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Making Music with a Violin and Machine

Catherine Roland

On 2 May 2015, Durban-based electro duo Veranda Panda hit Friar Tucks in Grahamstown as the second last stop of their Going Coastal tour.  Liam Magner and Jane Baillie got the Friars crowd pumping like you’ve never seen before.  Baillie’s electrifying violin performance was met with applause from an ecstatic crowd and Magner’s beats and mixes had the people on their toes with his unexpected bass drops.

We were lucky enough to get an interview with them before they performed their set which left the dance floor jam packed. The booming noise of dancing steps and DJ mixes were in the background as Liam and Jane sat at the downstairs bar appearing calm before the show, red wine in hand.

Activate: The #1 most played song on your iPod or phone is…

Jane: Oh Oh by Noisia

Liam: Fanny Wobble by Liver

A: Iron Man or the Hulk?

J: the Hulk

L: Iron Man

A: Cats or dogs?

J: dogs

L: dogs

A: Chocolate or Vanilla?

J: chocolate

L: chocolate

A: If you were immortal for a day what would you do?

J: I would jump off things and fall off the ground.

L: If I could I would go into a typical war zone where there’s like a typical bad and a typical good, which doesn’t really exist anymore. (Places his right hand over his face) I’ve failed this question. I don’t know, I’d go fight a tiger.

A: If you could be an animated character who would you be?

J: Blossom from the Power Puff Girls

L: Cartman from South Park

As Jane thought carefully over her answers, Liam noted that she was the thinker between the two of them. Jane mentioned that Liam was “the figure head” and she was the “sail of the ship.” This comparison between the two individuals was easily visible throughout their interview as the two fed off each other’s enthusiasm. Their strong work relationship has amounted to an incredible friendship.

A: How and when did the duo form?

J: We met at a fashion show, it was the Durban July and we were both booked separately. I had a string quartet and Liam was in a different band and then we were told to do a song together and started talking backstage. And then you know you do that courteous thing where you’re like “Oh ya, we should totally meet up and do something again,” but you don’t think anything of it? And then we actually did meet up and it worked out well. From about 2011 we started to do our own thing and produce our own stuff.

L: It was that rare occasion when you start working together and you stay working together. For whatever reason it is, you feel like you have to live up to that person’s expectations. I was talking to Mike from PHfat about this, and we established that musician relationships are more hard-core than any other relationship; lover relationships or family relationships because they actually are a combination of the two.

A: Where did the name Veranda Panda come from?

L: I used to DJ before I met Jane; I was influenced by SciBot. And we went on a theatre tour to Belgium. We were on a free week drinking a lot of the local Belgium beer and we were making everything rhyme when my friend found a ceramic panda bear and he went: “Look at that panda resting on a veranda.” And I thought Veranda Panda. I initially kept it as an ironic, non-committal DJ name because I wasn’t quite serious. Then, I met Jane and we stuffed around with a few dumb names and thought “Veranda Panda is it.”

J: Yeah, we chose it because you can’t take yourself too seriously, we’re just a panda on a veranda trying to dance ourselves, and make others dance with us. You can’t take yourself too seriously

A: How has your ‘Going Coastal Tour’ been so far, and what is next for Veranda Panda?

J: It’s been rad! We don’t usually play around the Eastern Cape, we normally just end up coming to Grahamstown, like during fest and a couple of other times during the year. So it has been great playing in Port Alfred, Port Elizabeth and East London tomorrow.

L: It’s been a rare experience, the guy that’s looking after us, Ant, has given us the real tour experience. He fetches us, takes us to nice restaurants, places, landmarks the places that people speak about. And it hasn’t been easy, it has been tiring, sometimes the experience isn’t exactly what you pictured in your head. But that’s what it means to go to places you haven’t been before. But we love Grahamstown. We’ve been coming here for years.

J: We’ll be back here for fest as well from 4 July to 8 July.

A: What’s been your most memorable experience since you have been performing together?

L: The one that rings closest home is when we played at HIFA in Zimbabwe while Jane and I were still fresh, about a year and a half. We played an amazing show.

J: Mine was when we played Earth Dance, Cape Town in 2012 and we were shitting ourselves, we were opening for the international act, Ill Gates . We hadn’t spent much time working together and it was the kind of situation when you walked on stage feeling the pressure like flip, we can both turn around, and run away, or we can just go into the fray and do our best. We had a great show, it was incredible.

A: Tell us something about the other person that people generally don’t know.

J: (She laughs uncontrollably as she teasingly gazes at Liam) Liam used to be a bird watcher. He used to sit in a bush and he made friends one day with a Brown-Hooded Kingfisher. He was also a Springbok basketball player and in the Durban Boys choir when he was twelve. Liam has been working in the arts and performance scene for about sixteen years.

L: Jane was head girl at her junior school and was going to be at her one high school and then she left and became the head girl at her new high school. So basically, within a year and a half of being at a completely new high school, she was annoying enough, and committed enough and her homework book was so up to date that they were like: “We have to make her head girl.” She also played chess nationally and she went to Russia for the World Youth Chess Championships she was a springbok chess player. Jane has also been playing violin since she was seven.

A: What’s your favourite thing to do before a set? Do you have any traditions?

J: Our tradition is going for dinner at a nice place.

L: The main thing is to forget about the importance of what’s about to happen. So hanging out with friends, meeting new people and dinning with finer food makes us feel good.

J: But that being said, it’s not like we want to forget about the severity about stuff, it’s because we realise that we are in a very good position to be able to do what we do, that we don’t want to become pretentious and stuck up, we just don’t want to lose the joy and fire for what we do.

A: What can the crowd expect from your set tonight?

L: Well the set we are going to play is very different from what you’ve heard on Sound Cloud. We’ve had to get used to playing for large crowds in Durban that are filled with EDM kids and find a way to incorporate our style with dance music.

J: We try not to box ourselves with certain genre of music. I mean, we listen to a huge range of music, so we enjoy playing a huge range of music.  We cater specifically for where we play, which is why tonight will be different.

L: They can expect electronic music, with bass thrown in there.

J: We like to describe ourselves as making music with a violin and machines, because a lot of the stuff that we play is not just played on a CD J it is affected live. Liam affects it live off samplers and affects things live with his chaos pad and I play the violin live. Which, strangely enough, some people still don’t believe.

A: What has been your biggest challenge while on the music scene?

L: Dealing with Jane’s hectic schedule, she plays full time for the philharmonic orchestra in KZN. And for me, it has been believing in all of this, the hardest thing is dealing with yourself when you wake up one morning and go “Am I just living some stupid childhood fantasy, or am I achieving something?

J: Your authenticity relies in your self-belief. If you don’t believe in what you are doing, when you get up in front of hundreds of thousands of people they will see right through you. The other challenge is remaining relevant. You have to make a huge effort to remain in people’s faces and stay relevant to the times.

Jane and Liam are humble individuals who take interesting and unexpected mixes of music to a whole new level. Their music style went down extremely well with the Grahamstown crowd and Activate can’t wait to see them return to play for the National Arts Festival in July.

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