Everyone knows/ should know Skeewiff. Fusing elements of Swing, Blues & Gospel with contemporary beats, breaks and whomp, Skeewiff’s Electro Swing album has already captured the imagination of the Electro Swing community. With a diverse selection of cuts and tempos, Skeewiff travel from Dixieland through to Ghetto Swing and Swing hop, whilst passing electro blues and Gospel funk on their Journey. Never afraid of fusing genres, theres even a little balkan whomp in there to make sure all bases are covered.
If you don’t know their music, you’ll be amazed to realize how important to Electro Swing Skeewiff is. I’ve been in touch with Alex and Elliot from Skeewiff and I can say they’re really cool, they take time for others and are quite generous giving away tons of free quality tracks spreading love & music to the word! I managed to get Alex to answer a few questions I had:
Back in 1998, can you tell me how this started ?
Myself and Elliot were both making music in the early 90s. I released my first vinyl 12″ as a teenager in 1991 under the name Synaesthesia (Feel the Dream – Vinyl Solution) and Elliot was big on the early Belgian Techno scene around that time so we were no strangers to music production when we met. Elliot was a big fan of analog synths, whereas I was more into sampling and beat programming, so it kind of made sense to merge these very contrasting and complimentary fields of expertise as well as our studios. We finally set up a joint studio in Terminus Road, Brighton in 1995.
We then went through each other’s record collections to see where we could find common ground. What we soon realised is we both had very eclectic tastes, so it kind of made sense to not tie ourselves down too much – which I guess is where skeewiff was born – from a love of all musical dance genres from swing, through mambo and exotica to hip hop, techno and Drum and Bass. After a few years of practice, Ministry of sound’s label FSUK sat up and took notice and gave us our first record deal in 1998. Skeewiff were unleashed onto an unsuspecting public with the AWOL EP shortly after.
Did you know at that time you would become professional musicians ?
No. Not at all & it was very difficult to imagine back then. Elliot and I were on the cusp of a wave of techno-literate non-musicians who were suddenly able to create music without having to follow the traditional path of learning an instrument, then forming a band, then getting a deal, then touring etc. Because we learnt the emergent technologies of midi, sequencing and sampling as kids, we were setup to make the finished product right there in our bedroom studios. We take it for granted now that you can single-handeldy bang together a decent quality track on your iPhone, one handed whilst on the train, but before the 90s it was unheard of. You needed studios, and kit and cash and musicians to make music. We were amongst some of the lucky fellows from the first wave of DIY computer folk.
We still don’t really see ourselves as traditional musicians either: Even though over the years we’ve picked up the ability to play what we need on a few instruments (I play drums and keyboards on the albums, and Elliot plays guitar on a lot of skeewiff stuff) I still wouldn’t consider myself to be a traditional musician. Over the years we have had the great privilege to have worked and recorded with some absolutely incredible people like Clyde Stubblefield, Alan Hawkshaw, Tom Jones, Tony Hatch, Incognito, Young Mc, The Brand New Heavies, Finley Quaye, Alison Limerick etc.. The kind of musicians that blow you away every time….. Once you’ve heard such incredible talent its very difficult to see yourself in the same light…. As the great Les Paul put it when hearing Django Reinhardt for the first time “I might as well be shining shoes”
I guess our real talents lie in composition, programming & production – In bringing it all together and making it sound good. I compose the tracks and do all of the programming and Elliot takes the traditional producer’s role in that he makes the calls, gets the musicians in the studio and records any other parts we need, then its back over to me for the final editing/mixing. The system works because we always come to every step of the project with fresh ears and never get too bogged down. It also means we get to play with lots of tech and have a studio each!!
Tell us about your labels : Jalapeno Records and the newest one Pedigree Cuts ? Was it important for you to have your own label ?
I don’t think an act like skeewiff could ever have made it without it being supported by its own label. Period. A lot of the time labels need to be able to pigeonhole what you do so as to be able to sell you to press/radio/festivals etc. They need to know if Skeewiff would qualify for the Breaks chart, the late night jazz show or the House tent. Skeewiff never really fitted. Anywhere. We never really sounded like anyone else on the label either, so it made the job of the label nigh on impossible. Labels need to be known for a particular sound – like Motown, Blue Note or Ninja. When their stuff comes on – you just know who it is immediately. I guess skeewiff delivering a whole bunch of genre-mashes just confused matters, so deals with FSUK, Wonderboy & Warners were short-lived. We soon realised that if we were going to survive we would have to do it all by ourselves.
So from the ashes of a major record deal – Jalapeno was born, where we lived happily until a few years back when changes in the record industry as a whole meant we had to re-think the whole label ethos yet again. We started Pedigree Cuts in 2008, a new digital hybrid label that gives artists complete artistic freedom, gets the music to the fans, and looks to alternative ways of monetisation. Pedigree is a perfect fit for Skeewiff as it allows us to do whatever we like (and as much as we like) without financial burdens. Nice. Time for that Fidget-Polka album we always wanted to do.. just kidding ;)
How would you describe your music ?
Haha.. good one. I don’t think there is one overriding genre that you could say fits it all. There’s a bit of everything we love I suppose.. Hip hop, Exotica, Funk, Swing, Acid, Cha-Cha-Chas, Breaks, Spy Jazz, Soul.. You name it – chances are theres a skeewiff track that has a nod to it :)
If we’re just talking words.. El reckons its Bombastic, and for me its Jovial. So there you have it.. Bombastic-Jovial. No doubt in iTunes, we come under “Rock” haha
All my christmases at once. I am an ardent Jazz and Swing lover as I believe its one of the greatest forms of dance music there has ever been. Rhythm is everything, and those records had it in abundance. Then theres the musicians: Those 30s cats sure knew how to play! Who wouldn’t want to have licks from Count Basie, The Duke or Tommy Dorsey’s band in their tracks?
I also feel as if I am offering a service. An electro-swing track is part restoration, not just another remix. A lot of those incredible tracks could have been forgotten or disappeared over time as the masters were recorded in mono with a very limited frequency and dynamic range on shellac that degraded after the first few plays. i.e. they sound poo. Which doesn’t cut the mustard nowadays, but that doesn’t mean that the music isn’t absolutely killer! By refreshing old masterpieces, it gets the tracks out there and being enjoyed by a whole new generation.. and that is precisely what skeewiff is all about..
When re-rubbing something from that era, I always do noise reduction, then master the recording to bring out the lead instruments or voice, and then myself and Elliot set out on replaying some of the parts, so we can bring the recording bang up to date. Naturally some skeewiff-isms may slip into the process, but on the whole we try to preserve the essence and melody of the tune as much as possible. Just offering the original work up as contemporarily as possible.
In short.. Electro Swing is an excuse to crate-dig shellac, Remix all your favourite records, Sample whatever you like but most importantly SWING! As an added bonus you won’t wake up knee deep in injunctions either as the copyrights have expired! Happy Days!
How did “Electro-Swing & Gospel Breaks” album come about ?
We did the first track on the album, “Brother Noah”, way back in 2008. along with some of the other gospel tracks like “Don’t Rock the boat” & “Gospel Train”, but didn’t feel we wanted to do an entire album in this style, rather it was a nice vibe that perhaps could go on a skeewiff album. Sadly the tracks just didn’t fit on the “Breaks of the unexpected” album (they were almost too unexpected) so they were shelved alongside other Swing tracks like “Close Shave” & “Light Up”
We then were approached by the magnificent KPM to do a remix album so we literally dropped everything to do that. The dust settled on the whole project for a few months. But some of the tracks had been released on a Pedigree Cuts compilation, and continued support from some of the more discerning Swing Djs – notably the godfather himself Nick Hollywood, meant that the tracks built up a head of steam and more and more requests started coming in. It was time to finish the album, and the growth of Electro Swing as the party music of choice coincided perfectly.. New tracks like “Buffoon”, “Maple Leaf Rag”, “Two Guitars”, “Get the L on down the road” and “Up above my Head” were added and “ES&GB” album was born.
I simply cannot choose one overall, but from the Electro Swing album it would have to be “Maple Leaf Rag”. That was a true work of love. Similar to “comin’ home baby” it is a mash-up/re-rub of epic proportions. Its is constructed from recordings by different bands, across different continents, and in different eras. The original was written by Scott Joplin in 1899, and I used snippets from his pianola performance alongside recordings by four other big bands spanning from the 30s to the 50s.. so a new version was formed from stems recorded over a century, and an impossibly big big band! Particularly proud of having skeewiff’s name next to so many greats :)
What equipment do you use to produce cool tracks ? Back in 1998, what was different ?
We like to see our studios as a compilation of some of the best bits recording technology has come up with in the last 100 years. We still use real instruments and Analog outboard but do most of our tracking and programming work digitally in Logic Studio on the mac nowadays. Limitless audio tracks, Virtual instruments, a never ending array of plug ins and tools like flex-time are absolutely vital for our productions nowadays. Having said that we both have an obsession with all things vintage – so you’ll find valves, springs, plates and tape machines littered around the studios. Not to mention all the vintage compressors and limiters we use for beat squishing.
In terms of instruments we have a couple of Old Drum kits (A 1950s Ludwig and a 1960s Slingerland) a Hammond Organ, a Fender Rhodes, A Grand Piano, Congas, Bongos and more guitars than you can shake a stick at. Elliot still has a few analog synths kicking around and I’ve recently got into DIY circuit bent stuff for the more glitchy side of things. That amount of kit naturally needs quite a few microphones so we have built up quite the collection! The mic of choice this month is the all ribbon Coles 4038 as used by the BBC since the 50s!
Whats different? We had none of the above in the early days :) Just a computer (Atari ST1040), a sampler (AKAI S2000) and a few Roland synths (101, 303, Juno, JX8P). We just couldn’t record real instruments because no-one had the cash or space for a tape machine, so it was all midi and samples back then.. but over the years, we switched to PC and then to Mac and as Hard Disc recording took off we gradually amassed more and more kit. Still, learning to program beats and manipulate sounds across so many different types of machines, from hardware like Akais through to ataris, amigas, pcs and now macs has meant we both are pretty fluent if the dark arts of sequencing and sound manipulation.
What are your plans gentlemen, any cool release coming up ?
hehe.. as usual far too many. We are literally balancing a whole multitude of proverbial spinning plates. Without giving too many games away, we are putting the finishing touches to the next Skeewiff album “Man turns animal” : A traditional skeewiff album blended from the finest funk, exotica, breaks and jazz and some of the usual skee-suspects on there. We are also working on an album with the magnificent Vanessa Contenay Quinones for her Allez Pop Project which is a mix of 60s beat, yeye and french pop which is of course exactly our cup of tea. Not to mention that we have got yet another remix album on the boil… Lets put it this way – 2013 is gonna be a busy year!
Thanks for listening.. Skeewiff over and out. :D