“Hello. You may read this or not but were you the lead singer of Panchiko?”
The message appeared in Owain’s Facebook messages on a dark January morning in 2020. The apparent stranger was referencing his high-school band that split up over 20 years ago and existed in the pre-streaming era of anonymity. Owain had never expected to hear that name again.
“I was like, how on Earth would someone know about this music?” says Owain, who hesitantly responded that he might be, but how did they hear about Panchiko?
The user explained that the band had gained a bit of a cult following, and they were part of a Discord group that had been trying to track down Panchiko after a copy of their demos, D>E>A>T>H>M>E>T>A>L turned up at a charity shop in Nottingham. Still skeptical, he typed the name into a search, and held his breath while he waited to see what would surface.
What appeared were pages of fan-made videos from around the world, some speculating on the mysterious origins of the band, others suggesting that this was all an elaborate PR stunt, insisting that the music was far too ahead of its time to be a product of the early 2000s. Stunned, Owain scrolled through theories about why they disappeared and hypotheses about where they had gone that made his head spin.
“He [Owain] sent me a message just like ‘Google Panchiko.’ I was like, why would I do that? That’s a name I hadn’t heard in 20-odd years,” says Shaun. “I Googled it, and I was like, well this has taken a bit of a turn.”
As the former bandmates tried to make sense of how this relic from their teenage years had reemerged, one thing became clear: There were quite a few people out who had spent years trying to discover the truth about Panchiko. While the four of them obliviously went about their daily lives, there had been an international effort to track down the masterminds behind D>E>A>T>H>M>E>T>A>L.
Owain (vocals/guitar), Shaun (bass), Andy (guitar) and their original drummer John met each other while attending school together in Nottingham. Inspired by the burgeoning Britpop scene and bands like Nirvana, Blur, Super Furry Animals and Suede, they played in various bands until solidifying the Panchiko lineup towards the end of 1996.
Following an unsuccessful studio stint, the band decided to try recording in Andy’s bedroom using a Tascam digital recorder and Roland Virtual Studio. They synthesized obscure samples with elements of shoegaze, break-beat and guitar-centric emo to create two esoteric EPs rife with references to Japanese videogames, Frank Herbert’s Dune universe and whatever anime they were watching at the moment. “It kind of felt like you weren’t meant to do that at the time, but we were just teenagers, so we were like, ‘Let’s just do this and see if it works.’ And it didn’t at the time,” says Owain.
After self-releasing a run of 30 copies of D>E>A>T>H>M>E>T>A>L in 2000, which they shared with friends and sent to a few record labels, they remained unsigned and were ready to leave their teenage dream of pursuing music behind. While Owain kept some of the original gear and recordings, Shaun sold most of his guitars as the band members drifted off in different directions to start families and pursue non-musical careers.
However, the world had bigger plans for the “Sodium Chloride” crooners. It would just take a few decades for them to come to light.
On July 21, 2016, a user on 4chan’s /mu/ board uploaded a photo of a CD they had recently purchased in a Nottingham charity shop and asked if anyone recognized the band. A doe-eyed girl drawn in manga style peered curiously from the cover of four demos that were degraded by disc rot. The user uploaded the audio, which quickly began circulating around niche corners of the internet, finally reaching enough people to form an unofficial Panchiko search party.
Over the next few years, members of a Discord group chased clues around the depths of the internet, desperately searching for any information they could find about the elusive band, even calling the store in Nottingham where the disc was purchased. The only solid lead they had was the band’s first names, which were printed on the back of the CD.
Upon doing a quick search for people named “Owain” living in Nottingham, a common name in Wales, but not England, someone came across his Facebook profile. After shooting him a message that would confirm yes, he was indeed the lead singer of Panchiko, the end of their search was finally in sight. There was only one question left to ask, which had been the catalyst of the whole quest—did a clean version of the EP still exist?
After debating whether they wanted to ruin the ambiguous magic that shrouded the demos due to their degradation, the band ultimately dug up the original versions of both D>E>A>T>H>M>E>T>A>L and Kicking Cars. They combined them into one album, which they shared with fans on Bandcamp and Spotify.
“I wasn’t sure if people were going to like the versions without [the degradation], but I just thought people really tried hard to find this. They really want a clean version of the music, so let’s try to find it for them, and we did find a version for them,” says Owain. “Some people really like it, some people don’t like it, but it belongs to them a little bit.”
The record quickly amassed millions of plays in just a few months, prompting the band to ask themselves a question they thought they laid to rest over 20 years ago: Should they give Panchiko another shot?
On Dec. 5, 2021, Owain, Shaun and Andy waded through a mass of people packed into the Metronome, a 400-capacity venue in their hometown. With no recent band photos floating around on the web and this being their first show in over two decades, they didn’t need to take any steps to conceal their identities. No one in the crowd knew what the band who was about to take the stage looked like.
Outside the digital realm, where real faces replaced screen names, the band was astounded by the turnout. Unlike their early gigs at half-empty pubs, they found hundreds of people singing along to their songs. “I expected it to be a sort of cringey moment where these old guys step out onstage, and everyone goes, ‘What the hell was that?’ But it wasn’t. It was such an amazing experience,” says Shaun.
After the show, fans swarmed around the merch table, some wanting to get their CDs, others simply wanting to thank the band whose music helped them through hard times and led them to meet some of their best friends through the search.
“We still work normal jobs, we still do normal things. Then all of the sudden, there’s an instant queue who want to sign stuff and talk to you. That’s mad in itself,” adds Shaun. “You’re just like, why? I’m just a normal bloke. 20 minutes ago, when I walked in here, I was just a normal bloke.”
Following the success of their Nottingham and London shows, Panchiko booked their first U.S. tour, which they will set out on this month with support from They Are Gutting a Body of Water, Computerwife and Julie. Their first show is tonight, Oct. 9, in Seattle, and their run will wrap up on Oct. 30 in Chicago.
“The fact that when you were a teenager, you were able to construct something like that with your friends that speaks a little bit through time to people and says something still is mind-blowing,” says Owain.
Samantha Sullivan is a former Paste Music intern and writer based in Philadelphia. She can be reached on Instagram @fangirlpurgatory.