How Michael Gira and Co Became the Greatest Live Band in the World
“Even chord progressions were out,” laughs Swans frontman and founder Michael Gira of his resolute attitude during the band’s beginnings in the early 1980s, when the group grew out of the ashes of New York no wave with a sledgehammer sound that went on to influence Sonic Youth, Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails. “It was very physical, but also elating.” Thirty or so years on, taking in 13 albums and a 13-year hiatus before reforming in 2010, the American group is no less sonically uncompromising. But where Gira’s single-minded devotion to guitar deconstruction meant gigs were often sparsely attended, Swans’ seemingly endless touring schedule since their resurrection has seen the band’s reputation grow to the point that they are considered one of the most potent rock acts on the planet: The New Yorker‘s Sacha Frere-Jones has hailed them as “one of the most fearsome working live bands.”
As Swans lurch on to their epic European tour later this month, finishing up with their biggest UK gig to date at London’s Roundhouse next May, today’s short showcases the experience. Incarnations of tracks taken from this year’s acclaimed album To Be Kind feature in the form of “She Loves Us,” and two versions of the stunning track “Oxygen”: while the first sees the band in full visceral, locked-groove effect at Primavera Sound 2013, Gira’s haunting solo acoustic rendition betrays his love of blues heroes such as Howlin’ Wolf and Son House.
Despite To Be Kind’s critical praise, the prolific 60 year old—who nurtured the career of Devendra Banhart on his label Young God Records—is already looking forward to the next Swans project, which could prove to be the most ambitious yet: a monumental live set-up involving ten hammered dulcimer players playing through fender twin amps, a choir, ten horns and symphonic percussion. “I want to make it into a total, wipeout sonic event, performed in classical music venues,” says Gira. “The problem is the volume; they’re not able to allow the amount of decibels that we… excrete.”