Pete Bingham, lynchpin of cosmic rockers Sendelica, has put together one of the weirdest musical collectives known to man. Or beast. Meet The Lost Stoned Pandas, whose members include Electronic Sound’s own space voyager, Panda Kris
Here hangs a tail, black and white, swooshing sonic space dust and intergalactic mischief to manifest as one of besieged 2020’s rarest species – a runaway success. From loose beginnings, The Lost Stoned Pandas have mushroomed into an ever-growing collective, cavorting around their Sendelica-spawned core, their records instantly selling out limited edition runs.
Just as their giant namesake gobbles pounds of bamboo to be swiftly digested and shot out the other end, The Lost Stoned Pandas’ organic evolution presents an ongoing digestion-defecation cycle that starts with swirling maelstroms of soaring guitars, deep-space drones and arcane electronic uproar, before embracing an increasingly diverse panorama of musical influences. They were even joined by one of those influencers when The Orb hopped on board.
“You can almost see the timeline running through the last 10 years of how The Lost Stoned Pandas came about,” says King Panda Pete Bingham as he tries to pinpoint the gestation of the band’s bamboo empire. “With the pandemic, we’ve been searching for different ideas and these other things have been emerging.”
It was around five years ago that I first discovered Pete’s cosmic rock outfit Sendelica and was perplexed as to why they rarely got mentioned in the press. Making contact with Pete, I found a Geordie who had settled in the Welsh coastal town of Cardigan and formed the band over 15 years earlier. He was already in possession of the open-minded ethos that enabled him to lace their Floydian space voyages with everything from krautrock to dub to disco.
Sendelica’s special relationship with Fruits De Mer – the UK’s foremost psychedelic imprint and possibly the only label that could cage The Lost Stoned Pandas – goes back to 2010 and ‘A Nice Pear’, a seven-inch featuring cover versions of The Velvet Underground’s ‘Venus In Furs’ and Funkadelic’s ‘Maggot Brain’. Since then, they have also recorded audacious reworks of ‘Ziggy’-era Bowie, Hawkwind, The United States Of America, Frank Zappa and The Walker Brothers, as well as Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’, which they transformed into a 21-minute krautrock epic.
Fruits De Mer started putting out original Sendelica material with the first of their ‘Cromlech Chronicles’ albums in 2016. All four volumes of the ‘Chronicles’ are included on the recent ‘The Compleat Cromlech Chronicles’ boxset, along with the band’s torrential stream of releases in different configurations, many of which regularly fetch three-figure sums on music auction sites.
Subconsciously preparing his brain for an outsized panda head, Pete Bingham initially ventured outside Sendelica with two albums under the name The Fellowship Of Hallucinatory Voyagers, ‘This Is No Wilderness’ (2017) and ‘Tenderness Avalanche’ (2018).
“The Fellowship was a vehicle that allowed me to play with anyone else I wanted to,” explains Pete. “I wanted to bring people from different artistic disciplines together. The first album was with a poet and the second was with American electronic producer Craig Padilla. I then did a third album with an artist who painted the sleeves by hand and I’ve now started the fourth, called ‘The Imaginary Gallery’, with another painter. She’s created five pictures that I’m making music to and I’ve written five pieces of music that she’s painting an answer to. It brings a whole artistic discipline into a musical setting.”
I found something of a kindred spirit in Pete and we inevitably discussed recording together, beginning with a cover of Tim Buckley’s ‘Drifting’. After the awful events of June 2018 when I lost my soulmate Helen Donlan [the agent and author], Pete turned the track into an evocative instrumental tribute. I played it to Wonder Schneider, my partner in Secret Knowledge, who wrote some beautiful lyrics for it. We called it ‘Windmill’ and Wonder flew in from Cleveland, Ohio, to record the track at the magical Mwnci Studios, where Sendelica had made the ‘Cromlech Chronicles’ albums.
Located deep in a forest in Carmarthenshire, south-west Wales, steeped in history and bathed in atmosphere, the state-of-the-art studio nestles in the former servants’ quarters of a mansion that stood on this site for centuries. In a nearby part of the forest nestles the Cromlech itself, an imposing ancient burial monument.
Wonder stunned the room with her ‘Windmill’ vocal, improvised a stunning gospel a capella, and also sang on Sendelica’s version of The Gun Club’s ‘Bad America’. The latter, incidentally, has just been remixed by production legend and Beastie Boys collaborator Jay Burnett, with a rap from South Bronx Zulu Nation member MC Dynamax. Back in London, Alex Paterson and Paul Conboy volunteered to remix ‘Windmill’, crafting two luminescent and deeply moving Chocolate Hills versions of the track to complete the ‘Windmill EP’, which was released last year.
“That was the beginning of the whole Pandas thing, really,” says Pete.
There was clearly something exciting afoot. Pete and I talked about forming a collective and experimenting with drones, both electronic and charged with Third Ear Band-style pagan flavours. Returning to Mwnci during the summer of 2019 for the first proper Pandas session, Pete brought in the string section from his Fellowship sets, retaining our original drone idea like sinuous turbo stools scything through the electronic starsailing.
“Paul, Kate and Rhiannon brought this classical edge, which is great,” says Pete. “It’s hard to find classically trained string players who can improvise.”
Even the Pandas’ name arrived through spontaneous combustion – in this case by playing Facebook Messenger tennis with GIFS of giant pandas. First it was Stoned Pandas, then Lost Pandas, before we finally ended up as The Lost Stoned Pandas. Within days, Pete had suitably rechristened all the participants, acquired huge panda heads for everybody to wear in photos, and created the band’s distinctive boggle-eyed acid panda logo with drummer Panda Jack.
The first emission from The Lost Stoned Pandas came last November in the form of an EP, ‘Panda 1 – Pandamonium’, the metaphysical bamboo drones ebbing and flowing around Pete’s snake-winding guitar, Panda Kate’s cello and Panda Paul’s violin. The record also features Sendelica’s Colin Consterdine and Glenda Pescado, plus Astralasia’s Marc Swordfish. With a numbering policy inspired by The KLF, the three-tracker is led by ‘Track Seven (Pandering To Witches Mix 2)’, a heady stew that blasts the stargate off its hinges.
“We’ve also got Panda Chris on board as the band’s electronics boffin, making all these weird noises,” says Pete. “He doesn’t have any keyboards, just oscillators that he puts through tone generators to make random noises and electronic storms. It reminds me of Silver Apples, these little bits here and there, so I think their influence has gone into what I’m doing with the Pandas. It’s all a bit out of control, which is really good.”
The response to the EP took Pete by surprise, the initial pressing striking an immediate chord and soon selling out.
“I completely underestimated how popular it was going to be,” he admits. “I had no idea how people were going to take it, so I only did 50 on vinyl and 50 on CD. It’s on eBay for £100 plus now. It’s caught on very quickly… much quicker than Sendelica ever did!”
‘Pandamonium’ was followed by a double album, ‘Tune In, Turn On, Get Panda’d’, on Regal Crabomophone, the Fruits De Mer offshoot. Dedicated to Scott Walker and tipping the scales with the weight of six bombardments, astral tent-pole stiffies rise in the panda pants as disparate musical strains mate with super-fertile consequences. It climaxes with the 21-minute dream sequence ‘Track Three (Into The Hadron Kaleidoscope Mix)’, the mind-blowing sonic smorgasbord spanning spoken word, video game mayhem, funkadelic groove, krautrock, ambient, heavyweight synth eruptions and guitar-violin dogfights.
The rarest Panda offering of all, the lathe-cut ‘Panda 3 – Glory’ seven-inch, had been intended for this year’s Record Store Day before it was kiboshed by lockdown. Revisiting Wonder’s Mwnci session and transforming her rousing gospel incantation, the single comprises Panda Colin’s discofied ‘Hallelujah Mix’ and Pete’s ambient version. The stratospheric original marked my Panda recording debut, reviving the bongos I’d acquired 50 years ago after witnessing Third Ear Band playing in an Aylesbury studio, alongside my old friend Rick Pearce on cello.
Now there’s the ‘Pandademic’ mini-album and it was perhaps inevitable that The Orb would come on board again for this. Alex Paterson and his studio partner Michael Rendall have sculpted a sublimely pulsing remix of ‘The Great Lockdown Of 2020’ for ‘Pandademic’, joining ‘Consterdine’s Dr Benway’s Cure Mix’ and a ‘Panda’s Munchies Mix’ of ‘Lazy Anyday Afternoon’. In return, the Pandas resprayed The Orb’s ‘Hawk Kings’, one of the highlights of their ‘Abolition Of The Royal Familia’ album, with radioactive turbo gas.
“After ‘Windmill’ was done and dusted, it was nice to meet Alex in the real world,” says Pete. “Working with him has been fantastic, because I’d seen that The Orb were going to be a force to be reckoned with from their earliest gigs. It was very interesting to see how Alex works and how he approaches things. The idea of remixing has become a big deal with the Pandas actually. Marc from Astralasia has done some remixing too. We’ve worked together a few times and we get on well.
“With all these people bringing things to the melting pot, I think we’re producing something quite different, something that’s unique. If it wasn’t for the lockdown, we probably wouldn’t have done the remix of ‘Hawk Kings’ or had The Orb do ‘The Great Lockdown Of 2020’. You have to make the most of the situation, so that’s what we’ve tried to do. The thing with the Pandas is, there’s so much scope. We’re not really hemmed in by anything. There’s this open-endedness that I like. You can go down avenues that you wouldn’t necessarily get to go down with other projects.”
If The Lost Stoned Pandas have ridden the lockdown like humping a smooth log, the uncertain times have also ignited a more intimate electronic project. As The Isolated Psychedelicists, Pete Bingham and Colin Consterdine have combined keyboards, guitars, samples, beats and noise for four online-only volumes of ‘Sounds From The Isolation Zone’.
“Colin and I started doing those tracks a couple of weeks into lockdown,” says Pete. “At the beginning, we were racking our brains as to how we were going to be able to make some money and keep our heads above water. We had lots of ideas and we bombarded each other with whatever came into our heads. The situation we all found ourselves in was obviously present in our minds, but the motivating force was this notion of rising above it and a desire to create something for the people who have enjoyed and supported our music in the past.
“In the end, we decided we wanted to make some spontaneous music. We wanted to be in the moment and not over-complicate things. Looking back, we did the tracks so quickly and intuitively, they’re kind of like sketches. One is being repurposed for ‘Panda 5’ and another has made its way towards Sendelica. I think my playing changed over that three-month period. It became more melancholic as I was becoming more melancholic.”
Back in 2018, Pete told me, “I have so much music in my head that I want to get out… and as I get older I worry about not doing that”. He would have probably guessed that he’d be up to his fourth Fellowship Of Hallucinatory Voyagers album by now. And he’d have definitely known that another Sendelica long-player would be right around the corner (titled ‘And Man Created God’, by the way). But he could hardly have dreamed he’d also be fronting a new critically acclaimed collective. Nor that this role would require him to sport a giant panda head.
“It’s mad, but I’m not going to complain,” he says. “It’s amazing how things grow organically and metamorphose. You just have to allow yourself to be flexible and for the music to change by searching for different ideas to engage with. I completely get that.”
This Lost Stoned Panda eats, shoots… and stays.
‘Pandademic’ is out via sendelica.bandcamp.com