An in-depth look at a Northern powerhouse, and a video exclusive from crew member Famous Eno.
In my last article for THUMP, I wrote about the house and techno scene in Belfast. In that, I touched on how one of the difficulties that Belfast faced was how common it was for people to move away. At some point between writing that article and writing this one, I became one of those people and moved to Manchester. Now this wasn't really a shock move, since I'd gone to uni here, but in the three or so years I've been away from the city, my experiences in Belfast and elsewhere have changed what I look for in a night out. I still love house and techno, but increasingly I'd found an appreciation from dance music from other places.
I've been a long time admirer of Murlo, whose slots on NTS and Rinse showcase his enviable knowledge of dancehall and bashment. He's a resident at Swing Ting, a night that I'd been reliably told by more than one person was "the best clubnight in Manchester". I'd been vaguely aware of it when I left Manchester three years ago, so somewhere in that period it had obviously built in reputation. Attending for the first time a few months back was a pretty special experience. The levels of sheer joy, and the crowd's involvement in the music was unlike any other clubnight I'd been to. Of course, I was intrigued how this happened as, since it's been running for around six years now, it's obviously not something that has occurred overnight.
Samrai and Platt, alongside MC Fox, Joey B and Murlo, make up the Swing Ting crew and have been there since it's inception. Platt told me "There was never a plan. We were both in halls together, made some not very good music together, did some radio on [Manchester student radio station] Fuse, and I guess that was the starting point for Swing Ting". "We were DJing a lot, and buying a lot of records" Samrai tells me, "when we were living together we did a few house parties, then we ended up getting a bit overrun and we thought 'why are we doing it here when we should be doing it somewhere a bit more controlled?' I guess it spilled out from there."
While they've been DJing together for a while now, it's fair to say that Swing Ting as a well-known and respected name in Manchester has been a more recent development. "It's probably been in the last three years or things have just started to make a whole lot more sense," Platt explains. "There's always been a coherent vibe in terms of what we do and what we're playing but recently we get more of a sense of where we fit in terms of other parties and people." It's that coherency that makes Swing Ting so important. While there have been trends coming and going over the years, they've stuck to playing fun soundsystem music. You'll hear R&B and rap sitting comfortably alongside dancehall, soca, garage and grime, enthusiastically lapped up by a crowd who in turn make every party a pretty singular experience.
They've had the night in a number of venues around Manchester, but from 2011 onwards it's been resident solely in Soup Kitchen. "We threw a party and Sam [Lewis], one of the owners at Soup came down and met with us. He basically said he wanted us to do a regular night there and he wanted something that would be a bit different, that people could come down to every Saturday" Samrai recalls. "Even though his own taste was house and techno, he got what we did and liked our vibe." The club, essentially a dark basement with a very respectable soundsystem, suits Samrai and Platt's desire for somewhere they can blare it out.
Another testament to the strength of the night, and how great they all are as DJs, is how they buck the trend of using the growth of a night to pull in big names. The Swing Ting crew have instead realised they can centre their nights around themselves and their friends and still pull in a crowd. "A lot of nights only exist on the basis of their headliners which we don't really need. We always want Swing Ting to be cheap...the plan is for it never to be over a fiver" Their enthusiasm to get people from all corners through the door makes Swing Ting an especially unique experience, the age range being something I noticed in particular about the night. Samrai explained "I feel if you're a bit too self-indulgent, you'll get caught out. You've got the people who go to every party and are just there for a good time after a tough week. They're not on Twitter or Soundcloud or listening to Rinse shows... but when they meet the nerdy crowd it all just seems to come together."
Combine this with the inevitable student presence and local stragglers in the Northern Quarter looking for a Saturday night out, it's pretty special that it works at all. Yet it seems this convergence is something they're keen to keep true to. "That's why we don't really do tickets, it's fine if people want to be really organised in advance but what about the people who want to just come down and party?". The continued success of the night is clearly something that not only relies on the music, but also who they manage to bring through the door.
With such a unique vibe at the party, it seems natural that they wanted to start a label. "I guess it was about a year ago we decided, though it was always something we'd had in the back of our minds," Samrai adds. Once they got the got the ball rolling with their first release, Brackles and MC Fox's "Skank" near the end of last year, Swing Ting now show no signs of letting up. The second release came from the pair themselves and the third from Madd Again!, a collaborative effort which included garage legend Zed Bias and MC Trigga. "I don't think there's ever been a Swing Ting party where a Zed Bias track hasn't been played," Platt explains, "so when he approached us [for the release] it was a pretty special moment." This recognition is incredibly impressive, particularly since Swing Ting has built itself up almost entirely through their own merits. It's also evidently something that spurs them on, with another release from crew member Famous Eno coming shortly. "After five or six years of running the party you build up this network without meaning to really," Samrai continues, "so doing the label is an organic thing for us. To make the whole thing an organic process is important. You never really know where it's going to get to."
With the label and the night together, the Swing Ting crew have crafted an identity that's difficult to compare to anything else around at the moment. While they have many connections in London, including Hipsters Don't Dance and the now-defunct Wifey night, Swing Ting does feel quintessentially Mancunian. Platt agrees, "I feel like we were one of the last parties to be influenced by Manchester's more legendary clubnights such as [Jon K and Kelvin Brown's night] Eyes Down, and in a way we wanted to keep that kind of template of having variety but playing what we wanted to play."
"We were influenced by those parties but we changed up what we were playing by going for more street sounds, I guess," Samrai adds. "Jon K is a massive influence. You'd see him after a headliner but he'd keep everyone there with his selections because he kept you guessing. He keeps you on your toes." But it's not just the broad scope of what's played at the party that they feel comes from Manchester. "Here you can get everyone together and have a party. I think that's something that's steeped in Northern, Mancunian culture: people really love their music and they love partying."
There's no shortage of things going on in Manchester, but nights like Swing Ting are what makes it a city worth spending some time with.
THUMP are also delighted to bring you an exclusive look at the video for "Jaws Riddim" by the aforementioned Famous Eno. Directed and edited by THUMP favourite Esqueezy, it's a derranged bit of A/V madness that's set to sort your Monday out properly. Watch it below:
Jaws Riddim is released on August 7th on Swing Ting.