“As you can see, we’re all not just a bunch of 14-year-old kids.” Owain, lead vocalist of the band Panchiko—and a bearded, 30-something-year-old adult man—is addressing one of the many rumors that circulated for years about the identity of his group. In the late ‘90s, Panchiko were an obscure, shoegaze-pop band who remained active just long enough to record one record that nobody heard. Twenty years later, they became one of the internet’s biggest musical mysteries.
Compact Disc (CD)
On July 21st, 2016, a user on 4chan’s /mu/ board posted a photo of a mysterious CD they’d found at a record store in Nottingham, UK: a rough-worn demo titled D>E>A>T>H>M>E>T>A>L, purportedly released in 2000 by four musicians: Owain, Andy, Shaun, and John (their last names have purposefully omitted in this story; more on that later). The listener uploaded the ripped audio—the recordings sounded like they were plagued with disc rot—to file-sharing sites, and later YouTube, where they began circulating among internet music circles. The record’s sensationalist appeal was multifold. Was this an honest-to-God ’90s curio? A prank hatched by internet-savvy teens? An internet experiment in nostalgia, in the spirit of vaporwave? Nobody knew. So the Panchiko hive mobilized, gathering on subreddits and discord servers, examining every square inch of the packaging for potential clues, and even calling the Nottingham record store where D>E>A>T>H>M>E>T>A>L had allegedly sprung up in the first place.
It wasn’t long before the internet detectives showed up on their door—or rather, in their inbox. “I woke up one day,” recounts Owain, “and ping—there’s a message on a defunct Facebook page of mine, with some music, that I hadn’t updated in nine years: ‘Hello, you’ll probably never read this, but are you the lead singer of Panchiko?’” The query took Owain by shock; to his and Andy’s knowledge, D>E>A>T>H>M>E>T>A>L> had never been uploaded to the internet. The Panchiko fandom finally made contact the following day, when they received their reply from Owain, a simple “Yeah.” At last, the world had confirmation: not only were Panchiko not 14-year-old kids, they were the real deal, right down to the tape rot.
Compact Disc (CD)
For a viral phenomenon, Panchiko’s actual biography, as told by Owain, Andy, and Sean, is rather unremarkable: just four childhood friends working with cheap equipment, no money, no label, and certainly no promo. Inspired by the genre-swapping, electronics-inflected rock bubbling forth from the UK (Owain cites Super Furry Animals and Radiohead as two of their biggest influences), and abetted by the newfound affordability of digital-recording software, Owain and Andy assembled D>E>A>T>H>M>E>T>A>L> in their bedroom. “I used to have a keyboard called the DJX, and it was this 200-pound instrument that had two seconds of sample memory. So, you had two seconds to sample—that was it,” Andy says. “I don’t think people realize how crap the equipment was that we had access to.” (This explains the disc rot—another mystery solved!)
After completing the album, in 2000, Panchiko pressed 30 copies of D>E>A>T>H>M>E>T>A>L>, which they sent to journalists and record labels. Nobody responded. Eventually, the band members went their separate ways, leaving music by the wayside (except for Andy, who currently works in mixing and mastering). That may explain the band’s initial freak-out upon the album’s re-emergence; it was, after all, a run-in with their teenage selves. “I’d find the CD every couple of years when we were cleaning out the house,” says Owain, with a mock sigh of relief—“Thank god, I’m glad that CD isn’t on the internet.” Not that he and the others are ashamed of the record. They’re pleased by the results, especially considering the technological and financial constraints they were facing at the time; all three members say they prefer the tape-rot version to the remastered version they uploaded late last year. But the past is the past, and they’d prefer to keep it that way (hence, the withholding of last names).
“The fact that other people like it, and it’s become something else to other people…I think that’s brilliant,” says Owain. “And isn’t that the point of creating something, that it becomes something else? it’s got a life of its own, and if it means something, have it, enjoy it!”