than lay about listening to the radio, amirite?

New Tracks Weekend kicks off 8 pm Eastern, 5 pm Pacific, and continuing through Sunday at midnight Eastern, 9 Pacific. It’s the first weekend we’ll spin some of these tracks, and may be the last weekend for some others. Remember, you can listen listen via the station page at DKFM,  on Shoutcast, and on TuneIn Radio for iPhone/Android/Windows. Plus we have our branded apps for Apple’s iOSAndroid and Blackberry: listeners can vote thumbs-up/thumbs-down on all the new tracks, helping us determine what graduates to permanent rotation. Your voice counts! Or load up the “Internet Radio” tab of your iTunes desktop client, and you’ll find DKFM Shoegaze Radio under ‘Alternative’. You can even keep up with the new tracks and artists you may have missed, as we’re live-tweeting every track on our sub-Twitter DKFMTracks account. Now you’ll know what you heard, or catch up on what you missed. Keep up with our new Facebook group for real-time discussions of what you’ve heard, and sound off!

And, as always, thanks for listening, and thank you for your support!

static_waves_2The venerable Saint Marie Records once brings out the crown jewels of their roster: the second in the series of Static Waves compilations lands on November 26th. With 32 tracks from the SMR stable of artists, 23 of them previously unreleased, the Static Waves series has proven to be the best compilation series since 4AD’s This Mortal Coil project.

Last year’s compilation had two previously unreleased tracks that ended up in our Top 50 of 2012: Drowner’s “Breathe” and Tip Top Tellix’s “Counting Days”. A previously released track that also made last year’s Top 50 now appears on Static Waves 2: The History Of Colour TV’s “I Knew It Was Wrong But I Did It Anyway”.

With a bench as deep as Saint Marie Records has, you can be forgiven for thinking that the Static Waves series is perhaps the one must-own disc of any given year. All the stalwarts of our own playlists are here: Lightfoils, Spotlight Kid, Panda Riot, Drowner, Jetman Jet Team, Elika, Nightmare Air, Andrew Saks (formerly Sway), The Blessed Isles, Bloody Knives, Presents for Sally, The High Violets, Resplandor, Scarlet Youth, plus a sneak peak at the forthcoming Strata Florida LP from Louise Trehy (half of 4AD veteran Swallow). And with most of them dropping new and exclusive tracks or unreleased remixes just for this compilation, that’s a compelling argument. With a sale price of $5.98 for the double CD, well, you have no excuse.

Full tracklist follows:

Disc 1

01 Seasurfer / We Run *
02 Jetman Jet Team / Red Wind (Tokyo Mix) *
03 Elika / Moving Faster
04 Drowner / Hide Yer Eyes *
05 Orange Yellow Red / Time Slows Down *
06 Nightmare Air / Icy Daggers
07 Andrew Saks / Farewell To The Hills
08 Tip Top Tellix / So Beautiful Eyes
09 Young Boy / Secret Place
10 Shortwave Broadcaster / Smile *
11 broaddaylight / Three Light Six (2013 Lighter Mix) *
12 The Blessed Isles / Round And Round *
13 The FLIR / It Didn’t Happen *
14 Bloody Knives / Suffocation *
15 Blackstone Rangers / Frozen Echo
16 Presents For Sally / Softly Spoken/Outside Honey *

Disc 2

01 Keith Canisius / Meltdown *
02 Lilies On Mars / For The First 3 Years *
03 The High Violets / Gravity *
04 The History Of Colour TV / I Knew It Was Wrong But I Did It Anyway
05 Resplandor / Feel *
06 Spotlight Kid / Sugar Pills
07 Panda Riot / Good Night, Rich Kids
08 Cloud From The Sea / Ever New *
09 The Spiracles / A Thousand Miles Away *
10 Strata Florida / Automatic *
11 Scarlet Youth / Note For A Stranger *
12 Lotte Kestner / Ties That Bind *
13 The Patience / In Vain
14 Carta / It’s Always As It Always Is *
15 Lightfoils / How It Is
16 We Need Secrets / Swimming Pool *

* Previously Unreleased

Sure, Santa didn’t give us our shiny new Lightfoils teaser, or a fresh track from Tip Top Tellix to match last year’s chart-topper. Small quibble. What is here more than makes up for the loss.

Digital-only release available soon via the usual suspects (iTunes, Amazon, Bandcamp, eMusic), but the Static Waves 2 CD is available for preorder right now at the Saint Marie Records webstore. And with the $5.98 price tag, it’s a bargain at twice the price. Our highest recommendation.

LBLcoverBrooklyn, New York’s Let’s Be Loveless dropped their debut self-titled EP several weeks ago, and we’ve been unable to stop listening since. The band name is deceptive: while it hints at a love for MBV-era shoegaze, the sound itself is another matter entirely. Hints of Lush, J-Pop playfulness, Panda Riot, even a dash of Mazzy Star infuse this dreamy, textured sound. Rather than simply rely on jangly guitars and sonic wash, Let’s Be Loveless back it up with songs. Actual songs you find yourself tapping your toes to. Sure, the Britpop and indie influences are there, and fit like a well-worn but indispensable pair of sneakers, but it’s the songs themselves that keep you coming back.

While the EP’s opener, Video Song has gotten the most attention so far, there isn’t a clunker on the disk, start to finish. Four carefully-crafted gems await you, each establishing a different feel. Probably the track Star Matter is the one we most often crank up in studio, just because it’s such an original breath of fresh air, driven by Eric Arikian’s enticing guitar signature. We decided to dig up the dirt on these apparent newcomers, and find out what their further plans for world domination might be.

Let’s Be Loveless is:
Chris Whalen: Bass
Eric Arikian: Guitars/Sequencing
Abby Camaya: Vocals/Keyboards
Gary Elliott: Drums

DKFM: What got this team of musicians together in the first place?

Eric: It goes back a bit… Chris, Gary and I have been playing 3 chord rock (a la Replacements) for about five years together under a different name. It wasn’t really going anywhere, and we were getting sick of begging our friends to come see me scream like a hyena for 30 minutes in shit-hole bars. It ran its course, but we weren’t ready to give up so quickly since we played so tightly together. We started really tapping into our creative side after seeing so much amazing music being made around us, especially in Brooklyn. I think we just wanted to be a part of it. When we met Abby, it felt like she was the missing piece to the LBL puzzle. Her natural pop-sensibility was something that we never had. Hearing those early demos with her singing for the first time was really exciting. It was like, “Wow. There’s nothing like this out here. We have to get into a studio ASAP.” Now we are fully operational 4-piece Dreampop Band. Honestly, I never thought I’d be playing music like this.

DKFM: If I read the press right, 3/4ths of the band are Brooklynites, while your vocalist Abby hails from the SF Bay Area. What brought THAT about, and how are you dealing with the bi-coastal issue?

Abby: I moved to Brooklyn in the summer of 2012. It has been an adventure I’ve wanted to experience for a long time, since I was a child. I was anxious about finding the right band once I moved, but luckily it’s worked out well.

DKFM: What music did you listen to that has helped to color your sound? I can pick up any number of subtle influences, but Let’s Be Loveless is no pale imitation of ANY of them.

Eric: I’m not sure if there is any specific bands that we try to sound like specifically. If you were to look at my record collection, there’s way more Beatles and Stones than dreampop/shoegaze. Our songs do have traditional song structures and those classic songs definitely set the template for our songwriting. When we jam on ideas, we keep asking ourselves: “Is this a song?” I think our influences come out subconsciously when we play. I can name a dozen records that I maniacally obsessed over in the past 5 years, but I don’t think they would set a road map back to what we are doing. We have our own formula that works well for us. We try to reference our favorite bands when writing, but it still sounds like us in the end.
Abby: We all love a lot of the same bands. Vocally, my idols include Bjork, Morrissey, Astrud Gilberto. I definitely love my share of bands with female singers, like Trish Keenan (Broadcast), Harriet Wheeler (Sundays), Nina Persson (Cardigans), and on and on. I can’t get enough of a soft, effortless vocal that makes you feel warm and fuzzy, like you’re being lulled to sleep.

DKFM: Formed in summer 2012, dropped a demo, a single, now an EP. At this rate, you’ve got an album dropping before year’s end, right?

CW: Eventually I’m sure. I’m a big fan of the single and I think you’ll probably hear a few more from us before the year’s end and maybe even another EP. We have no shortage of music, we often record our rehearsals and have a lot of new songs we’re working on. I really hope to get the opportunity to release something on vinyl. In the meantime, we will be releasing a limited edition cassette with a free download of our latest EP this summer. We’ll be selling it on Bandcamp and at our shows.

DKFM: So far it looks like the touring schedule has centered in and around Brooklyn. Are you planning to take this sound further out into the boroughs, and even out of New York state?  

CW: We’re really just starting out. It’s important to us to be part of a local music community and I think we still have to cultivate our hometown support before branching too far out. We do have some roots elsewhere in the Northeast and playing outside the City is something we often talk about. Hoboken, New Brunswick, Philly, Boston, DC are all really just a short trip away. If we hook up with some local bands we would definitely head out of town. I’d love to make the occasional trip out to the west coast or to one of the many festivals.
Abby: It would be really great to go back to CA and play with musician friends in San Francisco.
Eric: Playing in the Brooklyn music community is important to me. I still feel like we are the new kids on the block here even though some of us have been playing for over 6 years together.

DKFM: The music industry has certainly changed, even over the last five years or so. The self-release and distribution model has served you well enough to this point. Have you considered a supportive independent label to help spread the word, or do you simply prefer the DIY aesthetic?

CW: I’ve always wanted to believe that people will recognize and support great music if they get the opportunity to hear it. Unfortunately, there is so much great music out there that will never see the light of day. For me, the initial response to our EP has been truly endearing. I can’t believe the places we’ve been able to reach with very little promotion in such a short period of time. There is a devoted community of dream pop enthusiasts around the world and platforms like Bandcamp have enabled us to connect with supporters from as far as Japan, Germany and Brazil. But bands like us are only half of any music scene. Without an active community setting up shows, releasing records, blogging or hosting internet radio stations like DKFM, many bands would just wither and die on the vine. So yeah, we’d love to collaborate with like-minded labels and promoters that share our vision but we’re not just going to jump at any opportunity just for the sake of putting out a record.

DKFM: What’s your biggest accomplishment as a band so far?

Abby: Rehearsing sober.
Eric: Ha! We are very sober players. Lame, right?
GE: After a few years of playing some pretty demoralizing shows I love the fact that we’ve already been able to share the stage with some inspiring local bands and play to enthusiastic crowds. It’s just so much more motivating.

DKFM: Let’s Be Loveless won’t be a secret outside of Brooklyn for much longer. Ideally, what does the next chapter hold?

Eric: Tough question. I don’t think we are ready for world domination yet like you said (way to set expectations Greg!) As for our future: Who knows. Honestly, we just like to write good music and get it out to the right people. The DIY mentality has done well for us, but sometimes a little help couldn’t hurt. We’d love to record a masterful debut, but it doesn’t seem practical at this moment since we don’t know what the demand is yet. Putting it out ourselves can be daunting so a little label support would be nice. Anyway, we are demoing about four songs now that hint at psych rock, fuzz pop, and some really heavy shoegaze. The songs are awesome and we can’t wait to get back into a real studio again. We are excited about all our summer shows too. It’s going to be a fun summer.

DKFM: Finally, what would you like to share with your new fans, about yourselves, about independent music, about life in general?

I will happily dog sit for you! I have an unhealthy obsession with dogs, especially since I have a yellow labrador who is still in California. I may look into getting therapy soon.  On a more serious note, here’s something motivational that was probably written in my high school yearbook, “Be fearless and go for what you want!” It’s healthy to reinvent yourself, whether it’s in a new band or moving 3000 miles across the country.
Eric: Thank you for playing our music Greg. Especially next to artists we admire. We worked really hard making something awesome, and it means so much that you recognized it.
GE: I’m continually amazed by the all the technology that is being leveraged by bands and other people in the music scene these days, even though it’s way too easy to obsess over how many youtube views and bandcamp listens you’re getting. As a musician it’s exciting to know that it’s getting easier and easier to reach the small subset of the world that might be really into what you’re creating. It’s a great time to be involved with independent music.

A great time, indeed. Follow Let’s Be Loveless on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and of course Bandcamp.

March is coming to a close, and thus ends our first quarter of  2013. Every quarter we’ll break down staff picks the top tracks dropped, and tell you why they’re important. Next week we’ll share the top 25 by listener votes!

1. kinoko teikoku (きのこ帝国) – ユーリカ
Out of nowhere. Perfectly straddling post-rock and shoegaze, this song is purely audacious. Broke the rules. And produced an amazing piece of art that may well stand above all else at year’s end. Nobody else has done something like this, and perhaps no one else can.

2. Brothers In Law – Shadow II (Leave Me)
In a normal quarter, this would be the winner, hands down. A song of two halves, the first half is a breezy jangle with echoing, slightly eerie vocals. Then, they shift gears and rip your heart out halfway through. On this cut they out-DIIV DIIV, they outperform Beach Fossils. As we said, under other circumstances, this would normally be the quarter’s stand-out track. Beautiful, insistent, intense. An unforgettable classic.

3. Decades – Tonight Again
We were early adopters of Decades. This band has crossover written all over it, with shoegaze, dream pop, and indie influences. But they’ve managed to master them all, and produce a sound so well-crafted you’d think they’d been doing this for, well, decades, rather than just launching their debut LP.

4. Field Mouse – Tomorrow is Yesterday
Every time we turn around, Field Mouse has done something surprising and impressive. Just when you think they’re all dream pop, they drop a tasty slab of shoegaze and say, yeah, we got this. Truly magical.

5. My Bloody Valentine – She Found Now
And that happened.

6. Beach Fossils – In Vertigo (feat. Kazu Makino)
Beach Fossils are always good enough to chart in a solid quarter, but who knew the addition of the Blonde Redhead vocalist would add sparkle to the Beach Fossils sound?

7. Panda Riot – In the Forest (Some Kind of Night Fills Your Head)
Panda Riot dropped an album best listened to all the way through. Light and shadow, color and mood, “Northern Automatic Music” is best taken as a cohesive whole. Still, if you’re looking for a way in to the excellent album, this is as beautiful a place as any to start.

8. Slowness – Day For Night
After expectations and delays, “For Those Who Wish to See the Glass Half Full” was finally released. This languid sound is something Slowness has been perfecting for some time now. Standout track on a terrific album, the only quibble is that the song should have ended on a minor key, just to keep you off-balance. Is there a producer in the house?

9. The Joy Formidable – This Ladder is Ours
Sure, you’ve heard of arena rock, but arena shoegaze? The Joy Formidable always enters triumphant and leaves you exhausted. They haven’t lost their touch.

10. The Death of Pop – Laugh Now I’m Weak
Surprised? Don’t be. When a song won’t leave your head, maybe it’s supposed to stay there. Another song of two perfectly executed halves, we start off in dream pop land, then ascend to an almost 10CC wall of chorus. DAMN that’s good. You’ll want to put it on repeat.

Honorable Mentions:
Decades – Can You Love Me Now (catchy as hell)
The History of Apple Pie – Glitch (that little hook is an ear worm. Don’t worry, it won’t harm you.)
And, truly, there are so many other excellent current releases that we just don’t have space to fit them all!  Great new releases from Sunshine, Virgo Rising, Star Horse, Cheatahs, Skinny Dream, Life Model, Splashh and Spectres… honestly there’s so much to recommend. And many of these artists you just won’t hear anywhere else.

As always, you can catch ALL the newest breaking releases on DKFM, and most especially on New Tracks Weekend.


The reviews are in, and everyone (including us) seems to LOVE the new Panda Riot album “Northern Automatic Music”. Available on iTunes, Amazon and other fine retailers, this is the long awaited full length release from one of Chicago’s finest shoedream bands.

Panda Riot: Northern Automatic Music | PopMatters

This is a great record start to finish, like falling into a safety net, only to find the net is electrified. Oh, and you love the charge.

Album Review: Panda Riot’s Northern Automatic Music » Gozamos

Northern Automatic Music drops out of the sky like a meteor over a Russian city…

It’s no bloody wonder this has been “Panda Riot Week” at DKFM.


RT @StMarieRecords: Panda Riot presents a cohesive album that stuns and intrigues, definitely worth listening to on repeat. – UCLA… http://t.co/VVtpUkRvLS

February 23, 2013 11:54:11 PM PST