Photo: Fredrike Wetzels (Swan Meat)
Even though it is full of nods to this genre or that particular sound, it is impossible to pigeonhole the music that Reba Fay makes under the moniker Swan Meat. Over the past four years, the Cologne-based producer and DJ has released a slew of EPs and singles that are brimming with musical ideas and lyrical content. Her latest release on Mexico’s Infinite Machine – where previously like-minded producers such as Ziúr and Born In Flamez have put out records – alternates between happy hardcore, slowed down rhythms reminiscent of cumbia and hard-hitting quasi funk beats, all accompanied by glossy textures and chopped up vocals. Her mix for our Groove podcast offers an even wilder ride – drum and bass meets hardstyle with Mickey Mouse vocals, Radiohead edits with furious breakbeats rub shoulders with a “donkcore” remix of a brostep smash hit. It’s as unique as the US American’s own productions.
You have received a classical music education and cited musicals or the D.C. hardcore and punk core scene as formative for your taste, however also stressed that Swan Meat really came to life when you first heard Suicide’s “Frankie Teardrop.” What exactly was it about this song that triggered such a reaction in you?
For the most accurate answer, you’d probably have to go back in time and ask 15 year old me, however when I listen to the song now, I’m sure I feel something similar to that first time – being overwhelmed by how the song was equal parts beautiful and horrendous. The terror and pain in Alan Vega’s voice on “Frankie Teardrop” is really unparalleled. I guess I feel like it’d be the dream to capture this amalgam of weird emotions at once in my music, but I don’t think I’m there yet! Someday.
You are originally from the US, but have been based in Cologne for a few years. What brought you there and how did you find the local scene? The city is mostly known for being home to Kompakt as well as its thriving old school hip hop and house scene, but you mentioned going to psytrance parties especially.
I’ve been to a few here and had the most amazing time, I’m hoping there’ll be a time in the future when clubs will open up again. I miss dancing with my friends and being crazy. I love the local scene here, especially my friends at SPA Records who’ve done an awesome job throwing some of the only parties here that feature more experimental – for lack of a better word – electronic music. The techno clubs here are great also, however: I honestly love Gewölbe and really hope to play there someday. I came out here for love!
Besides being a producer and DJ, you also work as an audio engineer. What exactly does your work entail and what type of music do you usually work with?
I mostly help out friends in my community with mixing and mastering; I started learning the ins and outs of engineering when I worked at an analog studio in Chicago, since then however I’ve been self-taught and building a portfolio. I work digitally and optimise tracks for digital release and distribution, etc. I’ve worked with all sorts of music: showtunes, pop, but the majority of the tracks I’m mastering are of course electronic tunes.
You’ve released several EPs through labels like Permalnk or Bala Club, however also put out music regularly through your own Bandcamp page. What role does this independently released music play in your work? Are these just one-off projects, mere B-sides or conceptual entities of their own? A lot of your recent tracks revolve around a character called Tearz.
They are entities of their own, I think; definitely not B-sides to any release of mine that’s out there. Lately I’ve been releasing a new track every week. They revolve around a stuffed animal named Tearz because Tearz is cute and also because I like to think of songs as colorful weird eerie puppet animals stuffed with ear candy come to life. That sounded really corny, probably – it’s almost 2 am, brain’s a bit soggy!
Your latest EP was called Fleshworld and came out through Infinite Machine. According to the Mexican label, the release sees you “rejecting what (you see) as a club scene scarred by its allegiance to technocapitalism, the fashion industry, and an elitist obsession with the fine arts.” Can you elaborate on what it is exactly that you criticise in the club scene?
It’s hard to put my finger on it, but I’ve seen in recent years this impulse among certain factions to make electronic music into this highly academic entity which can also be used to talk about niche theory, which to be honest I just never related to, as catharsis and, well, fun have always been at the heart of listening to and loving music, for me. Of course, everyone relates to music in a different way, and if it’s through Deleuze, that’s cool too. I’ve also been in situations – artist panels, etc. – where people have imposed a “thesis” on my music – this is about the feminine body; this is about illness, et cetera – that always make me feel a bit uncomfortable. So I guess with Fleshworld I was trying to make the statement that it’s the flesh of producing – the raw audio pith, raw sonic energy – that matters to me, personally.
While Simon Reynolds’ piece on so-called “conceptronica” was negatively received by a lot of producers, you defended the music journalist and said that “it’s somehow no longer enough to make music that instills others (…) with a sense of joy: there has to be this conceptual padding.” Are these constraints that you also grapple with as a producer?
Oh, one hundred percent. I always feel like I’m not doing enough.
You said in an interview that Flesh World marks the first time that you’ve been able to integrate the starting point of a lot of your previous releases – poetry – into more conventional songwriting, what you call “poem melodies.” Which role do your poems play in your work as a producer?
When I do write, poems serve as inspiration for new tracks. If I can’t work something out in the moment in Ableton I always try to work it out elsewhere in writing, with language.
You hold a residency at Rinse FM and usually play a very broad variety of music. How do you approach your radio shows as opposed to regular DJ sets?
I approach every Rinse FM show like a DJ set, as though I am in front of an audience. Of course in a “regular” “live” DJ set, you’ve got an audience in front of you, waves of energy with and through which you can react. Making a mix alone in my room is a kind of myopic, intimate experience and there I’m just reacting to the whims of my own attention span, which is as stout as a stick of Orbit gum.
What was the idea behind your contribution to the Groove podcast?
High energy, lots of breaks, lots of floaty elaborate melodies and some pop vocals thrown in like ribbons – I’m missing performing and DJing terribly right now, so in this case I really did imagine what I’d want to play, in this moment, for an audience. I ended up dancing around my room listening back to this one, which doesn’t happen often, so I’m satisfied.
Last but not least: what are your plans as a producer?
To keep trying my best and release as much as I possibly can – and maybe even finally finish the album I’ve been working on for what feels like an epoch.
Stream: Swan Meat – Groove Podcast 257
01. Darktek – Skyfall
02. Silentroom – Rain Shower
03. Aksys & Noha – Bullet Voice
04. Aponaut – The Other Side of Darkness
05. DJ Beverly Hills – I Glocked the Sheriff
06. Barktek & Skrat – Matrioshka
07. Teknambul – Monkey Tricks
08. Teksa – Tapage Nocturne
09. Marshmello – Earthquake (Nederkant Remix)
10. Swan Meat – Suckling Grown
11. Axyom – Behemonth
12. Genick – Resistance
13. Radiohead – Idioteque (Yeahhbuzz’ Deep State Sock Puppet Edit)
14. Hairitage – Bring Tha Fiya
15. Sharps & Jiqui – Drop It
16. Graves & Aska – There Are No Penguins In Alaska
17. Yvklnxmlyvzvwv – CD Rust Proofing Loots
18. 青龍×T+Pazolite – 256*256
19. 月龍 – Moonlight (AO-Mix)
20. Dr Peacock & N-Vitral – Disorder
21. Shanti People – Tandava
22. Kurama – Ellesmere
23. Plur Core – Fly
24. Swan Meat – Rabies’ Kiss (Animals 2.0)