“Swans, they’d break your arm.”

To the unlikely Bristol duo of Harry Wright and Robin Stewart, swans and broken arms are definitely at the heart of their catastrophically energetic project, Giant Swan:

“I was talking to someone today about how the best thing that ever happened to Harry was him breaking his arm. Our mate Dave and him were doing big hi 5s. They were doing them all night in the club. The next day he met Dave and said ‘aw should we do a big hi 5?’, and they did a REALLY big hi 5. Dave is bigger than him, plays more footy than Harry, his shoulder dug into his arm and basically snapped it in half. He was in plaster for months.”

Having been part of 4 piece band The Naturals since their early teens and working mainly with guitars, Wright’s stint in plaster drove him to a drum machine and brought the pair down an unlikely route riddled with techno and droning vocals that has produced a multitude of acclaimed EPs and now their self-titled debut album.

On this occasion it’s Robin on the other end of the phone line, fresh off watching the new Joker film and nursing some cans while sitting outside mulling over what he’d just seen.

“We toyed around with the idea of writing a really techno record with about 20 bangers on it. We thought it made more sense to pair it down and be a bit more sparing with it. There’s bits and bobs of techno but but there’s more than techno. Also techno albums are kind of shit, they’re really hard to do. It’s usually really functional, there’s so much to take in. We didn’t want to try and do a techno thing that would be very contrived.”

“None of the albums that I’ve really enjoyed this year have been straight techno ones. Apart from the Karenn one, that’s just a session. I really liked Loraine James’ one because that’s like a story with beats. There’s not a great deal of techno on there (his own album that is), but there is some like YFPHNT.”

The talk of techno albums comes at the release of their resounding long playing debut that marries their hellish vocals with almost harsher industrial tones we’d usually align with more uniform techno. Attention has come from Boiler Room to The Guardian, along with a whole host of DJs and producers alike, as well as highly receptive crowds along their UK tour that finished up in Bristol last weekend.

“It’s been three weeks and it’s been remarkable. It’s been really overwhelming in places. All the shows have been amazing so far, I’m looking forward to coming back to Ireland because our last show in Dublin was great and I’ve heard Dali is fantastic. It’s a nice way to tie off the tour, I think it’s been something like 15 consecutive weekends of shows.”

DJs are the first to complain about hefty travel schedules, calling into question how the hell Robin can scream into a microphone with the same ferocity every show despite the toll of constant toing and froing.

“You just do it, I don’t know! It would be easier to go and pop a USB in but that’s just the way we chose to do it.

“Having it in the van, we had to dig deep some nights. Usually we fly when we’re in Europe and it’s in clubs, we’re treated a lot better. It was nice to do a UK jaunt with different people and meeting new promoters in different contexts.”

The tour differed of course from plenty of today’s electronic acts’, with the lads able to bring along a host of close compatriots in the shape of Bristol’s own Ossia, Dis Fig and Rian Trainor.

“That was the point [of bringing people on tour]. We’d played a lot with Dan (Ossia) over the years but not so much over the past few years. Back then he was doing these crazy live sets with two turntables, a siren and loads of delay. He’d basically just juggle delay and signal around, it was very Dubwise but in a very apocalyptic way.” Robin gasps somewhat while explaining, maybe the result of a frosty park bench, or his tangible love of all types of music, “He was just DJing this tour and it’s the same thing, that’s just what’s in his bones. It was awesome to have that, usually before us, but we had him after us. When he played the White Hotel it was amazing.”

Trying to pin Giant Swan’s sound down to one genre is an impossible task, but for the most part they’d fall loosely under the wider umbrella of techno. Whether they like that or not it has led to them sharing bills with heavyweights like Sunil Sharpe and Stranger despite also having toured with punk outfit IDLES. Being able to curate their tour lineup was something that went much further than selling some extra tickets;

“We play on a lot of techno lineups. I like techno but Harry’s not that into it, so we don’t really like playing on some of the bangy bills. We like it when there’s women and other kinds of soundsystem music. Quite often there’s not a lot of women”, stalling briefly, he goes on.. “or any other types of music! Getting Alicia (Dis Fig) to play was really important. We’ve known her for quite a few years and it was nice to solidify a positive relationship into a more collaborative one was great.”

That close knit element is something that resonates throughout the whole album’s rollout process, with the cover itself being a portrait of Bristol electronic artist EBU, painted by a Bristolian brush too;

“Yeah, Stu Cranfield, I used to live with him, we went to Uni together.” Hastily he asserts that his roots may not be as legit as they sound: “Technically, he’s from Wick which is greater Bristol, not really the greater Metropolitan area.”

Wrapping things up in a cathartic bow was their sold out Bristol show which cacophonously brought their UK roadshow to a screeching halt.

“That was our first show in Bristol in almost a year and a half/two years. We did Simple Things last November, but that was a festival. We did the last Howling Owl party; that’s the one where the video went viral with everyone taking their tops off. This was our first headline in Bristol for ages and it sold out pretty quickly. 60 people turned up to the Leeds show so it wasn’t really packed but the vibe was amazing. We’ve done a lot of tours in a relatively short amount of time and it was nice to have lots of different reactions. To cap it off with the total bedlam that was the Bristol show, it was nice to have that validation from the hometown. I hadn’t really thought about it in that context until now though.”

Bristol itself has Harry, Robin and a whole host of others to thank for the recent spotlight the world at large has shone on its flourishing music scene of late. A Boiler Room documentary showcased the weird and wonderful nature of the English city, with names like Hodge, Bruce, Shanti Celeste and Peverelist all showing up alongside more avant garde names and institutions like Young Echo, the Howling Owl and of course, Giant Swan.

“It’s been like this for years. Before the current climate with ATC and Illegal Data; mine and Harry’s labels and club nights outside of Giant Swan, we’d been involved in Young Echo peripherally for years, we’d been in The Naturals since we were 11. We’ve been building this for years, it was never a conscious thing though. In the Guardian article Miles [Opland] (the man behind Bokeh Versions) was quoted saying that I’d said something was going to happen in the next 18 months. I don’t remember saying it, but it was true because something’s always happening. When Ossia left Bristol, Bokeh [Versions] kind of stepped up and took on the mantle of basically being a child minder for all the backwards minded people that’re here. Everyone wants to get involved and be included and that’s the most important thing half the time if you’ve got a scene or a carriagework of people, you need someone to loosely be the leader.”

“I’m glad there’s no techno scene in Bristol because it gives us an opportunity to learn the ropes doing other kinds of music.”

As if this were a sudden realisation rather than something that’d been stewing within him for a while, Robin pauses for a second. Later we discover he’d actually been rolling a joint; “If we lived in London or Berlin or wherever, we’d have fallen foul of the the tendency that the bigger cities have to comply to the wider scene. Whereas here you can do your thing and then go to someone’s gig that plays totally different music to you and let it resonate with you and effect you, that’s been a big Bristolian thing.”

What is clear throughout the above documentary and just about every style of music emanating from Bristol right now, is that the shadows of their illustrious predecessors remain the sound of the past and not the present. Giant Swan are far flung from Dummy or Unfinished Sympathy, calling into question whether the current movement is changing the overall perception of Bristol’s music scene, that is in large part rather dated.

“I don’t think it’ll ever fully change. It’s too much a part of what’s already come from here. For all intents and purposes, Portishead, Massive Attack, Tricky and all that, put Bristol on the map, but for all the worst people. Those BBC 6 cunts, who love IPA and vaping and putting pictures of kids on Facebook. It’s music for them now. I love Massive Attack and Portishead but they’re public property now. Harry and I know Geoff Barrow, I wouldn’t go for a pint with him because he wouldn’t want to go out because someone’s always going to want to talk about Portishead with him, and that’s the last thing he wants to talk about.

“Now people want to talk about Young Echo, NOODS or Giant Swan because it’s not something that they’re used to.”

“Dubstep was really big here since about 2004, I went to see some really big bands and acts, as they were happening. Harry and I seen so many people at the time but weren’t that interested in it. It’s halfway between changing the landscape, or maybe the landscape was always barron and we’re just filling it.”

Taking a second to light the joint he had so craftily rolled amidst each answer, he emphasises how important it is to support wherever it is you come from;

“It’s not perfect by any means but it’s got the things about it that make it what it is. It’s funny in the current climate because there’s no techno scene here, and no contemporary art gallery anymore and everything is still grassroots and kind of ropey but it’s real. I think people believe that. As soon as it gets written about in The Guardian it becomes public property, but there’s no point in fucking looking back.”

Their success shouldn’t really come as much surprise to anyone within dance music. For a genre so concerned with its past, we’ve seen it go from something spearheaded by groups and bands that brought it into the public eye, to a sound that’s gatekept predominantly by DJs. What Harry and Robin bring to the table is a not-so-sophisticated modern take on what their Bristol ancestors like Portishead and Massive Attack were so popular for from the offset.

“Coming from the band perspective, I quite like the public service of DJing, like Sunil; he’d quite happily DJ for 8 hours just so people could get off. On the other side of that, people are very bogged down with how stuff is made. The techno sound, the futuristic laser synths you’ve never heard before, it’s really personal. The first time I heard ‘Gymnastics’ by Regis, the simplicity of it is one thing, but it’s also really lyrical. Even fucking Jeff Mills, some of that stuff is like a tone of voice, it’s like a guitar tone. With stuff like modular, people are into the gear. The irony is, is that it’s really hard to make modular sound good. The thing is with an 808 is that it’s always going to sound like an 808.

“I think it’s easier to be more creative in a DJ set, whereas you’re more limited doing a live set with hardware that’s got a legacy behind it. I mean Harry uses this cheap Korg Volca Beats!” He almost spits out some of his can as I share my love for the Volca Beats I have on the table next to my phone as we’re speaking, “To me, I like to play on modular gear because it’s easy to improvise on and I don’t like the Elektron gear because I don’t want to menu dive on a screen that’s an inch wide. We don’t think about what people are interested in, because to us people are interested in functional techno and our stuff is very uncompromising music. Often we feel like a square peg, so it’s nice when people are into it and like the performative element.”

In an environment where Fisher and co. can wave their hands to a sea of onlookers and provoke screams and cheers, Robin’s slightly more robust approach to crowd control, or lack thereof, has shrouded their live shows with ‘must-see’ attraction like no other. Was this a conscious decision from the off?

“Our reaction, the way we are on stage, that’s only half a performance really. The other half is how stoked we are. We’re gassed up! The first time we played with Murder Boys, Regis was like ‘Woah, what’re you taking your top off for?! Woah, control yourself!’ taking the piss, saying people should do that more. Powell is a really good example. When he was really making moves, he was essentially playing an octa track, but he could electrify a room of a thousand people just by the way he moves. I remember seeing him play and I was thinking about him for days afterwards. Not his music, that’s alright, but way more so him and what he was up to. People are the same with Harry and I and what we give in conjunction with what our music sounds like, which is maybe why people resonate with the live performance. I mean, I’m kind of numb to that because it’s just how I am.”

Wrapping up, having already discussed the tomato toast I was eating throughout, Robin contemplates whether they’d ever make less intense music, or if he has adequately taken in the past month of his and Harry’s endeavors.

Presumably at this stage, the joint and can are long in the recent memory as the phonecall comes to a welcome end for Robin who has been sitting on a bench for the guts of an hour now, having already been chilled after witnessing The Joker. If that isn’t contemporary-noise-techno enough for you, I don’t know what is.

Giant Swan play Tengu in Dublin and Dali in Cork respectively this weekend.

No more articles

We use cookies to monitor usage on our site. Your information will never be shared! read more

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.

Close