Deep into their 2017 Europe tour, Forest Swords made a fleeting stop at Leeds’ Headrow House, one of the city’s smallest venues. Forest Swords, the alias for Liverpool-based producer and artist Matthew Barnes, put on a engrossingly cathartic show.

The release of their sophomore record ‘Compassion’ in May led to widespread critical acclaim. Its broad but focused palette of experimental electronic and dub proves to create cathartic atmospherics that seamlessly transition to live performance.

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Here’s a quick opening snapshot. A dimly lit stage, shrouded by a thick veil of smoke. Barnes approaches his workbench; complete with MacBook and varying synthetic instrumentation.

The format of a Forest Swords show sees Barnes and collaborating bassist James Binary face each other from opposite sides of the stage, sandwiching a screen backdrop. Throughout the performance, various imagery of human nature is cast upon the screen, in tandem with a carefully calculated light show.

Forest Swords opened with ‘Congregate’, the A-side of a single released just three weeks ago in charitable aide of the Puerto Rico relief effort. Despite Headrow House essentially being a compact enclosed room, the glitchy stinted drum sections did their damndest to echo and reverberate through the petite space.

Barnes proceeded to dig out ‘Miarches’, an equally abrasive but sweet cut from his 2010 ‘Dagger Paths’ EP where Binary took the spotlight with the track’s prominent bass grooves. In the spirit of digging deep, a few tunes from the 2013 debut LP ‘Engravings’ were also sprinkled in amongst the newer material, such as ‘Ljoss’ and ‘Thor’s Stone’.

The deeply haunting ‘Panic’ was a stellar fit for the omnipresent smoke shroud, as the prolonged horns and rickety chimes formed a disturbing path for the equally haunting vocals.

Compassion highlight ‘The Highest Flood’ brought the show to a close, as the click-clackety percussions created a clever interplay with the distant keyboard flicks.

Barnes’ background in graphic design lends well to Forest Swords’ shows not only being an audio spectacle, but also in a visual sense. Each light flicker was calculated to a corresponding melody, as was the projected imagery to the theme of each song performed.

Forest Swords’ set lasted just under an hour, whilst relatively short for a headline act, felt just right for this type of artist. Whilst there may always be a desire for a longer performance, there was enough material here for ticket-holders to not feel hard-done-by. As the venue’s lights switched on following the climax of the final song, there was a telling grunt from some audience members suggesting, “was that it?”.

‘Compassion’ is out now via Ninja Tune.


  1. Congregation
  2. Ljoss
  3. Miarches
  4. War It
  5. Thor’s Stone
  6. Irby Tremor
  7. Panic
  8. The Weight of Gold
  9. The Highest Flood

Remaining Forest Swords tour dates:

Oct 25: Teatr Warsawy, Warsaw

Oct 27: Six D.O.G.S, Athens

Oct 28: Salon IKSV, Istanbul

Nov 14: Good Room, New York

Nov 15: Lincoln Hall, Chicago

Nov 17: Chapel, San Francisco

Nov 18: Echo, Los Angeles

Nov 29: Gnration, Braga

Nov 30: ZDB, Lisbon

Dec 01: Sala Caracol, Madrid

Dec 02: Apolo, Barcelona

Dec 07: Reflektor, Liege

Dec 08: Balzaal Vooruit, Ghent

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