When Harry Wright and Robin Stewart first started making music together as 11-year-old kids, they probably didn’t have this in mind. As artists, the Bristolian duo has developed something of a reputation for music that makes you go ooof. In fact, the standard reaction when you see them listed on the bill of a club is to extend your lower lip some three or four centimetres, narrow your eyes, and forcibly exhale. To see Giant Swan perform is to understand that techno is more of a jumping-off point than a hard and fast rule, though hard and fast is the rule. Far more than mere purveyors of brutish beats, Giant Swan are renowned for their uncanny on-stage synergy, impish sense of humour and indefatigable, infectious energy.
Your live shows have achieved an almost mythical status. Why is it so important for you to step outside of the traditional DJ set-up?
Harry Wright: Techno is one of the more democratic musical genres in terms of how it is experienced live because the people on the dancefloor have so much of a say in the outcome of the music. I really think that it is important to take that power away from the artist and give it back to the audience as much as possible. It’s important to lose the ego and remember that techno is about the music. When you’re on the dancefloor, nobody really cares who made the track that you’re gurning to.
Robin Stewart: We try to bring a sense of intention to every gig we play. We’re not there to play techno, but physical music, and our performances give people the freedom to read whatever they want into it.
How does improvisation inform that sense of freedom?
HW: In its purest format you’re completely answerable to the energies of the room, and you’re able to open up a conversation with the audience. The improvisational aspect means that a lot of the time, we’re hearing the music for the first time too and that allows us to share the audience’s energy.
RS: We use our time on stage to divorce techno from itself, and by the end of the set the music is really true psychedelia, you don’t know what’s happening, it’s out of our control, and it doesn’t have any meaning. People really ascribe a lot of meaning to techno, and we really enjoy playing in that context, but we want to do something outside of that klang and that endlessness. We each have a goal in mind when we perform, but by paying attention to each other and the crowd, we can hopefully make sure that it doesn’t turn into self-indulgent navel-gazing.
Is it your friendship that keeps you both in check?
RS: Harry and I have been playing in our band, The Naturals, since we were 11. We didn’t even start Giant Swan until 10 years later. The music that we play in the club right now is probably the fiercest that it has ever been and that’s because of all the attention we have on us right now after the album. That album is an accumulation of our collective hive mind and a result of the parity that we manage to find and the respect that we give to each other. We use techno as a helipad to launch from, and we take it to places that we feel in that moment. It’s all derived from hard percussive physical music, but that could be post-punk, or even folk at the right volume; it’s about being able to go off on one whenever we have the feeling. I don’t think that we always appreciate how lucky we are to have each other.
A lot of the sounds coming out of the UK right now have an agitated, physical edge to them. What is going on?
HW: For the last 10 years there’s been a cross-pollination between the more noisy and introspective improv and band-led label music, and that’s what we have grown from. Weird music is being put on a platform right now. It’s a good time to take some risks. There is some really horrible shit going on in the world and art could be following that in a sense that is somehow dramatic and expressive, that’s a sign of the times. The times are extreme, and the music itself is extreme.
Your shows invert that macho techno stereotype. How do you do it?
RS: Honestly, we just fundamentally don’t agree with it. It is a fucking absurd and old thing in music. There’s not enough representation of minorities in techno, and there’s not an adequate representation of women. There is a lot of fucking ego, but it’s not our job to talk about that. I think that the people that listen to us and the people that come and choose to represent themselves positively at our shows are the ones that do us the biggest credit.
CTM 2020 – Opening Club Night | Berghain Panorama Bar, Friedrichshain. Jan 24, 23:00.