Swim Deep to take the plunge on their local debut

Swim Deep have enlivened Britain's music scene with their sunny brand of dance-pop. But don't expect them to get up to the usual rock star antics, writes Charlie Carter

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 January, 2014, 11:05pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 January, 2014, 11:13pm

SWIM DEEP HAVE DONE their homework. They've consulted experts, sought advice, and now they're making plans for their first big event of the year. And the reason for such dedicated preparations? So they can party hard in Hong Kong.

The good-time funk-rockers from Birmingham, England have been primed for their first concert on our shores by their pals in rock'n'roll hedonism, The 1975, one of the big hits of last year's Clockenflap Festival.

"They said Hong Kong was really fun and that we're going to love it - it's the most exciting sounding place we've had the chance to go to," Swim Deep frontman Austin Williams says over the phone from London.

But his excitement soon takes on a conspiratorial tone. "It's quite liberal out there, right? Well they [The 1975] said there's a lot of 'fun' out there … whatever that means." Sensing mild unease at the question, he adds unconvincingly: "But we're not naughty boys really."

Whatever Williams and the gang - comprising Tom Higgins on guitar, drummer Zachary Robbins and Cavan McCarthy on bass - are expecting to get up to here, it's clear that Swim Deep's growing reputation in their homeland will find them a ready audience when Hong Kong promoter Your Mum brings them to Grappa's Cellar on February 8.

The band is among a new crop of British dance-flecked pop acts that have taken Britain's indie music scene by storm while maintaining their sights on mainstream success. Formed three years ago in Britain's second-largest city, they and their fellow Birmingham rock brethren Peace and Superfood have injected a sense of hedonistic fun back into music, acquiring comparisons with late-1980s bands such as Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses en route.

Still in their early 20s, they and their music are brash, exuberant and above all, danceable. If austere economic times are supposed to produce austere politicised music, nobody told Williams.

"We put out music that makes people want to dance and party and that helps them realise that their dreams can be completely true - you can't just disregard what you really want to do," he says, seeking a philosophical rationale behind what most fans see simply as good music to have a good time to.

In songs such as She Changes the Weather and the debut album Where the Heaven Are We, released late last year, Swim Deep combine the musical stylings of the Manchester baggy scene with the live-life-to-the-full aesthetic of Britpop.

"I have hope, lots of hope - and it would be good to translate my hope to other people," Williams says.

The band's live shows are rooted as much in the dance-club tradition as that of the rock gig, with songs stretched out to epic proportions on floaty synth and bass-led grooves. Williams's long hair and rainbow-patterned guitar give a nod to the day-glo splendour of the early days of house music, and the rave parties where it was pioneered.

Unusually for a young band in an age where music is so easily available online, Swim Deep claim to have few influences. That's because, Williams explains, music has never been an inspiration for him. "I'd never listened to records," the singer professes. "I never heard the likes of Pink Floyd, for instance. I mean, I've heard the big hits, but never bought the records or listened to them until recently."

He got into music, he says, precisely because he didn't listen to it. "I just wanted to create it. It just happened like that - to make it and not buy it."

The necessity for him to catch up with his music education becomes more apparent when he lists the sort of artists his parents subjected him to. From his father's side, there was Sheryl Crowe and Natalie Imbruglia, and from his mother's, one name looms large: Lionel Ritchie. "I don't know if he likes it or if he just fancies them," he says of his dad's tastes.

Despite of the paucity of any meaningful musical education, Williams says he began writing songs at a very young age. His recent exposure to new music has brought him to something of an artistic crossroads.

"I have started listening to a lot of albums by different people, a lot of albums I should have already been listening to, really," he says. "I'm now getting influenced by a lot of different things. It's getting harder to write, because I no longer have a blank canvas to write on."

Williams welcomes the B-Town label that's been attached to his and his fellow Birmingham bands. While the tag doesn't denote a particular sound - in fact the only thing linking the bands is similarly tousled haircuts - there is a strong friendship and mutual admiration among them.

It's fair to say that Birmingham has often been overlooked, in favour of bands from London or Liverpool in the '60s and Manchester in the '70s and '80s. While Birmingham has produced big acts in the past - Black Sabbath, Duran Duran and The Wonderstuff spring to mind - more recent acts have been one-off mavericks.

Williams puts that down to the individualistic spirit of the former manufacturing city. Unlike the Madchester baggy scene of the '80s or London-centred Britpop, B-Town bands aren't refusing to fit into any single musical type; they are just naturally doing their own thing.

"They are just people that want to make great music," Williams says. "People there are clever, they know that you can't just copy what another band does.

"In Manchester, there was a different thing - everyone was getting on it, doing the same thing, like one big gang. Some were better than the others. But that's not the important thing for our bands; what is important is writing music that won't be remembered for a genre, or whatever."

Today's pop gangs are forged on the '60s-style showcase tours that have become the norm in recent years. Williams spoke to 48 Hours from London, where his band was preparing for a gig with their old friends The 1975, and another hotly tipped new act, London-based rockers Wolf Alice, led by Williams' girlfriend, Ellie Rowsell.

The pair met while on tour last year and have found themselves sharing many bills around Britain, even though going on tour with the girlfriend isn't high on the rock handbook's to-do list.

"She's my best mate so it's like going on tour with your best mate," Williams says. "It wasn't weird. I suppose some bands go on tour to meet girls - but that's not really us," he says. "I don't really get that whole vibe of going on tour and getting a load of girls in your van. I find it really creepy actually. I wouldn't want to be one of those bands."


Swim Deep, February 8, 8pm, Grappa's Cellar, B/F Jardine House, 1 Connaught Place, Central, HK$280,