SEX SWING could be considered Liverpool’s contemporary noise rock supergroup, formed from members of Mugstar, Part Chimp, Dethscalator and Dead Neanderthals. John Wise chats to them about the secretive nature of the group and how they manage navigating between different bands, while retaining their own distinct sound.
What do the bands Cream and Big In Japan have in common? It doesn’t take an avid music geek to work out that the ‘supergroup’ tag is the common link, which worked to varying degrees of satisfaction on the part of both bands. In 1969, Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner credited Cream with being the first supergroup, made up as they were of Eric Clapton (The Yardbirds), Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce (both the Graham Bond Organisation). And Big In Japan have often been described as a supergroup in reverse: featuring, at various points, Bill Drummond, Jayne Casey, Ian Broudie, Dave Balfe, Holly Johnson and Clive Langer, the outfit spawned the careers of many of Liverpool’s most successful musicians of the 1980s.
Formed from members of Mugstar, Part Chimp, Dethscalator and Dead Neanderthals, shadowy noise conglomerate Sex Swing could be considered as a modern noise rock supergroup, but you wouldn’t catch us saying that in earshot of them. When you think of supergroups you’re inevitably drawn to picturing those vanity projects of ageing rockers, where they’re gamely giving it a blast with some old mates, but with nowhere near the intensity of feeling of the stuff that made them ‘super’ in the first place. This is as far from the truth about Sex Swing’s shady group of psych statesmen as you could get. It’s a creative collaboration that runs alongside all their own existing bands, and just happens to have hit a chord with a public that is craving the fearsome power these established musicians can bring to the table.
“I don’t think any of us would describe it as a supergroup, but as with any group of people playing music together it is always the sum of the parts,” says Sex Swing and Mugstar bassist Jason Stoll when we ask him about the term. “If I, or any other of the guys, wasn’t in it it’d have a very different feel. For me it’s great way to play, one which allows for a lot of freedom. It’s how Sex Swing works.”
As connoisseurs of distortion and decibels, Sex Swing operate within an exhilarating, disorientating clamour that’s assured to shock the senses, delving in to dark, ear-splitting punk in a similar vein to Suicide or Liars. Night-Time Worker channels the acid guitar jams and frenzied saxophone din of Spiritualized, laced with Alan Vega-esque organ riffs and skewed vocals. It’s an exciting time for the band, amassing acclaim and intrigue within the currently fervent climate of alternative music. Having known each other for a number of years, it’s clear to see that there’s a good balance of chemistry and creative freedom in their work, born out of a mutual respect for each other’s music. The biting, ferocious yet controlled racket of Untitled is further testament to this.
“I’ve known Dan [Chandler], Stuart [Bell, both Dethscalator] and Tim [Cedar, Part Chimp] for many years and got to meet Colin [Webster, Dead Neanderthals] through being in the band,” Jason continues. “We all have a mutual respect for each other’s music so I think it was inevitable that we would all end up working together one day.”
Bido Lito!: What was the inspiration behind the collaboration then?
Jason Stoll: After many years of discussing doing a band between Dan Chandler and myself we finally decided to get together after Dethscalator folded, with Stu coming on board. Part Chimp weren’t really doing a lot at the time so we asked Tim to initially play guitar but then he decided on keyboards/organ. Colin then came on board after being introduced by a mutual friend. The sound just grew from extensive jam sessions.
BL!: The secretive nature of the group has bemused many, yet you have still been booked for a good number of festivals this summer. Has this surprised you at all?
JS: Yeah, of course. I don’t think we initially set out to be secretive about it but I do think it’s worked in our favour. We decided to wait until we had some good-sounding recordings to put out there. We have been offered so many festivals and shows without having any music online, and the offers keep coming in. We’re all properly excited by this and quite intrigued about where it will end up.
BL!: Only two tracks so far is a bit of a tease though, isn’t it? When are you going to give us more of a glimpse of the Sex Swing world?
JS: We have a few things coming up soon, the first one being a spilt 7” with Clinic on my God Unknown label. We also have a track on a 12″ Nepal fundraiser on Evil Hoodoo Records, and our debut album is coming later in the year on an amazing label. Our album launch will be in an infamous London den of ill repute.
BL!: Should we expect your upcoming material to head in the same direction as the tracks you’ve released so far, Night-Time Worker and Untitled?
JS: We’ve just recorded an album that is quite dark-sounding. I’ve played bits to people and they said they sounded scared. I’ll let you make your mind up when you get to hear it.
BL!: Do you all still see your ‘other’ bands as being your primary artistic outlet? What I suppose I’m getting at is, do you instinctively know what’s a Mugstar bit and what’s a Sex Swing bit? Or have I read Sex Swing the wrong way?
JS: Not really: I play what I do and don’t necessarily tailor it. For example, I don’t save a riff that I think will work with Mugstar or Sex Swing or Bonnacons Of Doom. They will always come out of the context and environment of who I am with. I think just playing with different people changes the feel, sound and dynamics of the music played. One of the things that excites me most about Sex Swing is getting to work with a vocalist.
BL!: Could Sex Swing have been a possibility in the music environment that existed ten years ago? It seems as though we’ve been in a purple patch for alternative, slightly heavy instrumental psych over the past five or so years. I’m just wondering what your take on it is.
JS: Musically yes but personally no, as it has all developed through long friendships. It’s seems relevant to us now, so let’s see.
There does seem to be a lot more instrumental psych bands around now than ever before. That will pass though. However, there have been some amazing instrumental bands over the past decade – Grails for example. But I suppose it goes back to the thing of how you describe ‘psych’: it’s always been there, and as long as rock ‘n’ roll exists it always will; it just ebbs and flows.
With such a small catalogue of songs out in the open so far it’s hard to draw too many conclusions about Sex Swing, but with such a strong nucleus of musicians assembled it’s only natural to anticipate more of the same fascinating material in the future. For now it’s just Sex Swing’s live show that offers the full hint of things to come, with some audiences at Desertfest and Supersonic supposedly left frightened by their seething live presence. There’s a steadily growing mystique surrounding the band, and there’s a readymade international audience of head music aficionados waiting for the next thing they spew forth.
“I don’t think we have set our stall out to appeal to any specific demographic. I’d like to think we appeal to all,” says Jason as he considers the interest in his latest project. “However, we do get some interesting people following us on Facebook. Maybe that’s something to do with the name.”
Words: John Wise / @John__Wise