Have you ever felt an unattainable longing for something, some place, that may have never existed? A deep seated, firmly rooted incompleteness, that for lack of a ‘home’, has become familiar. A place with walls so tall we can’t climb, writings upon which we can’t comprehend. ‘No Black, No Irish’. Emblematic of a post-war Britain, a herd-like mentality, divisive in nature and damaging at its core. No, this is not simply the oral testimonies of generations past woven into our communal experience. This is real and it’s consequential. Thus, when one of the many roses to blossom from the gentrified paves of South London exhales a pain-filled falsetto “for our own, we still got so far to go”, you can’t help but feel it.
“The only time I left my house in that whole period of lockdown was to go to protest with Joel [Culpepper]. That was my guide.” Swindle begins. We’re at the producers’ home studio, discussing what he refers to as an essential track to the intent of The New World. No Black No Irish, a socially-potent yet emotionally crippling conversation between Peckham-born, Catford-raised Joel Culpepper and Irish singer-songwriter Maverick Sabre, recounted over beautiful and bare instrumentation. “When all this was going on, I just got in the car and drove to London and I was just there. This was at the front of our minds.”
The infamous Real World studios held host to what was essentially a week of healing. The New World. A whole album, screaming vicariously through the voices of UK black music’s avengers, conceived in just one, intense, spiritual, poignant week. Seemingly biblical. “When we were at the studio, the dynamic between Joel and Maverick was great to watch. Joel really speaking his truth, and in Joel’s words, Mav leaning in and listening. Not interrupting. Listening like a true ally. I guess this song is the manifestation of that conversation and that dynamic between them. The title was Joel’s idea. A lot of people would not be on that, but not Mav. He time and time again proves himself as a real one. The conversation is so polarising people were not ready to have it. I know we all were losing friends at that time. It was that time. So those connections became that more important.”
Back in 2007 however, before these paved-over injustices began to surface so prevalently, Swindle self-released one of his earliest projects, The One-Fourty Mixtape, an ode to the BPM of Grime and it’s rise in the early 2000s, riddled with Grime artists from D.E.velopment, to Big Narstie and Ghetto (now Ghetts). Whilst it was the first project to allow his musical roots to branch out of his area in South London, it would soon set the foundations for him to build what is now somewhat of a musical manor. Filled with artistic influences and sounds of all genres, something attested to the greats, George Clinton, Herbie Hancock, George Benson but also, just as much to his father’s influence. “That influence came from my father, a guitarist, a Jazz, Soul, Funk enthusiast, to say the least, so we grew up on good music. He installed that in us. I’m one of four boys so we all had that musical education from the beginning. It’s always been there.”
“I feel like even when I’m trying to make genre specific music, funk is almost at the pace of my heartbeat…If I press a key it just feels funky. I can’t escape it. I think it’s ingrained in us as people actually, I just want to keep that tradition going.”
It wasn’t until the dubstep-pervaded year of 2013 however the world heard the first official Swindle album, Long Live Jazz, via Deep Medi. The 13-track album fused his love and passion of Jazz with the synths, bass and swagger of a seemingly improvised yet technically brilliant body of work. Yet it was 2015 when somewhat of a shift occurred. Peace, Love & Music was an album made predominantly on tour, manifesting from the copious travelling Swindle experienced thanks to his DJing. “Instrumental music really travels and there’s no language barrier…” he explained. “I was travelling out of the country every week, sometimes more. I would find myself in the Philippines, South Africa, Switzerland, America, Brazil. And I would always ask myself why I get to go to these places. Music has brought me to these places so I must have a duty to use those situations to give back to music.” The concept then plays on the few similarities we have, around the globe, transcending all of our differences. The fact that some things just keep us all in common. “There’s certain grooves that just move every human. There’s certain emotions that string us all together and for me that’s peace, love and music.”
If Peace, Love & Music was all that remained right with the world, then Swindle’s 2019 No More Normal was prophetic in title and nature. Prophetic in the sense that 2019 seemed to set in motion a string of forlorn natural, social and political events that, although supposedly nose-dived us into a dark abyss, would eventually shape our now new world. Having travelled so frequently, it was time for Swindle to stay ‘home’ this time. “It had been a long time since I had sat down in one place to make music. I also started with this concept of it being a scrap or story book and each page is by a different artist.” The album elevated Swindle to the next level and therefore the relationships he had developed with particular artists over the years simultaneously. “I feel like I had matured as a persona and thus a musician and producer.”
Both Joel Culpepper and Shoreditch-raised Kojey Radical are artists that feature multiple times on The New World. Each has their own musical relationship that has evolved through the years with Swindle. “Seeing growth in artists has become one of the most satisfying things about making music for me now..” He expanded on the topic. “I spent years travelling as a DJ, making beats for the club and the height of satisfaction with that is getting a reload. Now, working with artists and playing a small part in them eventually getting a deal or playlist or headline show, that’s the new reload. Being able to contribute and add value to their journey is something I pride myself on.”
“It’s just honest music. They say real recognise real. But it’s true. When you hear music that really sounds like someone’s expression, you just gravitate towards it.”
Though the signs may change and those writings on the wall may have been painted over with thick layers of empty vows and promises, economically and politically driven legislation and manifestos, the truth is the walls remain, tall as ever. The mention of the name George Floyd brought goosebumps to the room as we sat eye to eye. The tragic passing, murders, of so many lives at the hands of those here to protect and serve, a pandemic and natural disasters of all kinds, sweeping the globe and everyday political threats to ‘democracy’, 2020 onwards has felt dystopian. Thus The New World is what we all yearn for. “It was totally a response to what had happened. And I was saying that in the title of No More Normal…” Swindle preaches, as we talk on the new project. “Those events unfolded and honestly it hit me hard. It brought up lots of past trauma. I’ve dealt with lots of aggressive and violent racism growing up you know, not just subconscious but in your face people chasing you down the road, graffiti on the walls, people getting beaten up, that all happened on my doorstep as a kid.”
So how did it come to fruition? Following the deep and necessary reasonings Swindle had over the phone with his fellow musicians from Joel to Joy during the first lockdown period, he sent out the text for everyone to gather at Real World studios and learn to create again, but more importantly, how to enter The New World. The process, seemingly a truly healing one. “Before Real World, I was spending my days pacing up and down, looking out the window and ultimately preparing for war. That’s what had happened in the past. Then going there and doing that thing. People really cried in the studio, we had deep conversations, and I hear it every time I play the album. I hear it in the subject matter of the songs, I hear it in the playling, I hear it in the performance. It’s just the purest, most honest hyper-collaborative natural record I’ve ever been a part of.” The result? A profound, poetic 9-scriptures long mythological masterart. Visually and sonically sculpted out of the skies into and through the souls of some of the UK’s heavyweights; Joel Culpepper, Knucks, Maverick Sabre, Greentea Peng, Akala, Ghetts, Poppy Ajudha, Daley, Kojey Radical, JNR Williams, Loyal Carner and Joy Crookes. Honourable mention for the album’s closing soulful sequence, How I’ve Been, featuring the latter 4 artists.
“We’re literally healing ourselves, with vibrations. Music is one of the last pure human things we have on earth.”
This album and it’s accompanying visuals truly serve as the healing, breathing and being. Past, present, future. From Blow Ya Trumpet’s tongue-in-cheek ridiculously bar-ridden verses from Knucks, Ghetts, Akala and Kojey to Loyal Carner’s unaccustomed double-time rapping. It’s the new writing on the wall, with instruments fallen from the skies. Enter The New World. A world in which we fight for and we make. No More Normal has been said, has been done. Change is happening and it’s uncomfortable. There’s a fire burning through the world. And the outcome depends upon us. It’s our time to rise. For the night’s darkest hour, is when the light of day is closest.
Watch the full Swindle x AAA Pass interview below.