Early December, 2018, a day before Swindle’s headline show that saw Ghetts, Kojey Radical, Etta Bond, Knucks and more take to the stage, I had never seen an artist so focused on the task at hand. Rehearsing at Shepherd’s Bush Studios with his band members, a cool, calm and collected Swindle took on an ambitious task of bringing together some of the most illustrious artists on one record. The mood in the studio was upbeat but focused, and for Swindle and his bandmates, this would arguably be one of the biggest nights of their careers.
The next day, Swindle’s vision was fully realised when all of the artists featured on No More Normal stepped to the stage. But when I asked if the album was representative of the climate, he simply said, “I hope so.” However, he went on to add that, “It’s easier to start and much harder to finish. My main thing was trying to get the right balance of everyone on there and the further I got along, the more I focused on how these artists were represented. I really didn’t want it to sound biased but I felt as though if this was a class of 2018 photo, then who is missing?”
It’s difficult enough trying to get all of your friends in the same room, so to get these artists on the same record is a testament to Swindle’s decade-long influence, as well as his prowess as a producer. But he’s more than just that: during rehearsal, he was on the keys and conducting the session as though he were a maestro. One YouTube comment described the producer as a great that will go down in history with Quincy and Dr. Dre. Although Swindle may not possess their level of fame and notoriety, there aren’t many producers within the underground music scene who have his longevity and CV.
Swindle, like many black musicians, comes from a musical family where it wasn’t just an extra-curricular activity to pass the time but part of a ritualistic tradition.
“Keyboards were like our toys,” he remembers, “and I don’t think there was a time where I wasn’t thinking musically. By the age of twelve, I was learning how to make music using my dad’s office PC that I installed a sound card on. Family is everything and I’m one of four boys—they all work with music, so that’s one of the reasons why I’m here today. This is our thing and it’s a gift we’ve been given. We’ve been able to translate our way of living and who we are through music.”
THE STORY I’M TRYING TO TELL IS ABOUT UNITY. I FEEL LIKE WE’VE ALL OCCUPIED OUR OWN SPACES AND BUILT OUR CRAFTS BUT, ULTIMATELY, WE ALL HAVE SIMILAR GOALS.
With this ethos, Swindle operates out of studios in countries he’s toured in, as a way of giving back to music. It’s an endearing sentiment at a time where the industry often takes from the art of music without necessarily giving back in equal measure. Swindle, however, always manages to find himself in the right place at the right time. “It’s the butterfly effect,” he says. “Working with these artists enabled me to build songs around them. The skills that I learned then, I call upon now because back then, producing around vocals wasn’t the most important thing but through seeing the world and doing all these shows, I know now that the past ten years or so have been preparation for this moment.” A decade ago, Swindle was working with the likes of Pro Green, Asher D, Roll Deep and Chip. “Although I was working with guys like that back then, whilst this album was three years in the making, it actually feels like ten because all of that work was training.”
Projects such as this have been accomplished before in the UK underground music scene, but what separates No More Normal from the pack is the level of attention, care, and musicality placed in it. “We’re seeing each other now. I’ve had times in my career where I’ve felt really busy but thought that no one could see it. Online has made it easier to be seen in some ways, but really, I’m just glad the artists saw the vision.” On the record, listeners aren’t just hearing the veterans of yesteryear—such as Ghetts, D Double E and P Money, who have been flying the flag for years—but the voices of tomorrow such as Knucks, Nubya Garcia and Kojey Radical.
Tracks like “Drill Work”, a slow but anthemic, horn-laden riddim, isn’t the sort of tempo Ghetts would normally ride but since he’s been leaning towards rap in recent years, it shows just how much the grime veteran has developed his own artistry. Who knew that the kid on the classic Risky Roadz video would be here, on a record like this?
STORIES, FOR ME, COME BEFORE THE MUSIC. ALL I ASK FOR IS THE GUIDANCE FROM THOSE STORIES TO HELP DELIVER THE MUSIC HONESTLY.
Swindle explains, “For the most part, the story I’m trying to tell is about unity. I feel like we’ve all occupied our own spaces and built our crafts but, ultimately, we all have similar goals. The mission was to close the gap between a Nubya Garcia and a Kojey Radical type of artist.” One of the more surprising names in the credits was British rap newcomer Knucks, who signed with Island Records last year following a string of hits such as his breakout song “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”. And that’s perhaps one of Swindle’s underrated traits—his ability to spot rising voices and pair them together. “Run Up”, featuring jazz musician Nubya Garcia, Kiko Bun, Knucks and Eva Lazarus was an example of Swindle looking beyond the present and imagining the ways in which UK rap could sound in the future.
The hardest challenge for Swindle, he admits, was narrowing down the list of artists he wanted to include. But he also felt that once he had “the story and the narrative of what I wanted to say, everything became so much easier.”
He could’ve sought out the most popular names in music but the music comes first, and it’s a principle he stood by. One of the more interesting inclusions was soul singer Andrew Ashong, who has only released two EPs, with his more recent eponymous one coming out in 2014. “Because I could see that contribution in myself, regardless of how big or small my profile is, I applied the same level of thinking to the features on the album,” says Swindle.
“We don’t realise it because we’re living amongst it,” he continues, “but how much of a special export our music is, the way that we are in London and the amount of cultures that have interacted with each other has created this new culture. It’s a marvel for a lot of people around the world and as a producer, and as a DJ, it feels special going to all of these places and seeing their reaction to music that can only come from here. People were losing their shit to DJ EZ in LA because what he was doing wasn’t turntablism in the way they knew it, and it’s incredibly important.”
More importantly, what Swindle will be remembered for is not just his craft but finding a way to reach across the multiple pockets of UK underground sounds—from grime and jazz to hip-hop and soul, all can be found in his music, his beautiful music. “I wanted every scene represented in some way with artists that’ll stand the test of time so that when people look back on this album, it feels like an acknowledgement of the environment it was created in,” he says, bringing them to a cross-section where No More Normal represents where British music should be in 2019.
“Stories, for me, come before the music. All I ask for is the guidance from those stories to help deliver the music honestly.”