Whenever people talk about what makes a ‘healthy’ scene, whatever that means, I’m reminded of an infamous quote from music journalist Steve Suthlerland on the then-burgeoning London Shoegaze scene. A sound pushed by bands enjoying a healthy camaraderie, supporting each other’s gigs instead of fueling petty rivalries, Shoegaze became known as ‘The Scene That Celebrates Itself.’
Take a look at the current club landscape and ask yourself what space it leaves for self-celebration. This always invokes the same eye-rolling exasperation, towards a scene somehow plagued both by black-Tshirt elitism and the commercial monotony of ‘business techno’ at the same time. In many ways, techno’s ongoing identity crisis has made it the scene that denigrates itself.
Few artists are breaking this tired mould quite like Bristol duo Robin Stewart & Harry Wright a.k.a. Giant Swan, a name borrowed from a track by Seattle Hardcore band The Blood Brothers. Appropriately enough, Giant Swan fuse punk’s raw attitude into techno’s apocalyptic edge, a sound bent on screw-faced, unrepentant stack worship; a kind of ‘post-business’ techno that celebrates itself by bringing euphoric unpretentiousness back into the genre.
The last few years have seen them appear on Timedance, Whities and even the soundtrack for Raf Simons’ SS19 collection. Now, they’ve released a debut full-length through a new label – Keck.
We were lucky enough to ask them a few questions.
First of all, cheers for having a chat with us!
Robin: Thank YOU for asking for a chat!
Harry: Yeeeeee Thanksies! lol
Giant Swan seem to be getting around more than ever at the moment – how’s it been maintaining such a busy schedule while also putting out music?
R: It’s been quite a balancing act really. It’s been over a year since we released our last EP with Whities, at which point we were essentially preparing to be on tour until the end of 2018. We’ve learned to write on our time off between gigs and that was essentially the songbook for the album. It’s not ‘ideal’ but we enjoy working quickly and we’re able to maintain a duality between the live setting and our studio work.
H: Yeah it’s all been a learning curve! But it does help develop the conversation between our live shows and our recordings.. it gets to a point where there is so little time or geographical space between those two processes that it forces the output on both ends to be a pretty honest representation of where our heads our at. Both sonically and also emotionally.
Any gigs / experiences that have stood out for you recently?
R: We played in Parma earlier in the year with Tim Hecker & Maria W Horn in a venue attached to the largest natural maze in the world. It was a truly amazing setting. There was an almost Masonic type pyramid and a surround sound system. It was a really strange show but we were in love with how weird it all seemed and it was fun to play alongside a lot of beatless music. We saw many Ferraris.
H: Haha yeah that was craaazy, I posted a joke story on instagram saying we’re playing at The Church of Scientology and a fair few people believed it lol… I’m hoping that was because it LOOKED so believable, rather than because of any strong association with us and those future-comet-sea people #cruiseing 8)
What’s your production process like at the moment, and how did this album come together?
R: We predominantly work on stuff separately and then come Together for a mix and whatnot. The album was written pretty quickly relative to how long we spent mixing it – so like an idea might be brought to the table in a nearly close to finished shape but then we might play with the tunes around it to serve a broader context of how the songs work together as opposed to individual tools or whatever. Thinking about the album as a mobile whole became more of a process that we had to hone rather than what plug ins we were hauling in or anything like that.
H: Yeah I think the speed in which some stuff was done, helped us rely on our instincts more. Without thinking TOO much at certain points of the creative process, and where best to put that energy was the important thing. Some of our favourite tunes were made in like 2 hours, but then mixing could be 2 months. Working on songs separately at first has also helped us keep the writing fluid, honest and above-all more interesting. Sometimes we end up with a tune thats like 80% Rob and 20% me, other times it’s reversed or just ends up being pretty 50/50.. Most of the time songs come out way differently than either of us would expect, even though we can anticipate to an extent, certain creative steps the other might take, we always come out surprised and educated from hearing each other go IN. It’s good to listen and not just create, and working as a pair really allows for this to happen IRL so that process of listening doesn’t just haver to be internalised.
A debut LP seems like a big milestone – would it be fair to see this as a culmination of your previous work?
R: To be honest I’d say it was a divergence from what we’ve released before. We’ve put out a lot of music across spectrum, like tracks on compilations and tapes and stuff, yet a lot of attention gets put on the ‘industry 12”’ or whatever. With this in mind I think it was less a culmination and more about consolidation. Like I said, we worked hard to create a narrative that, whilst not being conceptual in nature, was able to establish a sense of place and time throughout the album. I’d say it’s more a direct response to the 2 solid years of touring that preceded it more than anything.
H: If anything it’s a culmination or consolidation of our work pre-Giant Swan if anything.. stylistically a lot of our references were guitar music albums, and again I think we naturally treated this record more like a band in a room rather than 2 producers on laptops (even if that was mostly what the process involved lol). In regards to our previous work as Giant Swan, like the club 12”s, yeah it’s definitely in conversation with those releases, but more in a sense that we feel like we’ve ‘ticked off’ certain musical aspects across those EPs and singles so if anything allowed us more freedom to explore new areas on the album, and not feel like we had to stay too close to what we’ve already released.
What led you to self-release?
R: Control, essentially. We’ve always been sticklers for being able to tinker with every aspect of releasing our music so setting up a platform that’s just ours meant we had all the control we could get. It was also important for us to be able to release our album on a label that just didn’t have any baggage; like it’s good to stand with your peers and colleagues and that but for this we just wanted to have our own patch.
H: Well it didn’t make sense for us to work with a label that would obviously wanna have their own ‘stamp’ on it, and would already have a demographic, style, aesthetic etc. established from their other releases.. We didn’t wanna play into another label’s pre-concieved ideas or agenda concerning this LP. Keeping the circle close for this record I think gave us more confidence and strength in our ideas knowing that we didn’t necessarily have to run it past anyone.
What’s the story behind the album artwork?
R: It’s a painting by our friend Stu Cranfield. The original photograph sort of stood out to us as a semi-perfect encapsulation of the feeling at the end of the night when the drugs are wearing off you’re cold and pissed and a bit passed it and you light your cig the wrong way. There’s an ecstasy at play with a profound sadness which we found both poignant and hilarious. That’s what we want the album to be.
H: Yeah it’s about duality and balance and we felt like this was nicely addressed by the scene itself (my gf Ella 5am night of her birthday) depicted in rich oil paints by Stu Cranfield. We wanted to show this juxtaposition of worlds and styles… humour with seriousness ya know? These are some of the core elements that MAKE US WHAT WE ARE MAAAAAAN *sips Rio* *coughs on blunt*
You both work on music independently alongside this project – what’s the relationship between your other projects and Giant Swan’s sound?
R: I’d say there are some tonal similarities between Harry’s music as Mun Sing and Giant Swan, albeit fairly general and not very embellished. But aside from that I think both our solo music is fairly separate from the Giant Swan sound and approach.
H: With Giant Swan it’s a lot more out in the open, its a physical process in every respect, and most importantly it’s with a whole other human being hehe. With Mun Sing I needed the project as somewhere to channel my own demons and experiences in to, it’s obviously way more personal, but with that comes some heaviness and the process can be a lot more in the head and less out in the open… I can make Mun Sing tracks quickly when i’m on a high (or an extreme low) but with that comes thinking about it before and after for like months lol so it all balances out in the end haha. The Giant Swan process is a lot more linear which allows for a different kind of instinctive and emotional flex you have to honour with the only tools we have… a cracked version of Logic Pro and some bad weed.
Bristol seems like a real hotbed of creativity at the moment – could there be a Giant Swan as we know it without Bristol’s influence?
R: Hard to say really. We’ve taken a lot from being from Bristol; whether it’s the social aspect of having crews like Young Echo there to feel less alone or having a large enough contingent of venues so that when Gary Newman tours he doesn’t miss us out. It’s a bit of a double edged sword at times coz there’s a lot of history here which can somewhat dictate the ways in which new music supported; but there’s such a strong community of artists and makers of things that it’s a positive place to be from for sure. Again seeing things like Timedance do well off the back of just putting on good nights and releasing good records has more to do with the community at work rather than all the trip hop.
H: Most of our ‘Bristol influence’ isn’t directly from trip hop or dub-step or even necessarily the actual music, again as Rob mentioned it’s more from a social sense, like having amazing communities and support networks for creative people in Bristol has made it easy for scenes and sounds to integrate. This is definitely something to Bristol’s credit (whatever the hell that means), and our most recent and direct experience with this has probably been with Young Echo.
They asked me to design a logo for them when they first started out and from there on introduced me to so much amazing dance music (outside of Bloghouse if that IS even possible) and we even played our first ever Giant Swan gig on their radio broadcast, so yeah I guess without them we wouldn’t be ‘Giant Swan as you know it’ hehe we’d probably just be The Naturals (acoustic)….Having said all of this I absolutely fucking LOVE Third by Portishead so yeah fuck it trip-hop is LIFE (sorry All-music-to-come-out-of-Bristol I just gotta wind the clock back another 10 years).
What can we expect from your new label ‘Keck’ in the future?
R: Not sure yet. It might just be a home for our more esoteric ideas post album but as of right now that’s a pretty open book.
H: A home for ALL and ANY music… so long as it’s released post 8th April 2008 (release date of Third by Portishead)
Club music or otherwise, any albums / releases you’ve had on heavy rotation?
R: Loraine James’ record is amazing. Been listening to that a lot. I also just got Dj Marcelle’s new album which is brilliant.
H: Today’s hot bangers are:
1. Aircode – Demanding
2. Yung Thug ft Travis Scott and Gunna – HOT
3. Deerhunter – Nosebleed
Giant Swan’s debut album is out now on KECK.
Words: Alex Davidson