潘PAN

Making an unforgettable entrance with her boundary pushing artistry, welcome 潘PAN (real name Pan Wei Ju), one of the most groundbreaking musicians you’re likely to hear this year.

About

Though Pan Wei Ju is an entirely new artist – new outlook, new message, new material and name – you may have met the woman herself before. Back in the mid-’10s, the Taipei-born rapper went by the moniker Aristophanes. After performing a career-changing feature on ‘SCREAM’, taken from Grimes’ celebrated NME Album of 2015 ‘Art Angels’, Aristophanes went on to build a cult fanbase, releasing her debut mixtape ‘Humans Become Machines’ two years later and then… silence. The release disappeared from Spotify, while confused fans started entire Reddit threads dedicated to discussing where the musician might have gone.

The answer, however, comes now in the form of ‘Reborn’: Pan’s first new material since that time and the first to be released under her own name. There’s no grand story to the Spotify wobble – her old distributor went bust during Covid; it’s now back on the platform, re-released by new label Transgressive Records. But as for the musician herself, Pan is reemerging with the same new energy that the EP’s title might suggest. “Aristophanes was me writing in my bedroom and doing my own thing, whereas now after years of travelling around, what I want to do is more about connection,” she says. “As an artist I’m more mature. This new music is bigger and it has a stronger message.”

It’s perhaps no surprise that Pan needed a little more time to settle into herself and her art. Raised by a mother who “hated music” and refused to have it in the house, she recalls having almost zero access to pop culture until she moved out of the family home. “We didn’t even have a TV in our house so I literally knew nothing about pop music until I started making music myself,” she recalls. “ When I started in the music industry, everyone would be referencing people and it was a whole new experience for me. I was never around these things; I had the desire to experience it first and then I learnt about it after. Music was just in my blood.”

Inspired by the storytelling of the Taiwanese rappers that she then began to listen to, the heavily male-dominated scene at the time, however, made it almost impossible for Pan to broach. Undeterred, she turned to the internet, reaching out to producers on Soundcloud and collaborating with artists across the globe and outside of her bubble; what she describes as her “Aristophanes era” then became about learning and testing the waters, developing her own skills and broadening her musical world.

“I wanted more freedom and possibility than the environment I was in could give me. I never got recognised as part of that [Taiwanese] scene, but I still had the desire to keep creating so I found somewhere else to go,” she says. “I was still looking to build my identity – not just in music, but in everything. It was like I was testing the skills; like a machine, I was still testing the functions and things I can play with.”

Working with Grimes – a fellow self-taught female artist who produces and engineers everything herself – was the confidence booster that Pan needed. “If you’ve got ears and you’ve got a desire to express, then you can learn all the things from Youtube – it’s not just limited to men,” she says. “I can learn that and I can do what I want, I just need to do the work.” And so, for the past half decade, Pan has been doing exactly that. She’s moved to Lisbon, where she lives with her recently-adopted cat Truffle; she’s been working with other people, “witnessing how they do it”, and most importantly, she’s been writing. A lot.

And so ‘Reborn’ arrives not just as a first glimpse into the next phase of Pan Wei Ju, but as the first part of many due for imminent release. There is a second EP, ‘Ghost’, coming soon, while full album ‘Pan the Pansexual’ is complete and will arrive later in 2024. They’re separate but linked, showing a journey of growth and emboldenment. “‘Reborn’ is me now having a different identity, and then ‘Ghost’ is more personal and deep. In my mind, I imagine playing in a small venue and getting really close to the audience and sharing something bigger,” she smiles. “It’s a journey from something more vulnerable to something stronger and braver and more open.”

Across a constantly morphing sound palette that moves from metallic, apocalyptic beats to delicate nods to the traditional music of her Asian heritage, via heavy, industrial moments, spacious soundscapes and much more, the thread is Pan’s utterly mesmeric vocal. Performing in a mix of Mandarin and English, she explains that having the two languages to play with is “like featuring another artist who has a different way of describing things”.

“When I was in Taiwan and I started working with producers who didn’t speak the language, it made me think about how I perform my voice to use it more like an instrument to express what I’m saying,” she continues. “I feel like I have two personalities when I speak. In Mandarin, I’m more soft and poetic and I can express really delicate stuff, and in English I’m more like an angry teenager! It’s an experience I never have when I speak Mandarin so it feels so fresh and raw and straightforward.”

Across the releases, confident sexual expression mixes with tenderness, empathy and a particularly feminine sort of strength to create a world that Pan hopes will transcend language and connect her audience via something more innate. “The music is a place to feel safe,” she says. “The message that I want to carry through these two EPs and the album is to demonstrate the strength of accepting your own situations. When you can’t make things right but you’ve done your best, sometimes it’s really hard to admit that to yourself. It takes strength to do that. I use lots of sexual metaphors, but I feel like it’s more about the female need to be seen and heard. I want to build something more delicate and layered and connected to our life experience – to the trauma and the pleasure and the growth.”

In the time since she last stepped into the spotlight, the musician has experienced her fair share of all these things. Now, it’s as an entirely evolved artist that she returns with a new collection of music that revels in it all: the trauma, the pleasure, the growth and the long-awaited rebirth of Pan Wei Ju.

With her latest, four track EP ‘Ghosts’, Pan continues to test limits with her art, demonstrating she’s a true pioneer of sonic diversity and range. The title track, produced by Clams Casino and mixed by David Wrench (Sampha, FKA Twigs, The xx), is accompanied by an otherworldly official music video

Releases

Ghosts

Reborn

Humans Become Machines

Darkseid

SCREAM

Watch