LISTEN: New Giant Swan

Bristol duo Giant Swan have announced details of their self-titled debut album.

Set for release on their own newly-founded label, Keck, the record takes in 10 tracks and comes preceded by lead cut and album opener ’55 Year Old Daughter’. You can hear that above.

The duo’s first album follows in the wake of releases in recent years for labels such as Whities, Timedance, FuckPunk, Howling Owl and Mannequin, having started out in 2015 as a side project for their roles as guitarists in the band The Naturals.

“Giant Swan is just the name of a never-ending story,” says the duo’s Harry Wright in a press release accompanying the album’s announcement. “This record is a conversation between aesthetics. A dialogue where a question is answered with another question until everyone in the room is left scratching their heads, or moving their feet.”

Giant Swan will be released on November 8 and can be pre-ordered here. A UK tour will follow its release through that same month which will see them play headline shows supported by DJs such as Rian Treanor, Ossia and Dis Fig. Find details of the Bristol show, which is set for November 23 at The Loco Klub, here.

Find out more about the pair in our 2015 feature on them here, and keep reading below for a new catch-up with them about their debut album and the process of translating their sound, which is often firmly rooted in the live experience, into a full-length record.

Bar the odd 12″ here or there, Giant Swan’s sound seems to have evolved by improvising on hardware at parties, raves, shows and festivals. Did you switch up your writing or process at all in order to tackle your debut album?

Robin Stewart: We toyed with the idea of retreating to the fated ‘rural studio’ to rustle up a brooding debut album, but to be honest, we were too busy playing shows up until the end of 2018, so we consolidated our energy into working on our off days at home between trips and it grew from there.

One thing that’s become fairly foundational for us is the duality between improvising on hardware together, and learning the grammar of the studio separately. The tracks for the album were written peripherally in the months before January / February 2019 and then quickly consolidated before we started touring again in March. We mixed it sporadically after that, which is basically the same process as for our 12″ releases and what not.

All in all I dunno if I’d say we ‘switched’ anything up in order to produce it – if anything it was the conversational and contextual processes which seemed to hold more sway in terms of ‘tackling’ anything. We chatted the arse off what the album could be whilst sort of automatically writing music all the time.

Harry Wright: Yeah, we wanted the album to reflect an honest narrative of where we’re at, so it didn’t make sense to suddenly switch up our methods or go live in the woods or anything haha. That being said, the only real difference between this record and our last few club releases is that I play guitar on most of the tracks. I wanted this to have it’s own instinctive reactionary quality against some of the more regimented rhythms on the album. There’s some moments where the guitar is very obviously in ‘conversation’ reacting to other instruments, acting almost like someone dancing at a club, moving differently to different drops in the music. That’s the role I wanted the guitar to have on the record… NO STAIR WAY!

We wanted the record to act as a sort of accompanying navigator to our live shows. Something to help put the live experience in context using self-referential practices and sonics. It helped give us some freedom when writing knowing that the record didn’t have to necessarily sound like the live show. There are definitely some moments where we achieve that, almost serendipitously if anything, but it was way more about creating a new bed of sounds to reference when playing live moving forward.

Electronic dance music is notoriously not an album-led genre. Did you have the usual conversations about having a dynamic variety of tracks versus having a tightly controlled continuity of sound and style; also about shortening tracks and worrying less about making them club-facing given that the album is more of a home listening thing?

RS: Aye, we had the chats here and there. ‘Is it too weird?’ was asked a lot, ha. It felt pretty natural when a tune came out of our work and we were both feeling it; like we knew roughly which track would begin and end the thing, where the milestones could go, if you see what I mean?

Personally, I’m often a little put off by the structural formality that a lot of electronic albums tend to adhere to, to the extent where context is almost irrelevant – like a ‘techno’ record is either ten tracks of dance floor fodder or an exercise in epic sound design and all the songs are about space travel. I think there’s got to be more nuance than tailoring the music to a palatable level where something is either ‘club-facing’ or not. If anything I suppose we wanted our first LP to serve as a snapshot of anything that could happen at one of our shows, whilst at the same time showcasing elements that would likely not be explored when we perform.

HW: I was definitely worried about it sounding ‘too weird’. I felt like making something that was too overtly experimental or indulgent would directly contradict how inclusive and conversational we aim to be as Giant Swan. I was concerned we’d be alienating people by preaching all of this stuff and then making an album that is our version of an answer rather than a question if you know what I mean? I always think good art is about dialogue with an audience, not just presenting them with a statement, it’s a two way thing. So as the writing and recording progressed, it became clear to us that we needed to have a balance. It’s gotta be about creating a world to contextualise our indulgence, but based on a sense of trust with the listener, like we gotta earn that shit.

We never really listen to whole ‘dance music’ albums so we naturally approached the record like a ‘rock’ album essentially. I’m not even sure we talked about it that explicitly but in terms of how we structured the whole thing and our reference points they were definitely more centred around weird indie albums, dub and chart music.

With regards to individual tracks we tended not to think about it in terms of how it would go down in a DJ set, but more about how it sounds as a SONG song and the place it has within a larger body of work. Our idea was to be self-referential in our sound but pretty loose and experimental with our methods, so it felt great to have 10 songs to show this as opposed to one track or EP.

I guess I came to Giant Swan via a more noise rock/DIY route given your backgrounds and the sort of festivals you’ve played over the years but from an outsider’s POV you seem to be equally at home on the techno circuit in 2019. In an age when you’ve got Mumdance putting out black metal albums as Bliss Signal and Raime strapping on guitars is there as much genre policing in techno as there used to be in your opinion?

RS: Yeah, there’s still a bit of a hither tither ‘policing’ in the techno thing. Like, ‘harder = better’ is a good one, ‘faster = better’. Obviously it’s fine to play really fast and brutal, but there’s a palpable self-consciousness that comes as a caveat with a lot of ‘industrial techno’, where if you don’t concede to an almost rhetorical way of playing your tracks, you somehow aren’t ‘x’ enough or there’s too much divergence into ‘x’ to denote what you’re doing as legitimate to a particular audience, or so we have found. I don’t know… we love playing the club circuit, but we wouldn’t enjoy it half as much without having learned first from the book of bands like The Locust or Blood Brothers or whatever, to inform how we do our thing.

Festivals like Supernormal or Supersonic for example have both opened their arms to us and made space for us to deliver our music to the right effect – they accommodate that crossover of the fringes of the club scene with the fringes of more experimental music and amplify the great qualities of all of it. In this regard one of our many privileges really is that we aren’t limited to playing one style for one ‘type’ of dancer.

It’s all bollocks really – we’re where we are because we enjoy playing live and want to meet all kinds of people and music fans. Whether there’s a ‘punk/DIY’ aesthetic in there or not is antithetical to why we like making and performing ‘club music’. We like dancing and we like the intense collective experience that goes down in both sweaty clubs and DIY noise shows eh.

To be honest, ‘strapping a guitar on’ to inject some life into some techno or whatever can often go the way of the indie band all taking to playing a floor Tom with vigour – it just comes across as a little self-serving towards an aesthetic more than a meaningful sound used to define something important. Like in the beginning we didn’t want to shove it down anyone’s throat that we played this way – we just wanted to make different music to what we were playing in The Naturals, but we only owned guitars and didn’t know what sequencers were lol.

HW: Totally agree, I think this correlation with heavier / faster / darker / noisier = BETTER within the techno world just highlights how one-dimensional the progression of genres within techno is. I mean even Raime and Bliss Signal, although sick af, choose to present themselves or their music as something to be taken deadly SERIOUSLY. Although the indulgence in making ‘black metal albums’ or ‘strapping on guitars’ can help push techno in interesting sonic directions, it can just as easily come across as an oversimplified novelty to some.

The progression from dark techno into dark industrial into dark ‘black metal’ or noise is not something that really interests me, but that’s probably because my day to day tastes generally fall outside of those genres, so there is only so much I feel like I can really offer when talking about, like, which Coil album is the best, or what my favourite scene in Until The Light Takes Us is. If club DJs are into using Bandcamp and listening to Sunn O))) that’s fantastic but I’m not sure this is an example of techno diversifying its sound, if anything this just further defines the ‘dark’ and ‘subcultural’ aesthetics that techno so heavily relies on at the moment.

We obviously have lots of time for ‘heavier’ music, but we take more influence from the live presentation and ethical orientation, not just the noise and fonts lol. Again, The Blood Brothers and The Locust are good examples of bands we look up to that took risks, preached inclusivity and above all didn’t take themselves too seriously.

What can you tell us about the track we’re premiering, ’55 Year Old Daughter’?

RS: ’55YOD’ is the first track on the album. Harry built it around the vocal loop which is an homage to Luxury Dad who were one of the best short-lived bands to come out of Bristol in the last few years. That’s about it.

HW: Yeah, ’55YOD’ is a track I made with the intention of trying to create a ‘hook’ or ‘melodic refrain’ within the parameters of #techno music. I obviously LOOOOOVE Rob’s voice and am always on at him about making a track that is centred around it. But he is usually too modest or abstract with the use of his voice, hehe, so I put my Mark Ronson hat on and forced him to be a frontman for a song lol. Track 1. Album 1. Number 1?!?!?!

Giant Swan will release Giant Swan via Keck on November 8

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