Liam Magner sits in the corner of the smoking section; he’s dressed in all black and wears a monkey’s face around his middle finger. Later this evening, he will stand on stage, wrapped in flashing lights and pulsing beats as students stomp, stumble, bounce and dance at the Intervarsity Afterparty at Rhodes University. But before he takes to the stage as Veranda Panda, we meet at Champs Action bar to talk about pandas, mix tapes and his time in this town.
The other panda?
“It’s myself and Jane who are Veranda Panda. But when the booking came through, we knew that Jane was busy,” says Liam. “She’s in the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra (PNO), so she’s back home in Durban and it’s me playing by myself tonight. I’m really excited and I’ve done quite a bit of prep work. Some really cool edits; some cool remixes.”
“Most people who are our fans know us as the two of us, and now it’s just going to be me. But hopefully everyone is going to be so drunk they don’t notice.”
From mix tapes to albums: how Veranda Panda happened
“I started making these really terrible mix tapes when I was 19,” says Liam, who was studying Drama at varsity and mixing music as a hobby.
“I was in Belgium for a theatre conference thing with the university and we were making everything rhyme. We found this panda bear leaning over a veranda and someone said, ‘Look at that panda on a veranda’ and I just said, ‘A veranda panda!’”
“My mixes were really shit and I thought the name was fun – it didn’t try to mean anything, so I used it as a joke – a nickname for my mix tapes. The Veranda Panda Mix Tapes.”
“Then I met Jane in 2010, where I was DJing and she was playing violin with her quartet and I said to her, ‘We should do something’ and she said ‘Yeah, we should do something’. And you know you always say to someone, ‘Let’s do something’, but we actually did something. That weekend she found me at Origin and we just jammed.”
“That’s the brilliant thing about her – her ear is incredible. You can play something she’s never heard and she’ll just jam along with it. So we started doing that in 2010. Halfway through 2011 I was like, ‘This is cool. We actually get along and we do cool stuff, so let’s make an album’. We did, and the rest is history.”
The pitch perfect team
“Everyone likes their alone time, but travelling on these tours is very lonely and having somebody with you makes it a lot easier. Jane and I have a really good rapport and a great relationship. We fight a lot, but any strong business relationship is supposed to fight and challenge each other.
“We have a lot of fun, we keep each other company and the great thing is, we fill in for each other’s weaknesses. I can’t read music and I can’t play an instrument, but I can write music. Obviously there’s massive amounts of musical knowledge that are missing from what I do,” says Liam. “Jane is one of the nerdiest musicians you can get. She knows everything. You can tap a glass and she’s pitch perfect, so she can tell you what the key is.”
“So her strengths and creativity mixed with mine means that what we create is really original. I don’t think anyone makes the music we make and I don’t think we can make the music anyone else makes.”
The song that captures their sound
“The song that defines what we do the most is Salmon Rose, which probably no one knows of. We’ve released four EPs – four or five, I can’t remember – and Salmon Rose is this perfect mixture of my weird electronic background and Jane’s classical and musical background.”
“It was based on Jane’s violin teacher. She’s a Bulgarian woman. A beautiful, wonderful lady who taught Jane violin and was first violin in the KZN PNO, and now Jane actually sat first violin the other day, for the first time and at the age of 25, which is pretty incredible.”
“Salmon rose was her favourite food, so we just named it after her because it’s a really beautiful song and she’s a really beautiful person.”
Pandemonium, performing and prison in Grahamstown
“Grahamstown is a special place for me. This town has a lot of memories for me because it’s only ever good times that I’ve had here,” says the man who was once chased from Masonic Hall to Pick ‘n Pay by a girl trying to beat him with a stick. But that’s not the only mischief he’s managed while in town.
“I’ve been arrested here for jumping a stop street because I was late for a show,” said Liam. The performance was starting in 10 minutes and he had begged the police to hand him the fine as quickly as possible. “They were taking their time on purpose because I was being stroppy. Then I just drove away, because otherwise I was going to miss the opening. But they caught me 200 m down the road and arrested me. So I missed the entire show. That was shit.”
Rings, pandas and honey badgers
Rings: “I like rings, a lot. I like to collect animals, mostly. I had a stork, a snake, a tiger, and I’ve lost them,” says Liam. A monkey’s face decorates his left hand, a black square adorns his right, and a large silver ring from New Orleans hangs from his neck.
“This ring was sold to me by a woman who sounds like someone you meet in a movie – you know, on the side of the river like ‘You, booi, I’m gonna sell you this’. It didn’t fit any of my fingers, but I really liked it because of the Celtic engravings, so I put it on a chain.”
Pandas: “Pandas. People throw a lot of pandas at us. If there’s any meme that comes out, someone will get it first and send it to us, and we’ll be like, ‘ha ha ha’ and then a week later, we’re like, ‘Oh my god, they’re still sending us the picture of how to make panda bread.’”
Honey Badgers: “My spirit animal is a honey badger. I found it out at a trance festival in Cape Town about two years ago. Some guy told me.”
The future for the dynamic electric duo
“We want to become one of South Africa’s premier live electronic acts. By premier, I mean Top Three. I think we already have it in us. We’ve got a whole lot of work ahead of us – a whole new set up, a whole bunch of new music and it’s just going to take a bit of work.”
“We’ve already done the hard work – the five years we spent working together and the ten years before that spent learning what we do. So we’ve put in the time and we really want to be playing the big shows for appreciative crowds; pushing our music onto radio a lot more and going overseas.”
This isn’t the beginning, and it’s not the end
Liam’s music has certainly grown tremendously since his early mix tapes, and in addition to getting great bookings locally, Veranda Panda plans to hit Goya and Amsterdam next year.
“It’s all part of the journey. It’s like how I can’t see myself grow taller from the age of two until now. I don’t see myself growing taller, but when I look at photos, I realise that it must have happened. It’s the same with this journey with music. It started a long time ago and I don’t remember the feeling of it changing, but obviously it changes.”
“It’s come a long way, and there’s still a long way to go,” says Liam. “It’s so great to be able to do this for people and for a living. Sometimes I’m like “Fuck, really?!”