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Dazed Mix: Giant Swan
Giant Swan’s Dazed MixPhotogrpahy Keith Leaf Animation Callum Abbott

Dazed Mix: Giant Swan

The Bristol duo, famed for their relentlessly energetic live shows, celebrate their self-titled-debut album with a special Dazed Mix

TextSelim BulutIllustrationCallum Abbott

It’s hard to talk about Bristol’s Giant Swan in a way that totally does them justice. Robin Stewart and Harry Wright make techno that’s loud, raw, and uncompromising, but that description makes them sound much more bro-ish than they really are. Giant Swan’s music is all of those things, for sure, but it’s also fun, energetic, and open-hearted. The band is founded on PLUR principles: it’s pummelling without being punishing, muscular without being macho.

If Giant Swan don’t really sound like a typical techno duo, then they don’t look much like one, either. Catch them at one of their legendary live shows and they feel closer to a straight-edge hardcore band: Stewart has a shaved head, is covered in tattoos, and is partial to performing topless, while Wright bounces around to the rhythms far more than some of the self-serious, head-nodding selectors you might see on a Time Warp line-up.

While their live shows see them freestyle with loops, pedals, and vocal contortions for a sustained, cathartic period of time, Giant Swan’s recorded output is a slightly different proposition. Their debut album, the self-titled Giant Swan (out today via the duo’s own newly established label Keck, following EPs for acclaimed imprints like Whities and Timedance) swaps this improvisational approach for ten shorter tracks. It still shares the restless energy they’ve become known for, but it’s thoughtfully considered and composed for listening outside of the club, and with some tracks stopping short of the three-minute mark, it’s as close to the Giant Swan pop experience as you’re likely to get.

To mark the album’s release, Giant Swan put together our latest Dazed Mix, and spoke to us about their new album, making music to unite chinstrokers and emos alike, and the new Charli XCX album.

Hello, Giant Swan! Where are you, and what are you up to?

Harry Wright: In my room listening to this band Omni. Quite into it. They sound a bit like The Strokes. 

Robin Stewart: I’m at home as well. Just made a tea. 

What can you tell us about your debut album? How does (or doesn’t) it deviate from what you were doing with your previous EPs and singles?

Harry Wright: We approached writing the LP lot more like a ‘rock record’ in the sense that we were treating each track more like a ‘song’ rather than a ‘beat’ for the club, if you know what I mean. As well as me playing guitar on each song for the first time, we also explored different ways that Rob’s vocals could interact with the drums and wanted the whole thing to have a sense of playfulness to it. I think curiosity led us down some fun places. 

Robin Stewart: Aye, as Harry said it’s more concise insofar as we treated it as a family of songs rather than floor-focused tracks, or whatever. We wanted to explore our live sound in quite an inverse way, utilising the way we use things like vocals or guitar and removing the strictly club-facing structure of our music in order to probe different territories.

What’s your favourite track on the album, and how did that track come together?

Robin Stewart: I don’t know if I have a stone favourite. Maybe “Pan Head”. We both really went in on the writing of that one. We pushed in some really interesting directions with the sonic palette, and the pacing of the track is really fun. The vocal loop was recorded in the MESS Studio in Melbourne. The rest was built in Avon.

Harry Wright: “‘I’ As Proof” I think, because we approached this one very differently and it was a chance to work with melody. I sent Rob the chords and rhythms to sing over with the aim of it being a “crossover hit” – I genuinely kept saying this to Rob – and was very determined to have something on the record that could be played at both an arts festival and Urban Outfitters. We wanted to make something that could unite chinstrokers and emos, and we feel this song shows a more #tender side to us amongst the bangs and clangs.

Why did you start your own label to release the album?

Harry Wright: For this record, it just didn’t feel right to look beyond. Working with a label who would undoubtedly have their own aesthetic, ethos, community, audience etc. – it didn’t make sense to complicate things or risk alienating our work by having to join an already existing world. We’d much rather start our own one and invite people to join in with us, not the other way around.

Robin Stewart: We wanted full control over the thing, from the artwork to the formatting to the ‘message’ behind it – insofar as we didn’t want a message. We wanted to be able to present our debut album on a fresh platform without association to anything else. We also want to connect with as many people as possible through Giant Swan, and starting a label is a great new way to get stuck in with our people old and new.

What can you tell us about the album artwork?

Harry Wright: It’s by the amazing Stu Cranfield. Oil painting of a photo I took on my phone of my girlfriend Ella at 5am the night of her birthday. We wanted to reflect this juxtaposition of worlds and processes, the scene itself (cheap, funny, tongue-in-cheek, spontaneous) working against/with the qualities an oil painting (seriousness, wealth, sophistication, a dedication to craft) in order to create something uniquely personal, yet wholly relatable. This is a big theme we’re trying to express on the album.

Robin Stewart: As Harry said, we wanted there to be contrast and duality in the artwork – relatability vs. something totally out of the blue. We certainly weren’t making an album about a dystopian future. It’s a hymn to lighting your cig backwards and squinting into the post-rave light and throwing on Kehlani and just fading.

How does your approach to recorded music differ from how you perform live?

Harry Wright: At first it was about trying to capture a ‘live energy’ on the records, but we actually found it way more interesting and less restricting to create music separate from the live environment, and then use the sounds and beats from the tracks as a pallette to draw from when performing live. I think this gives us more freedom both on record and more importantly in the moment in club.

Robin Stewart: They differ a lot, to be honest. I utilise bits and bobs from the live shows in the studio – not, like, trying to recreate something, but compartmentalising the way the live sets flow and etching out ideas based on something that happened with the gear. Harry and I work really differently, but it creates a nice balance for us to keep the work in the studio moving along.

“We certainly weren’t making an album about a dystopian future. It’s a hymn to lighting your cig backwards and squinting into the post-rave light and throwing on Kehlani and just fading” – Robin Stewart, Giant Swan

Has your way of making music changed much over the years, particularly as you’ve started being booked for more and more international shows?

Robin Stewart: Aye, probably. I certainly think starting to play more, and further afield, broadened our horizons and just enlightened us to more than just how to bang out some techno. We’ve learned half of what we know from playing live every weekend alongside every shade of DJ and producer and in so many different clubs and spaces, so coming from not knowing anything but a bit of this and that to having some perspective, I think our drive in the studio and onstage has benefited enormously.

Harry Wright: I guess ’cos we’re lucky enough to play so much, the shows themselves kind of end up like a form of writing and rehearsal. It’s a really interesting way to try new ideas out for the first time. Who’s gonna be more honest with you than a room full of drunk people at 3am? It’s become quite vital to our process now, to be honest.

Robin, the last time I saw you guys perform live I clocked that you have a ‘dignity’ tattoo from The Simpsons. Can you tell us about one other tattoo and what it means to you?

Robin Stewart: I have a skull on my arm drawn by Milou Maass which has a scar on it. I fell into a fridge right after I got it. It means ‘skeletons’.

What would you say are the hallmarks of a Giant Swan tune?

Harry Wright: Big Beats are the best, get high all the time.

Robin Stewart: That scene in The Wrong Trousers where Gromit gets covered in jam. It’s that, but in music.

Harry, what’s your favourite song on the new Charli XCX album?

Harry Wright: “Gone” or “Silver Cross”. 

What can you tell us about your Dazed Mix?

Robin Stewart: It’s a hodgepodge of our collective taste really. Lots of friends and lots of people we’ve never met, but whose gear we like. Our dream club megamix.

What are you up to next?

Harry Wright: Lots more shows! Plus work with our own solo projects and labels: Avon Terror Corps, Illegal Data, Mun Sing, etc.

Robin Stewart: Loads of gigs and writing some new music. We both have some solo gear on the horizon as well, so peep those peepers.