SwinGrowers take the Rebel Colonies by storm

For the last few weeks the SwinGrowers have been touring the USA and Canada. Despite lots of travelling and plenty of gigs, they took the time out to have a chat with me. I have been interested to see how long it would take for electro-swing to really take off in the States, especially given the rise of EDM (ptui!) and the debates it has provoked both in the States and in the wider dance music world. The reception these guys get should provide a good barometer or litmus test. [Jack the Cad - bringing you not one but two clich├ęd metaphors to choose from] 

For those who don't know them the SwinGrowers are an Italian outfit, consisting of DJ/producer Roberto Pisk, vocalist Loredana, and manouche guitarist Alessio. They hail from Sicily, but have been touring hard. Their album "Pronounced Swing Grow'ers" came out last year and was one of my top 5 releases of the year.

The tour has seen them drop in on Speakeasy Electro Swing Montreal, the longest running electro-swing night in North America, and other venues in San Francisco, New York and a host of other glamourous places.The first thing I wanted to know was how they have been getting on in the land which gave us swing music in the first place. "Everything is going great!" they tell me enthusiastically. They say they have been shown fantastic hospitality, great support from the promoters and a lot of pampering. Montreal has been the highlight so far: " There is a big electro-swing crowd there, and the whole audience was there to see the SwinGrowers. In any case, the cities where we have been have all been great because each one is different from the other and because they are all completely different from home. Here, everything is a surprise." 

North Americans, in the eyes of lots of Europeans, have taken a while to really appreciate dance music, so I wanted to know how audiences have reacted to their sound. Happily, it seems they have been well received. "We have had nothing but  positive reactions! At the end of every show people we get loads of compliments. There are parts in the show where people go crazy: when Pisk sings with the vocoder, or during Alessio's solos, or when Loredana gets the audience dancing." They must have done something right as their New York show sold out.

And how do the crowds across the water compare to those in the UK? Favourably, it would seem: "The U.S. audience is giving us lots of feedback. It is an interactive audience that receives and then gives it back. If we wanted to compare the U.S. and the UK crowds, we can say that they are very similar! Both warm and active. The only difference perhaps is that in the UK we are always inside of Europe, so we can say that we are "at home", whereas in the U.S. and CANADA we are on the other side of the ocean, so people are really excited to find the Italians on stage!"

We can see what they are talking about in this fantastically cool little video of Lore doing her thing in Tompkins Square Park in the NYC.

At the time of writing they have two gigs left in North America: Toronto on Friday 26th April and 27th April in Detroit. Having said that, they also promise further dates to be added, so keep an eye on their Facebook page if you are in that part of the world. 

One thing I forgot to ask them... when will you be back in the UK guys?

Profile: Richard Shawcross - Ragtime Records

Although the UK is home to the world’s first dedicated Electro-swing club, most of the earliest tunes came out of Europe. This is now beginning to change, with the launch of a new Birmingham-based label called Ragtime Records - stated aim: to make electro-swing "you can really get down to". One of the men behind this is Richard Shawcross, aka C@ in the H@. 

I met him on a drizzly Tuesday evening in November, at my flat in Shepherd’s Bush. [I was working 13 hour days in December and have only just got around to posting this!] Having visited his sister in Highgate, he was driving back to Birmingham to prepare for the label’s launch party that weekend, but stopped off to chat to me. 

Richard takes to the decks at the Ragtime
Records launch party.
Taken from Ragtime Records Facebook page
I was particularly interested to get under the skin of the man who’s music I have admired for some time, and who’s take on electro-swing is typically British. I decided to start by talking to him about the music he makes as The C@ in the H@, work which combines swing with dubstep, jungle, and turntablism. I asked if blending these styles presented a challenge. “Not really,” he said, “I’ve always made dubstep, and I find that lots of syncopation helps me. I was inspired to start making electro-swing when I heard a youth group playing big band swing and thought ‘I’d love to put a big bass line under this. I find that I can be more melodic with the bass when there is some swing involved, which gives me more options.”

We chatted on about dubstep for a while, before I remembered that we were meant to be talking about the new label, which launched on Saturday 24th November. He and Tom Hyland (guitarist in Birmingham electro-swing band Electric Swing Circus) have started the label in response to what they see as a gap in the market: “There aren’t a lot of British electro-swing labels. It’s a growing scene and the UK needs to be represented. We had the first two EPs ready [‘Gangsta Swing’ by the C@ in the H@ and ‘Penniless Optimist’ by Electric Swing Circus] and were going to release them on a different label, but they were taking so long that we worried about how seriously they were going to promote them, so we decided to do it ourselves.”

He told me that for both himself and Tom it is a labour of love rather than a money-making scheme, and points out that even if money were the object, it would be very hard to turn a profit. Will they, then, be putting on some live shows and club nights? “Well, Tom is planning a festival for May next year [See the post about Swingamajig], where I am sure the label will be represented, and I was actually talking to someone today about doing a London night in the new year. It would be good to get the label’s name out known in some other cities too. But even then the money isn’t better in gigs; it is just that the money in sales and production has gone down!” Richard is quick to play down any suggestion that they are mounting a challenge to the established UK electro-swing label Freshly Squeezed, or their popular ‘White Mink’ events. “Those guys have done fantastic work - I just think there is room for another label.”

So far as future releases go, he tells me that there will be more music from C@ in the H@ and an album from the Electric Swing Circus. Although they are looking to take on UK-based artists, there is also a project in the pipeline with French swing-house producer Vassili Gemini. “There are some established people I would love to get involved in the label, people like DJ Switch [3x world champion DMC DJ and collaborator with Richard on their dubstep/turntablism project ‘Brotherhood of Filth’]. It was actually him who introduced me to electro-swing. I don’t want to limit the label to one style of electro-swing, but I think scratching can add so much to a live show.”

Talking about other potential signings he is a cautious, perhaps not wanting to count his chickens. “There are some guys out there who just need a little more time to hone their production skills a bit more. I’d love to help them out and will where I can, but it is really something that artists need to experiment with and learn for themselves.” He is in favour of letting them find their own sound rather than steering them in one direction or another. “That’s something I liked about the Gangsta Swing EP of mine – it was original, no one else had really made anything like it.”

If there were a mission statement for the label, he thinks it would be to encompass the whole electro-swing genre. “That’s where the name comes from – ragtime was really where syncopation came into western music, and I want to bring the whole thing full-circle, from the very beginning right up to date.”  Although we had spoken before, this was the first time that we had met in person. It was especially instructive to be the one to break the news of his recent nomination for ‘Best Remix 2012’ in the annual electro-swing awards, for his reworking of Swing Republic’s ‘Crazy in Love’.  His response was disarmingly excited, almost boyish, a broad smile crossing his face. “Wicked! I didn’t even realise ‘cos I have been away from my computer for a day or so. I’m well chuffed,” he enthused. The overall impression was of a laid-back, friendly guy who just loves making music. Electro-swing is not a genre that takes itself overly seriously, and Richard seems to embody this attitude.  Since this interview was conducted Ragtime Records has released the aforementioned Gangsta Swing EP, which is available for download on places like beatport and Juno. C@ in the H@ will be playing at the epically huge Electric Empire Escapade in Peckham on February 8th. Check out their Facebook page here, and on Soundcloud here.

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