We Wanted To Connect Different Styles: An Interview With Swing Ting

Son Raw speaks with Manchester's Swing Ting about the UK Club scene, their label, and working with Equiknoxx.
By    August 29, 2016

UK club music never stays static, swinging from impulse to impulse like a pendulum. So with instrumental grime entering an increasingly abstract phase and house stuck in stasis, the door is open for club-centric music that’s fun and easy to dance to without being facile or predictable. Manchester’s Swing Ting has been operating in that space for over 8 years, first as a series of parties and more recently as a label as well.

Run by Samrai and Platt (who also produce under the Swing Ting name) alongside Joey B, with Fox as a resident MC and Murlo, Brackles, Trigganom and Famous Eno as additional residents, the collective has specialized in connecting various strains of dance music together: principally bashment, garage, funky and grime.

Whereas far too many “deconstructed club” producers suck the fun out dance music, Swing Ting keep things raw and uncut, building tunes with a vision born of years listening and playing good music. I spoke to Samrai and Platt about their beginnings, the label and their latest link up with dancehall dons of the moment Equiknoxx.—Son Raw

Swing Ting’s rapidly becoming known as both a party and a label, but let’s turn the clock back a bit: how did you guys come together? When did you first start throwing parties and how did that expand into a label?

Samrai: We first met in university; we both had friends in common who thought we’d get on due to both of us being obsessive about music. We first started throwing parties in 2008 and this expanded into a label from wanting to have an outlet for some of the great music that we were playing that didn’t have an obvious home at the time. ‘Skank’ by Brackles & Fox is a prime example.

Platt: Yeah, ‘Skank’ kind of arrived at our doorstep just as we were starting to seriously consider releasing music. I think people were surprised that the first release on the label wasn’t by us since we produced under the Swing Ting name, but it just made sense. For the party, I think it started really clicking into gear about 3 years ago, and we found ourselves in a position where we knew that we were doing something really different from average club nights. It was definitely the next logical step to try and take some of those sounds outside of [Manchester venue] Soup Kitchen.

2008 is a while back – What were you playing back then?

Samrai: A lot of Funky. The Funky thing was kicking a little bit. Bits of bashment – it was quite a good time for that as well. Bits of rap stuff. Grimy stuff too, bassline and things like that. There were a lot of dubstep nights going on and that had started to implode a little bit so we made a quiet decision to do something a little bit different.

Platt:We were playing predominantly records – the new stuff wasn’t too different than what we do now but there wasn’t loads. We had a lot of grime and garage records. I remember playing a really bad old production of mine on the CDJs but otherwise, mostly records.

I remember that Starkey tune getting played – the one with Durty Goodz [Gutter Music on Keysound]. That was a digital release that we were playing out. The style of Djing at that point was different – we selected a lot of older stuff because we didn’t have so many dubs.

That was also a really open in era, musically.

Samrai: There were a group of DJs we were excited about. Oneman, Brackles, Ben UFO, Mosca and Martelo – they were exciting to watch and what they did was very open. You speak to garage heads – guys like Zed Bias – and in their era you were in a niche: you played one style. We wanted to connect different styles, bashment and garage and rap.

Platt:Our general strategy for playing different styles was to start with bashment and a bit of hip hop and then get in there with 130BPM bashment and move into faster UK riddims. Now we can kind of bounce around in a much more organic way.

Samrai:There were a load of these Busy Signal and Aidonia tunes produced by Stephen McGregor. Mavado had loads of up-tempo material as well, we’d mix that with funky.

Nowadays, what’s that process like in terms of switching it up between genres and styles?

Samrai: Playing with our MC Fox is quite cool. It’s easier to thread that vibe with him on the mic. For stuff like a Boiler Room mix, we’d plan that up since it’s archived, but in general it just flows quite well.

Platt:We don’t really plan – you just learn it in the mix. You hear something and go “oh, that works really well” and you’ll keep it in the back of your mind for the next gig. Generally, everything’s reactive. At Swing Ting, 30 minutes set are the norm at the moment and we keep rotating on and off. You don’t know how the crowd will be feeling at any given point, so we just bounce off what the last guy played. We might bring it down or take it up. The lack of planning might have made us less polished in the beginning, but now it’s made us much better DJs, I think.

You guys bring together a wide variety of musical influences, both UK and Jamaican (even as those two musical cultures are very intertwined). Musically, what are your individual backgrounds?

Samrai: I listened to a lot of hip hop & R&B growing up… as well as playing in a punk band for a bit! But I got into dance music in my teens through my sister playing Basement Jaxx and Roni Size. Loudly! Later by locking into late-night radio shows I discovered underground dance music culture and began buying records and DJing at house parties in my late-teens and into University. Whilst at uni I loved going to Hotmilk, a wicked dance run by Joey B, Bobby Irish, Riddim Master, Jean-luc & Amanlikesam (give thanks) where I grew from an affinity towards dancehall to a deep love and appreciation.

Platt:My dad’s a jazz musician and was also pretty heavily involved in Huddersfield’s steel pan community, so I’ve been around carnival culture since I was tiny. Early 2000s rap and R&B was the first music I ever really became obsessive over though, I remember listening to Westwood and Goldfinger in bed on my radio walkman when I was 12ish, and then downloading horrible Hot97 rips off winmx to listen to at school.

When I moved to Manchester at 18, that was the first real exposure I had to music like that in the club, especially at nights like Joey’s Hotmilk – where the importance of a solid soundsystem was really drummed into me.

There’s this common view for outsiders (read: guys like me) to reduce UK dance music to London and sometimes Bristol, but you guys have really planted the flag for a new generation of Manchester acts. How is it throwing parties there (both the city and your venue Soup Kitchen)? In terms of vibe, what differentiates it?

Samrai: In the city as a general rule, people go hard in a different way and love partying. They love music and have great taste and record collections. It’s a great city for raving and throwing parties, particularly at Soup Kitchen – the crowd keep bringing the energy each month and it always leaves me feeling on a high for several weeks after. It’s almost therapeutic! People seem to leave their inhibitions at the door and there aren’t too many phones out, they’re too busy skanking.

Platt: I think there’s a better sense of fun in Manchester compared to other cities – and it’s not about being silly, I just think there’s a culture of raving that allows people to push boundaries and expectations without everyone standing around and analyzing it. Definitely at Swing Ting, we’ve managed to build a crowd where we can throw on music that’ll test people. We put on Florentino’s 200bpm double-time reggaeton sections for example, and they’ll just go with it.

One of the unique things about the label is how there’s a common thread to what you guys put out, even as the genres are spread out. How would you define what makes up a “Swing Ting release”?

Samrai: It’s hard but there’s definitely a character we look for in a tune. There is a sense of some functionality in terms of the tunes being built for large sound-systems but perhaps it’s sincerity in the way it sounds that we look for. Like Florentino’s release felt so honest, not trying to be a super hard over saturated dembow club tools but raw vibey dancefloor-ready rollers.

Platt: I reckon the number one thing is that we can play it at Swing Ting. Even with Fox’s Musik EP, the opener Chaos is something that we’d play right at the start of the night when we’re setting the tone. It’s hard to explain, there’s just a vibe that connects everything.

Madd Again!’s MaddTing vol.1 Is a particularly big project, and was your first album. How did that full length release come about?

Samrai: It was a real blessing. I’d known [group member and garage legend] Zed Bias for ages and had heard some of the proto-Madd Again! material at his studio with Jon K a little while back before the label had been coined and loved it.. I had been playing some of these tunes out and knew the damage they could do! When we started putting out our 1st releases on the label we hooked up with Zed who was looking for a home for the full project. A few meetings, studio sessions and emails later and we had the ‘Beg Nar Fren’ EP together and later ‘MaddTing Vol. 1’ in our lap.

Platt: We were so honored and lucky to be approached by the guys about putting out their music. It totally fits everything we want to do and marries the UK/JA vibes perfectly. It’s just great soundsystem music for the time we live in now. It also feels like a proper Manchester record, without shouting about it.

Balancing that Jamaican and Manchester element is kind of Key to Swing Ting from my perspective as a listener. Not many people get that balance right.

Samrai: Clubbing now, it’s easier because people want to hear a lot of styles. 10 years ago, people wanted one type of music per night. Like, a drum & bass night would be that all night. Now there’s more freedom. We all thread everything together with music from our team.

Platt: Label wise, it’s fun to marry that UK style of production to outside influences. I mean, it’s always been like that since ragga garage in the 90s. It’s about making it accessible to a crowd that might not be used to hearing those kinds of vocals. Mixing it up with UK instrumentals with common sounds and BPMS helps it go over. One thing is, we all play at all different tempos anyways and we’ve noticed there’s a total lack of stuff between 110-120BPM that we’re trying to fill. So we basically make stuff we want to play. When we put the Florentino EP out, other than them being wicked tunes, DJs told us they were just so useful for transitions.

That Florentino’s EP was a major switch considering his previous material as Samename. It’s also a bit of a move away from that Dancehall dynamic into a different space. How’d you decide to sign it?

Samrai: He’d been involved behind the scenes from the start so it was less of a decision, just more of timing. We’d known Florentino for a while and got on really well before starting the label and he was up for doing a release with us. Jokingly I asked him to write an EP when he went to Colombia to visit family one summer. He came back with most of the EP and some fire edits, and later he completed a few more tunes to seal the deal. We spent the next year building up the label’s repertoire until we thought we were all ready to drop it. I feel his release fits in with UK soundsystem roughness balanced with his uniquely romantic sound. The Dembow beat synonymous with Reggaeton is the link with Jamaica as it’s originated from Dancehall pattern, so I feel there’s that connection to the Dancehall-infused side of our catalogue.

Platt: Maybe it was a departure if you look at the catalogue in isolation, but again, in terms of the vibe of Swing Ting as a clubnight, it totally fit. Also, I think if you look at tracks like Perdido, it’s essentially a bashment tune through a different lens. I think we’re really happy that we were the guys to put out the first Florentino music – he’s gonna go far.

The amazing thing to me is that it came out so fully formed. The Samename project had a really defined aesthetic and this was just as complete while sharing very little with it.

Platt: I think Florentino is much more true to him. He’s a young guy and I think he was never going to be making the Samename stuff forever. As soon as he started the Florentino thing it was quite apparent that was the way forward.

Samrai: It’s like he found his sound a second time around almost. His Coolie Joyride remix was his last Samename tune and if you listen to it, it was almost his first Florentino tune as well. It has that feel to it and it goes off with people who don’t know the original tune. The first time he dropped it as Florentino, the whole crowd went mad. That was one of my favorite sets at a Swing Ting party and he said it was his favorite set of his ever.

Platt: Even when he was playing with instrumental grime guys, he’d always play a lot of different stuff too. It was never straight grime, he was drawing for so many styles.

What’s the learning curve been like since starting the label? You guys have had a pretty consistent release schedule, has your process changed as you’ve gone along?

Samrai: The learning curve hasn’t been too severe as we have acquired a lot of friends in the musical sphere we operate in, so when we said we were starting a label up people showed love from early and gave us tips and nuggets of advice.

We’ve gotten a little more organized in terms of what is needed and when by and how to communicate that with artists, this also helps by the building of a great team of people behind photos, graphics, mastering & mixing, etc. Shout to Louis Reynolds, Karen Kazabon, Mike Fallows, Smutlee, Eoin Macmanus, Ben Lamb, Subsequent Mastering, Rupert Cogan, Kush Arora, Zed & all the behind the scenes team!

Platt: We’ve got this pool of artists giving us music constantly now, which I think means we can control the flow of what we put out much better. There’s always loads of stuff in the pipeline – which probably allows us to be better at pacing the releases and making them slot alongside each other.

The Fox EP brought the whole team together production wise. How did that one come together?

Samrai: Again this release was something we’d discussed with Fox before we even started the label but became more of a thing sometime mid-last year. We’d reached out to the producers we were working with and they’d supplied us with beats: shout to Florentino, Famous Eno, Brackles, Puppy Disco & Murlo. Some of the tracks had been recorded when Fox had just vibes-d to a tune, such as Downtown Uptown & New Swing, so they just needed to be finished off. Others were made nearer to the time of the release and specifically for it as a concept – Big Man Ting and Chaos were like that. To be honest we could have kept going and recorded more and more tunes for it, some didn’t make the cut, but we felt it fit really nicely as a 6 track set and it just so happened that we’d managed to bring everyone together on the production too. The moment of realization was a listening session when we Fox, Joey, Platt & I all had our eyes closed listening to the set as one track.

Platt: I think we were really keen on making it an all in-house affair from the get go. Everyone who contributed to production has played at Swing Ting, with the exception of Puppy Disco, who just definitely gets it (and that should be rectified fairly soon.) It just helps when the producers know the environment, and especially that they know how Fox operates. Fox himself just deserves the shine – he’s such an important part of the night and Swing Ting as a whole.

Finally I wanted to talk about your relationship with Puppy Disco & Equiknoxx – as I got massively more familiar with them through you guys…

Samrai: It’s a crazy one really. The Internet is mad, this wouldn’t have happened so easily without it. I’d been checking for Equiknoxx stuff for a while, I heard a Heatwave show where they played a full set of their stuff and I just felt like I needed some of their music – it was so good! Even the old uptempo bashment we spoke about earlier, we didn’t realize it, but they had made a lot of what we were playing. 2-3 years ago, I ended up messaging them through Twitter, got an email address for Puppy Disco and we just started speaking and trading music.

Gavin [Puppy Disco] really liked Fox’s stuff in particular and Fox was up for having different producers, so he sent some tunes for Fox to vocal. At the same time, I sent him a riddim that became the foundation for “Tease Me” and he asked to get a vocalist on it and remix it, which is how we got Kemikal involved. He also sent us Lizard of Oz, which ended up on the Bird Sound Power album. Fox vocaled that actually, so it may come out one day.

It basically went from these emails to him ringing me up to us remixing each other’s tunes. On our end we remixed a Busy Signal vocal they sent us and yeah, it was the start of a really cool link up. I think I chat to Gavin every day at this point, he’s a really good friend as well. We even went out there to meet in person. Wicked guy, same with the rest of the Equiknoxx family. Plus they’re on their own wave, they’re like Ward 21 for their generation – their riddims are really different and on their own thing. Plus we share the same influences: they check for grime and that’s rare in Jamaica, still.

Platt: In terms of Bubble, which just came out on Swing Ting, we knew the Bird Sound Power compilation was gonna open the door for a new audience to appreciate them. By taking the vocals away, it was in a whole new context. But we wanted to put out a vocal, and do it quite soon after the album to show they had that hardcore side as well, they’re not just experimental artists.

Platt: Demdike Stare and Jon K [who put out Bird Sound Power] were fine with it too. I thought we’d get some backlash for putting out this hardcore vocal right after the instrumental stuff, but they were like “no that’s great!”

Any plans moving forward?

Samrai: More releases with the family! Some exciting collaborative works with other producers and artists around the globe. Infinite vibes!

Platt: Plenty of sick parties, plenty of fire releases on Swing Ting and plenty of new music from us to come, on and off the label.

We rely on your support to keep POW alive. Please take a second to donate on Patreon!