The Panda on the Veranda: An allegory of passion, music, and success

(as published on ActivateOnline.co.za, 17/02/2017)

He coiled his fingers, one by one, around the draught in front of him. While his hands explored his beer glass, the rest of Belgium disappeared for that moment’s embrace. He touched the condensation, and appreciated the cold, and the iciness of the liquid gold in front of him.

“Hey, hey Liam. Hey, hello? You alright dude?”

Liam snapped-out of his brief meditation, and looked around. Back to Belgium, back to the theatre production, back to his Belgian beer…

“Yeah, no, I’m good, shot. Sorry.”

Glancing down, something caught his eye. Just to his left, perched on the mahogany table, was a ceramic figurine. At first, the black-and-white colouring threw Liam off, but he quickly recognised the little panda, and found himself smiling at the absurdity of its pose. As if lounging on a veranda, on a scorching summer’s day, the ceramic panda was stretched-out on his back. The details of his expression were absent, but Liam could see a bright future for the panda. All that the little guy needed – Liam thought to himself – was a gin-and-tonic, some sunglasses, and a cigarette.

“It’s a panda…”

“Huh?”

“…lying on a veranda.”

“Dude, wh-“

“It’s a…”

“Dude, what on Earth are you talking about?”

“… it’s a veranda panda.”

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The novel to Veranda Panda’s success-story may not yet be finished, but this Durban-duo are sure to write a few more chapters before they’re done. If you haven’t heard them already, they’ll be touching-down in Grahamstown this Friday evening for another not-to-be-missed set, and are eager to be back in this humble little city we call “home.”

Jane Baillie and Liam Magner are the real-life manifestation of the ceramic panda Liam first spotted in Belgium all those years ago. The above-story may have a little poetic license, but the origins themselves are true as gold. Since meeting each other in 2010, the two have toured extensively both internationally and locally, and the unique blend of Liam’s live DJ’ing with Jane’s live violin continues to captivate their ever-growing audience.

Liam started out playing at house parties in 2002, where he could fully immerse himself in music production. He says he learnt much of what he knows today by watching local acts – such as The Real Estate Agents – and just giving new things a shot. Jane, on the other hand, still has her seat at the Durban philharmonic orchestra, and now switches between Beethoven and beat-boxing. Pretty cool.

I also asked Liam what he loves and hates most about DJ’ing: “I love long DJ sets, where you get to ride the wave of the energy and test out loads of music and genres. Its rad when you find yourself in that ‘zone.’ I’m not really a fan of those 45-minute sets.” And then he mentioned something which is what I find sets Veranda Panda apart from a lot of the music that’s out there at the moment:

“DJ-culture irritates us a lot. It’s pretty cringe-worthy, actually, because most kids just use it as a platform to be cool, get free drinks and bang-out the hardest tunes. There is almost zero originality.”

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Liam and Jane are avid supporters of live shows, where people can watch and engage with an artist playing his or her instrument. In that “spur of the moment” atmosphere that live sets provide, Liam finds that they can create a uniquely vibrant and eclectic mix that often switches between six different genres. The hassle of sound technicians is a downside, but Liam still thinks that their live sets, their long sets, and their creative freedom is what makes Veranda Panda such an exciting enterprise.

And why Grahamstown, you ask? Liam has been to every National Arts Fest since 1999, both as an artist and an audience member, and Jane has started doing the same for the past six years. “Being such a small town, you create memories on every stone, street corner, bar and venue,” Liam told me. “Going back is always a heart-warming experience.”

So, if you’d like your hearts warmed, make sure to catch Liam and Jane at 37 on New this Friday, and see Veranda Panda give yet another one of their phenomenal shows. Their set starts around 23:30, and until then you can blast their Soundcloud and check-out some of their music. Their latest single, Chocolate Mermaid, is also available for download on iTunes, so go and show these local legends some support. They deserve it.

See you Friday.

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