Producers, DJs, and artists all describe the creative types making sounds out of laptops, but the word musician still carries mystique. You don’t throw that one around. Swindle is a musician. The South London-born virtuoso has made that clear across the series of singles and albums he’s released on Planet Mu, Deep Medi, and Butterz, connecting current electronic concerns to a rich vein of funk, soul, and jazz, stretching back to George Clinton and beyond.
He’s one of the few whose tracks can make a rave go absolutely nuts while also translating to a live music setting when he performs with his band. Ahead of his new album Peace, Love and Music, we spoke to Swindle about his roots, his music, and archaic computer systems. — Son Raw
First up, how’s your shoulder? I heard you had a bit of a rough one on tour.
Swindle: It’s good, it’s healing! Still attached. The tour was great, it was a wicked time. It was my first time in Latin America. I’d been to the USA and Canada before but that was definitely the biggest and best trip I’d done to America.
Did you grow up in a musical family? Not much’s been written in terms of your background but given your musical lineage…
Swindle: I grew up in a musical family, my dad is a big jazz enthusiast and he plays the guitar. I grew up DJing, listening to drum & bass – my upbringing was quite an extreme mix of different styles of music, mostly through UK underground bass music in its early stages, and funk, soul, and jazz.
Did you see any links between those genres back then? At its peak, there were so many jungle tracks sampling classic jazz and funk records.
Swindle: My dad had all those sampled records. He would forever be showing us up. Whenever he’d catch us listening to something he’d say, “Oh yeah, you know where this is sampled from, right?” And he’d do the same with hip-hop as well. That was good because I learned the link quite early to be honest. I’m talking like I’m 8-9-10 years old! I’d be listening to jungle through pirate radio.
There used to be a computer console called the Commodore and it took tapes. We somehow used that tape player in the game console to record pirate radio that we’d find by accident. We lived in South London so there was a lot of pirate radio at the time. To be honest, I probably heard the music before I was 8 even.
Wow, it’s become a bit of a cliché to say that grime and dubstep producers [like Dizzee Rascal or Skream and Benga] started off making music on PlayStations, but I don’t think I’ve heard of anyone recording any sort of music on a Commodore.
Swindle: This is old school man! It was really really the beginning of me finding underground music in England. I only got my decks when I was 13 or 14, I was massively into drum & bass and jungle and I needed decks to play the records I wanted. So I learned how to mix quite young, and through college I continued getting involved in music as much as I could and working with local artists – rappers and singers and such. I wanted to contribute to music any way I could.
Was it a big leap to get from there to grime? Your sound stood out and still stands out in the community, even next to other records that got played by Elijah and Skilliam during their run on Rinse.
Swindle: I just made music that was honest. For me to make nostalgic, rare-groove records would be a bit of a lie. I’m in my 20s and I’m from London and the style of music I make needs to represent that. That’s why I try to avoid making straight up records, if that makes sense. If it’s honest it just occupies the space it occupies.
So I don’t worry about genre, to me it’s just making music all the time. I’ve devoted every minute I’ve had in the past 10 years to making music and pushing myself. Now I’m recording live musicians, I know that not a lot of people do it in the area of music where I operate, but so many people do in music that I generally listen to in life, so it doesn’t feel like it’s out of the ordinary for me. People have been recording horn arrangements, and string arrangements and guitars for a long time! I didn’t invent that, I’m just trying to contribute something new to where I’m operating.
20 years ago, people would have been, “Live instruments are played out,” but today, that really stands out. The list of contributors to the album is massive.
Swindle: That came together really organically. It wasn’t forced really, anything that really takes a lot of planning isn’t me. The strings did, but everything else was off of vibes. I was jamming with musicians as I traveled. I’m open to collaborating with people. Not just singers or rappers, but anyone who has anything to do with music. Like, if I meet a professional triangle player, somewhere out there, there’s someone who can bust that out like nobody else! And if I’m in a room with him, well, Bass music needs more triangle!
We hear a lot of that additional live instrumentation and a wider scope in Peace, Love & Music as compared to your debut, Long Live the Jazz that still felt very keyboard focused. What led to that transition?
Swindle: Launching my live show with my band from Long Live the Jazz taught me a lot. Playing on stage with them opened me up to a lot more opportunities and possibilities recording wise, it definitely affected how I write music. It also helped me take what I do musically way more seriously in terms of pushing my sound into new territory.
We’ve toured Europe and played up and down England. We haven’t taken it on a long haul flight cause it involves a lot of people. I’d love to bring it to the States though, hopefully that’ll happen in due course. I feel there’s a lot going on in the States that connects with it as well, people react to it, and like it. It’s definitely something I want to keep pushing forward and exploring.
Where’d the peace, love & music concept come from?
Swindle: It was just something I found myself saying a lot – same with Long Live the Jazz really. These things just go around in my head and eventually I put them into a collection of music. I guess my main aim is to contribute something positive through music with as many people who believe in the same thing as me, as possible. Peace, Love & Music was the easiest way I could describe that feeling!
Was the album mostly recorded in London?
Swindle: No, not at all! The countries that have tags in the titles is where I recorded those tracks.
I thought they were about those places, but I didn’t realize that’s where they were made.
Swindle: “London to LA” was done in LA, Denver involved recordings from a show I did there, and so on and so forth. Sometimes I just had to find a studio. A promoter would ask me if I wanted to go back to the hotel but I’d say “no, I want to go to the studio!”