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Making music together

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A Bermudian couple is building up an international reputation as musicians in an experimental electronic music field called Intelligent Dance Music or IDM.

This month Nic and Brian Swan released an extended play (EP) collection, 'Glitch Step', that includes four of their songs 'Dream', 'Train', 'Tounge in Mouth', and 'Twisted Soul'.

An EP is a compilation of music that is shorter than a regular album.

The Swans' EP was picked up by a Chicago record company, Enza Digital, and released exclusively at Beatport.com. It is available online at iTunes, emusic and Amazon.

The Swans perform and record under the name of 1undread. They use words like “experimental”, “playful” and “captivating” to describe their music. The band's sound incorporates slices of jazz and funk, on the organic side, and drum and bass, IDM and dub on the electronic side.

Dub is a genre of music that grew out of reggae music in the 1960s, consisting mainly of instrumental remixes of existing recordings. It is created by significantly manipulating and reshaping recordings.

On 1undread's website they call their work a “balancing act” between the need to fulfill their desire for exploring new territory while at the same time finding a sound that will appeal to others.

“The point of the twisting, shifting, experimentation is being able to hear between the sounds [or read between the lines] to find the hidden meaning behind what you hear,” said Mr Swan.

The Swans have been married for 12 years. They first met while Mr Swan was studying in Leeds, England. Mrs Swan was working as a disc jockey at Liquid nightclub there, and also had a “gig” at the Wicker Man Festival in Scotland. It was at the Leeds Drum and Bass club in 1997 that the two first met and the creative chemistry erupted into the formation of 1undread, and then marriage.

The duo initially created their music on the computer, often offering ten to 15-minute epics that took the listener on strange journeys. The more time spent creating the music, the more play there was with fast edits, small cuts and impossible drum rolls.

Although they grew up in dramatically different environments Bermuda and England they share a lifelong passion for music.

“I remember when I was a small child my mother gave me a toy keyboard, but it could only play one note,” said Mr Swan, son of Yvette and Malcolm Swan. “I used to get really frustrated. So my parents decided to sign me up for music lessons.”

Mr Swan studied violin, double bass and performed with the Menuhin Foundation. He went on to study performance at the undergraduate level at Mount Allison in New Brunswick, Canada, and then on to Leeds University where he obtained a master's degree in musical composition. He currently teaches music at Warwick Academy.

Mrs Swan grew up in a musical family. All her family members did something musical from singing, to playing in a punk rock band to dancing.

“I was singing from as early as I could remember,” said Mrs Swan. “I was very influenced by Ska [the musical precursor to reggae], and Bob Marley and other performers. I was into punk as well. I was in bands from the age of 13 until present day. I was never out of a band if I could help it. Sometimes I was in as many as two or three bands.”

While living in England, she particularly enjoyed working for a pirate radio station. Pirate radio stations are stations without a legal licence to operate. They are often shut down by the police or other governing bodies.

“Sometimes we would get there and there would be no equipment,” said Mrs Swan. “They [the authorities] can remove any equipment, so it is a bit scary. They might take records. We would move from house to house. This was in an area of Leeds called Chapel Town, which was considered a rough part of the city.

“The advantage of pirate radio, is that the listener has more choice. Our pirate radio station, Genesis FM, was run by a Muslim man. He was very serious about his station. He was trying to regulate the swearing and obscenities, although he was very much into hip hop. He tried to run it like a proper station. People still paid for advertisements because people do listen to pirate radio stations. He went on to run a legal station later on. The experience he got from running a pirate station led to bigger things.”

Today, Mrs Swan does music promotional work and also works part-time at Bermuda Clayworks in Dockyard. She would like to do radio work again.

Mr Swan said it was around the time that he met Mrs Swan in Leeds that his interest in orchestral composition turned into an interest in electronic music.

“I have been writing electronic music from then until now with Nic,” said Mr Swan. “You have a boundless range of timbres that you can use, instruments and sounds, as well as being able to use real sounds. A lot of times I will play bass or guitar [using an electronic synthesiser] so you could get that real sound instruments if you want, but I never saw the point of trying to imitate real instruments with electronic ones. I always felt that the whole point of having electronic sounds was to get sounds you cannot get normally.”

Mr Swan has performed in numerous bands and orchestras. He currently plays double bass in a jazz trio, Atlantic Music Group with Chris Darrell and Calvin Worrell.

“We play weddings and parties and things like that,” he said. “Chris plays violin and Calvin plays percussion. We play a range of music from pop to Latin music to jazz. People react to playing with live music. That is the advantage to having live music, you can interact and every performance is different.”

Mrs Swan said that because 1undread plays electronic music, people sometimes think they can only perform in the studio.

“That is not true,” she said. “We can perform live. We would like to do more live performances.”

In fact, next year they have been invited to perform their music at a number of festivals in the United States and England.

In addition to their newly released EP, they also have three albums available 'Revolutionary Dub Type Thing', 'Ear Dance' and 'Triangular Tunes that Let the Flavour Flow Thru'.

“Tunes from these albums are still selling on various websites such as iTunes,” said Mrs Swan. “It is interesting to see what becomes popular on different websites. The top song keeps moving. Or it will be different depending on the website, or the country. Different regions have different preferences.”

Mr Swan said the main reward from having these earlier songs available has been that they got 1undread attention.

“From the stuff we released ourselves we got a lot of interest from a number of other labels that see value in what we are doing,” said Mr Swan. “We will have tunes coming out on online music label called Dub Fetish from Naples, Italy. We will also have something coming out on underground digital music label Morbit Records in the United Kingdom.”

Mrs Swan said: “We will also have a seven-inch vinyl record coming out through Bipolar Beats. I am really excited about that, particularly because I DJ still in vinyl. I prefer it to CDs.”

Useful websites: www.itunes.com, www.beatport.com, www.junodownload.com, Amazon.com, www.1undread.com.

Brian and Nic Swan in a practice session in their home.
Brian Swan and wife Nic in the studio singing and producing intelligent dance music (IDM).

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Published August 25, 2011 at 10:00 am (Updated August 24, 2011 at 9:17 pm)

Making music together

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