Panchiko plays nostalgia like an instrument. The Nottingham, England band has created a distinctive mix of lo-fi, shoegaze and indie rock that carries with it the essence of disc rot and old computers.
Panchiko’s sophomore record, “Failed At Math(s),” is slated to be released on May 5, but it took over 20 years after their first album to start making music again.
Their debut record dates back to 2000, when vocalist and guitarist Owain Davies, guitarist and keyboardist Andrew “Andy” Wright and bassist Shaun Ferreday, then-high schoolers, recorded an album called “D>E>A>T>H>M>E>T>A>L.” They burned about 30 CDs, sent them off to record labels and never heard back. Twenty years later, a 4chan user discovered the CD in a charity shop and posted about it online. The disc was mysterious, with no digital trace on the internet, and listeners theorized about whether the CD’s distorted sound was intentional or disc rot. The music and mystery garnered more and more attention, and 4chan users eventually managed to track down the band. In 2020, Panchiko uploaded “D>E>A>T>H>M>E>T>A>L” to streaming services, where the title track has since amassed over 13 million plays.
In 2020, the internet could not look away from Panchiko. Today, their sophomore record, “Failed At Math(s),” solidifies a distinctive sound that was not just a high school fluke. Guitarist Robert “Rob” Harris and drummer John Schofield joined Panchiko after the rerelease of “D>E>A>T>H>M>E>T>A>L,” and the band has since worked to make new music and perform their previous songs.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Davies and Wright, who joined the Zoom call from Nottingham. They talked excitedly about “Failed At Math(s)” and still could not believe their reality: that 20 years after they burned their first CD in their hometown, they would be making a new album for 665,200 monthly Spotify listeners all over the world.
“It feels amazing,” Davies said. “Surreal, though. It does feel a bit like you’re vindicated a bit, you know? Sort of like, ‘Oh, yeah, you did all right. You deserve to have another chance. Well done.’”
The band’s unconventional path to recognition is a remarkable story and difficult to forget, especially for the bandmates. While making new music 20 years later, Wright still remembers the early days.
“When ‘D>E>A>T>H>M>E>T>A>L’ came out, we released it, we made some demos and sort of everybody ignored it,” Wright said. “There’s always that in the back of your mind that people are just going to do that again. And I think with this, I don’t think people will ignore it, for better or worse.”
The bandmates fit writing, playing and production into their everyday lives. They are adults now, with jobs and families.
“It’s still mad that so many people support us and share the music and have got us here, really,” Davies said. “It’s a mad situation, and it’s lovely to be here.”
Close on the heels of their first U.S. tour in October 2022, the band will embark on their second U.S. tour in a couple of days, beginning in Seattle on May 7. Panchiko will play in Atlanta at the Variety Playhouse on May 26.
“It’s great seeing all the little friendly faces, and no one wants to stab you or anything,” Wright laughed. “But all the other gigs we’ve ever done when we were younger, there wasn’t the same sort of positivity, certainly, in the crowd.”
The crowds that swayed to “D>E>A>T>H>M>E>T>A>L” have yet to hear the band’s newest LP.
“We’re really pleased,” Wright said. “There was some sort of unfinished business with ‘D>E>A>T>H>M>E>T>A>L,’ but it felt like we’d released a whole bunch of demos, really. These don’t feel like demos anymore. We feel like we can be proud of [them].”
Finally with an audience in mind, Panchiko has created their most intentional project yet.
“We had more time to think about [the order of the tracks],” Davies said. “It wasn’t just cobbled together like the old stuff.”
But even with a fan base that would have been unimaginable five years ago, Davies and Wright both said they felt less pressure while making “Failed At Math(s)” because some of the tracks were reworked demos from “Ferric Oxide (Demos 1997 – 2001),” which the band released in 2020.
“We know people like this song anyway,” Wright said. “So if we make it better, then they would like it more.”
Davies views the new record as a step toward making more music.
“It’s a nice milestone,” Davies said. “It’s a good thing to go, like, old records got rediscovered … and then just having this moment of, like, we’ve made something cohesive — a full album.”
The new record’s title track and lead single, “Failed at Math(s),” is a lo-fi masterpiece with sparkling synth, grungy atmospheric beats and distorted vocals: quintessentially Panchiko, but distinctly new.
“Can’t recall the words right now / We put that to fire … These robot hands / Keep, I must know everything,” Davies sings. Abstraction defines the band’s discography. Dreamy and often nonsensical, the lyrics place the music in a playful realm that feels haunting at the same time. Panchiko’s brand of lo-fi transcends time, simultaneously nostalgic and futuristic in its computer-inspired instrumentation.
“We were trying to do something new that was recapturing the old stuff on it,” Davies said about making the record. “I still want to go, ‘Is it lo-fi enough?’” he laughed.
“Portraits” is the album’s third single, a gloomy, mellow song with Davies’ vocals laid atop atmospheric instrumentals.
The second single, “Until I Know,” exhibits the catchier, hook-filled side of Panchiko’s range but stays true to the band’s lo-fi roots. Davies’ vocals are clear and prominent, a contrast to the band’s typical shoegaze vocal production. He belts to slow, heavy drums and crisp guitar. It is a track to replay over and over again just for the opening guitar riff and the haunting bridge: “You know you always need this much / You know you always need this.”
The instrumental “Breakfast Seance” is a two-minute meditative trance of a song, punctuated by dings and drum beats. Bass and prominent drums carry the listener through, with atmospheric background vocals so soft that they might just be your imagination. The fourth song on the eight-track album, “Breakfast Seance” falls right in the middle, like an interlude to catch your breath after the momentous “Until I Know.”
A set of three former demos close out the record, all first released in 2020 on “Ferric Oxide (Demos 1997 – 2001)”: “Gwen Everest,” “Think That’s Too Wise” and “Rocking With Keith.”
“Rocking With Keith,” the record’s closer, boasts a prominent piano feature and clocks in at over five and a half minutes long. By far the longest song in an album of two and three-minute tracks, “Rocking With Keith” is a testament to Panchiko’s ability to create a total experience with instruments alone. The song fades into static at the midway point, then bursts back with full force as the keys speed up and finally devolves into gritty distortion, building back intensity through the static. The distortion seems like a tribute to the source of the band’s reincarnation: the mysterious, disc-rotted charity shop copy of “D>E>A>T>H>M>E>T>A>L” that got the internet talking about Panchiko.
Wright reflected on the sound of “Failed At Math(s)” — familiar, but still new.
“It’s a nice progression, but I hope people don’t feel kind of alienated by it,” Wright said. “That’s why we added or finished the demos from ‘Ferric Oxide’ in there as well because we really didn’t want to scare anybody away.”
But die-hard Panchiko fans, 4chan day-ones and new listeners alike will be far from scared away from the band’s triumphant sophomore album. “Failed At Math(s)” is practically magnetic — failing at nothing.
Oli Turner (she/her) is from Manchester, Massachusetts, majoring in English & Creative Writing and minoring in Rhetoric, Writing, & Information Design. Her work has appeared in Atlanta Magazine, Boston Hassle, and the Manchester Cricket. She co-hosts the Wheel's arts & entertainment podcast, Clifton Culture, which spotlights student artists at Emory. Outside of the Wheel, she serves as Vice President of WMRE, Emory's student-run radio station. When she's not writing, editing, or DJ-ing, you can find her at the nearest DIY show scoping out local live music.