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Home BLOGS Music Death Sentence: Panda!

Death Sentence: Panda!
Written by Chris Rolls   
Tuesday, 04 November 2008 02:40
San Francisco trio prove that when pushed to the limit, any living creature will revolt.

Humans love anthropomorphism. The idea of projecting a divine sense of collective self onto non-human beings seems as ancient as time. Our memories of childhoods spent entertained by animated creatures of every sort seem to cross national identity. I mean fuck, how much do the French love Mickey Mouse, or we Americans Hello Kitty? The question is how do the little creatures feel? Not the animated ones, but the pets we insist on costuming, or the circus bears dressed in tattered tutus; monkeys as organ grinders. Well, imagine for a moment those very animals upon whom we heap heaving loads of laughter were silently plotting a revolution - a coup d'état against human dictatorship. Imagine a Jumanji mixed with Full Metal Jacket scenario starring Peter Sellars.

Death Sentence: Panda! gives voice to such a vision. In fact the group's early 30-second post-post-punk driveby could, if you closed your eyes, be the product of a motley cartoon band - a band animated in Korea, or perhaps China, giving it a distinctly oriental flair.

The group is comprised of Paul Costuros, Chris Dixon, and Kim West - a trio steeped in San Francisco experimentalism. Between them they have performed with the likes of Total Shutdown, Murder Murder, Crack: We Are Rock, T.I.T.S, and NAM. This impressive resume speaks volumes about a band that crafts absurdist pop with nothing more than drums, two effected sticks with holes, and ear-bleed inducing vocals.

Perhaps DS:P! and their unique sonic quest will act as a psychic call-to-arms for the furry beings of the planet, or perhaps DS:P! themselves are the manifestation of an already present collective energy. Whatever the case may be, they make some killer music - and hey, what red-blooded communist does not love pandas?

Does the name Death Sentence: Panda reflect an interest in capital punishment?

Chris: The name suggests the idea of the animal as the form of punishment. Perhaps a "let the punishment fit the crime" motif. Or, maybe more like playground style justice: "when that panda catches you, it's going to kill you." No one really feels like capital punishment is very effective at stopping a real crime though.

Many of your songs deal with animals and their relationships with human - do you believe in an animal revolt against human civilization?

Chris: Again, let the punishment fit the crime: organic or physical karma.

Kim: Who doesn't love animals? I think when pushed to the limit, any living creature will revolt.

Paul: "For centuries they were hunted for bounty, fun and food... now it's their turn!" from the telling film "Day of the Animals," 1977, starring Leslie Nielsen.

Over the past year DS:P's sound has begun to shift - songs are becoming longer, more complex, and darker in theme. How would you describe the direction your sound has taken?

Chris: Some bands get lighter as they mature, we chose the opposite.

Kim: I think this was a natural process for us. It wasn't totally planned out. We weren't saying "hey lets do this now" I think part of the reason why it was a natural progression is because of our instrumentation. I know for me, playing the flute, I didn't want it to be "flutey" "jazzy" etc., so I was re-learning how to play the instrument and that lead to our initial sound. Now that we are more "familiar" to our new way of playing, we are progressing into our new phase.

Paul: I think in the beginning, our song writing process had a lot to do with the fact that we were all fairly new at playing the instruments we had. Chris had played drums in Nam and Murder Murder for a very short time, Kim played flute in high school and her vocals in Crack: We Are Rock were much different, and I had only just taught myself clarinet in my 20's and never played outside of an improv/noise context. On top of that, we had very little to build on as far as what had been done previously with our instrumentation. So writing in a simple rock band format sounded really exciting to us at the time.

Soon after, I guess we just moved past that, writing songs that were more challenging and interesting to us musically regardless of instrumentation. In the beginning our songs were very pop-y in comparison to the previous bands we all played in. Not to mention, the first record was recorded after we were only a band for like 3 months so they were not played live or developed much. Within about 6 months they evolved much further.

The core instrumentation of DS:P is drums, clarinet, and flute - how did you decide upon these instruments?

Chris: These instruments are what were lying around.

Kim: Paul and Chris were originally playing with a bass propped up by its amp and feeding back to itself. I replaced that.

Paul: yes, there was no real blueprint, it just kind of happened this way. Chris and I played maybe twice together with the feeding back bass before Kim came in with her vocals and flute saving us from what would surely be a disaster.

As your sound evolves have you considered folding in new members?

Chris: It has been considered and discussed. No one fits the profile, so we've found ourselves multi-tasking quite a bit more.

Kim: We've played with a few people and although it sounds great. We are still open to this idea. Although it's been so hectic, we really need some time to practice with a fourth or fifth member.

Paul: Yes, we desperately are all running out of hands! We have talked about finding someone with horn/reeds and percussion talents or a 6 string fret-less electric slap bassist.

You have developed a fantastic relationship with UK label Upset The Rhythm - how did this come about?

Chris: They sought us out after an encounter with Kim's former band Crack: We Are Rock. Kim left them a copy of our first recordings and they wanted it for their first release. Up to that point, UTR was just collective focused on booking and promoting shows in London. They released the 10" Puppy, Kitty or Both and booked a UK tour for us. Most bands go there and play 5, maybe 6 shows. We played something like 14 shows in 13 days....

Will you be releasing more albums on Upset The Rhythm?

Chris: Hopefully.

Kim: Yes, I'm pretty sure we will.

You are currently touring Japan - have you done this before?

Chris: No.

Kim: I have in my old band but that was two shows on the same day. This time it'll be a bit expanded. I can't fucking wait! Its funny, we just found out we are going to play with Melt Banana which we are always compared to (although I'm a fan, it's a little annoying, 'cause I don't think we sound that much like them) but at the same time I'm really excited to play with them.

What other tours do you have lined up this year?

Chris: We're doing a short European tour in November through early December. After, we should probably tour our own country. At least, play in LA or something.

Kim: We are hitting Poland this time in Europe which I'm super psyched about.

How would you describe DS:P and the groups place in San Francisco's current garage rock dominated music community?

Chris: We actually practice in our garage.

Paul: I'm not sure I see the SF scene dominated by garage rock. There definitely seems to be more bands incorporating psych influences in their music, whether it is folk, noise, rock 'n roll, garage or whatever. I guess we do too to a degree with effect pedals and analog delays. It's not like any of our favorite local bands or our own previous bands every really fit into a community of similar sounding bands, just similar sensibilities. All three of our previous bands sounded nothing alike but often played together.

All three members of DS:P relocated to San Francisco at roughly the same time, 1998 - how you describe the evolution of music in the city over the past decade?

Chris: 1997/98/99 post-rock was all the rage. I would go to shows and watch people fall asleep, seriously. Around late `99, people finally got tired of this. At least people that I knew and would come to know. Bands started popping up that were out of control, did more "performance" oriented type shows, and made each show a real unique event. 2000, 2001 saw all of these bands meeting, playing with each other and forming new bands and they all sounded rather different from each other but yet they fit together. As time went on people calmed down, music calmed down, shows calmed down. You can't break mics forever. Now post-rock is coming back into fashion in the form of modernized psychedelic blues jams.

Kim: I want to emphasize the fact that back then bands were really different from each other, instrumentation, style, etc. But there was some kind of thread that held it together. It wasn't pussy music. I think we realized that and built a strong bond with each other and really supported each other as well as partied a lot. Economically, it was the dot com boom and then bust right? I think (even if it didn't really affect our lives immediately) it did somehow stir something up. We'll see what happens with our current situation.

Paul: I moved here in 95 and played in a hardcore band called The Fisticuffs Bluff for 6 months. After that I went to art school and didn't play any music that wasn't related to performance art in some way for 4 years. All the while I was still very much into aggressive and challenging music. During those years (95-99) I was not exposed too much of anything local that I liked at all. I seemed to keep seeing indie rock band after indie rock band. Then I slowly started meeting people that had the same feelings. I formed Total Shutdown in late 99 and as soon as we started playing I met all these other like minded folks. Again, not bands that sounded the same, but had a similar process. This is when I first met Kim and Chris and like Chris said, 2000-2001 was a magical year for music here. It seems to have run its course in some ways with that core of people. Less bands, side projects turned into main projects. People moved, quit, went back to school whatever, but there is still a very vibrant underground scene here of all sorts of stuff. Plus the noise scene has never really died down.

As a group how would you like DS:P to be remembered in the pages of music history?

Chris: Uhh, that band that used clarinet and flute.

Kim: It's not up to us. Maybe we won't be remembered at all. It's all up to who writes the books. If it's you, Chris Rolls, we're set!

Oh wait, one more question: would you ever consider eating panda meat?

Chris: No.

Kim: Yuk! No but I might try feeding the panda a piece of human flesh.

Paul: I am vegan but I'm sure if I was starving in the jungle and there was no bamboo or other alternatives and a beautiful panda had died of natural causes I'm sure I'd eat the shit out of some panda meat.

Tour Dates
Nov 19 2008 La Miroiterie Paris
Nov 20 2008 Grrrnd Zero Lyon
Nov 21 2008 Hirscheneck Basel
Nov 22 2008 XM 24 Bologna
Nov 24 2008 Arena Vienna
Nov 25 2008 Club Re Krakow
Nov 26 2008 Cafe Miesna Poznan
Nov 27 2008 Klub 007 Prague
Nov 28 2008 Cafe Kult Munich
Nov 29 2008 Komma Esslingen
Nov 30 2008 STIMULTANIA Strasbourg
Dec 1 2008 Le Noumatrouff Mulhouse
Dec 2 2008 Le Hublot Nancy
Dec 3 2008 OCCii Amsterdam
Dec 4 2008 Worm Rotterdam

http://www.myspace.com/deathsentencepanda

Photography: Dave Franklin {moscomment}

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contact FF

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"Veins of Octulen" by Curiot at FFDG

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