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Electroswing: everything old is new again

Posted by Mike G. / March 23, 2013


Next time you see a Plateau hipstress decked out as a flapper girl, or a fauxhemian rocking the vest, bow tie, and suspenders look, rest assured. They're not a pair of Time Lords who've just stepped out of their police box--they're just heading to one of the monthly parties thrown by a trio of local promoters, Speakeasy Electroswing.

Electro-swing is an emerging music genre that grew out of the European "nu jazz" scene of the mid-00s. Early tracks featured elements such as the swing beat, with trumpet-, sax- or piano-tunes holding central prominence, backed with electronic beats. But the sound is evolving. As more musicians have appropriated the electro-swing term the last two or three years, they are spawning an entire ecosystem of sounds that fuse vintage and electronic music, such as electro-blues, swing-house, swing-step, and, more recently, "bluestep." (Ugh.)

In some ways, Manuel Heussner (a.k.a. Mano Meter), a German DJ and producer from a tech-house background, exemplifies this trend. He is in town touring his EP, Swinger, and will be spinning at Saturday's Speakeasy party at Salla Rosa. I asked him a bunch of questions over Skype.

Q. What brought you to electroswing music?

I'm a musician and DJ. I was born into that musician thing because of my parents - my mother taught me piano and guitar, and I learned the trumpet really early. I've always tried to mix it up. When I was 13 I was totally into that metal thing, played the guitar and had long hair. Then I came across other stuff: the Prodigy, Fatboy Slim, and hip-hop. I've kept an open mind over the year for all kinds of music--classic, romantic and jazz. It was just a matter of time until I tried to mix up all that different stuff.

Q. Tell us about your Swinger EP.

The tracks, I produced them over the past five or six years, but I hadn't finished any. I just liked the creative process, and jamming, but in 2011 I had time to hear all my tracks and decide which to finish. The first track Brassilikum is just based on brass. Swing Gitar and Karussell is more swing stuff. And then there's Abu Phadi - I visited a friend in Abu Dhabi last year; his wife was from Lebanon, so she gave me some music from Lebanon, and that is where the arabic influence is from. For the last one Piano Afrika I used [an African thumb piano] and then produced everything else around that.

Q. Describe how you put together a track.

There are two ways I work. The first way is to start with samples from old swing and jazz tracks and produce everything else around that to beef up the sound. You not only need to program the bass drum, you need to connect all of them so you need some additional instruments, too.

The other way is to play [all the instruments] myself; I don't think a lot about it. When I start a track, I don't see the end. I try to leave my brain out of it and do it with my heart. For example, Twist of Fate on my album track was a collaboration with a 13-year-old saxophonist. I just programmed the bass line and rhythm, let her improvise for 20 minutes and then just cut it and edited it. I wasn't planning to release it; it was just for fun.

Q. How is electro-swing music changing? Does electro-swing mean different things to different people?

There's a difference between making swing music with some beats and making techno or tech-house music with swing influences in it. And other music isn't dead, you know. There are some older producers starting to use that swing influence too, or to use some of those instruments in combination with their techno music.

Q. What's next for you?

This is my last gig from my first North American tour, so I'm going home after this. I will release a Swinger remix album - just other producers remixing my stuff.

Find the Facebook event details here.



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