Founded in 2016 in Madison, Wisconsin, Panchromatic Steel has blazed an entirely new trail in the city’s music scene, fusing island styles with pop hits, rock and jazz into a high-energy blend that is hard to categorize but easy to love. With top-shelf instrumentalism and wide-ranging appeal, Panchromatic’s music brightens any day, transports listeners to their happiest moments in the sun, and threads the needle by being artful yet accessible to virtually everyone.
At the heart of Panchromatic’s sound is the steeldrum, or “steelpan” as it's known in its native Trinidad & Tobago. The instrument is a sawed-off 55-gallon oil drum with the top stretched into a bowl and hand-hammered to create tone-producing dents that ring when struck by rubber-tipped mallets. Its tropical associations are hokey to some and delightful to others; but either way, the cliches at best tell only a small part of the steelpan’s story. In reality, they belie the instrument’s fierce but woefully under-appreciated musical tradition – one which boasts levels of complexity, creativity and energy rivaled by few other musical artforms.
While Panchromatic Steel embraces the steelpan tradition, it also aims for something new with vocals and a variety of other instruments, including horns, vibraphone, keyboards and multiple percussionists. With its multicolored palette, the band re-imagines danceable favorites by the likes of Earth, Wind & Fire, Led Zeppelin, and Stevie Wonder and rocks them as well as any guitar-based cover band, and usually far more memorably.