The Strange Lives of Pan/Tone

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Sheldon “Pan/Tone” Thompson is a man on the run. In the past five years, he’s moved from Toronto to Cologne to Berlin with numerous waypoints in between; he’s fresh off a season of festivals and an Amsterdam holiday, and there’s a criminal on the loose with a grip of his gear. Yet It’s all much less sinister than it sounds, explains the creator of the thick, bouncy dark techno/house hybrid album Skip the Foreplay. “When I moved from Cologne, the final week, my studio got broken into,” explains Thompson, who now calls Berlin his home base. “More than 60% of it got destroyed or stolen. That was my ‘Goodbye Cologne’ party!”

Not that it was a bad run for Thompson. Lured away from Torontonian punk and hip-hop bands by a well-established techno community centered around the Kompakt label (and, of course, a girl), Thompson expanded upon the rock-infused electro of his Sid Le Rock alias, the dubby, bedroom-eyed tech-house of his work as Gringo Grinder, and the globalized techno of Pan/Tone, which touches on early Detroit, the arpeggiated synths of ’90s Europe (Orbital’s footprints are all over “Falcon & the Snowman”), and the distorted rock aesthetic of Justice.

The call of Berlin proved strong, not in the least because fellow Canadian cronies Jake Fairley and The Mole (a.k.a. Colin de la Plante) had already made the jump. “For the five years that I’ve been living in Germany I was dead-set against moving to Berlin even though so many of my friends were living here,” says Thompson. “I’m glad I did it finally. Everyone’s gravitating towards here so it’s bound to happen. As I was moving here it was springtime, so the tulips were rising from the ground and everyone was in a great mood; everyone’s out of hibernation mode. With that comes a lot of parties and it kind of rattled my brain but now I see that everyone does eventually rest... So time to record!”

If you’re getting the idea that Thompson likes to upset straight-laced genre tags, you’d be right—and don’t expect any less from his chaotic, high-energy live sets, which tend to cycle through his aliases depending on the gig or festival. “It gets a bit confusing,” he informs. “When I get booked to play somewhere, I always have to come with three different live sets and then ask the promoter, ‘Who am I tonight?’ Split identities work against me!” And despite his name, the one identity Pan/Tone doesn’t assume is that of graphic designer. “I like color but I’m not actually a designer,” he avers. “After a while it’s kind of a stupid nickname but you just go with it anyway.”