My friend Joe is the font of all musical knowledge. His opinion on music is trusted above all others, a bit like how we trust Bill Nye when it comes to global warming, or Top Cat when it comes to bank loans. Seeing Swans in the flesh was described by him as akin to being shell shocked, ‘the most intense experience possible’. As usual, he was correct.
See, Swans aren’t a band; they’re a noise violation in the form of a couple of old dudes who look like soft core pornographers. Playing in a room that’s more sparse warehouse than prototypical gigging venue, a sweltering suicide bunker of a place that probably holds regular fight clubs when they aren’t playing host to one of the most unique bands to come out of the New York No Wave scene. With walls adorned with throwback beer posters and Mexican luchador paintings, the Asylum is Birmingham’s truly alternative music venue; a place for those who always wear black, have unironically ridiculous facial hair and have spent a great deal of time over analysing Twin Peaks. This is Swans’ breeding ground, they were in there element here, they were playing a festival of the damned to their island of misfit boys.
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To say Swans are loud is a bit like saying the Nazca lines are impressive; in that it doesn’t quite do it justice, it’s way more impressive in person and that there’s this nagging doubt in the back of your brain that there is no way that humans were able to do something this preposterously incredible without any outside help. Swans are the result of what would happen if an avalanche and pyroclastic flow meet in a confluence of unbridled energy and raw power. From the sheer onslaught of droning guitars as if your eardrums are infested with hornets to the wailing cries of the distorted lap steel guitar that just won’t stop battering your internal organs until your left with the expression of Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’.
This is a band that should come with a safe word, something you can yell out when you just can’t take any more of their punishment that straddles the line between pain and exquisite bliss. Swans pump out this great wall of noise at their audience, coupled with driving bass lines that crack your ribs like tooth picks and with indecipherable, almost shamanic chanting; you find yourself amidst the noise and the heat and the power in the closest thing possible to a Native American sweat lodge. After spending time in there with Swans, you emerge a different person, physically and spiritually, your brain and body are broken, left in pieces held together by gristle and sinew, but your mind, your mind is recharged, abluted and reenergised.
Seeing Swans live is a rite of passage, a ritual that all music fans must go through. This is the Hajj of the music world, and once undertaken, you will be changed forever and left with in an unalterable state of PTSD; Post Traumatic Swans Disorder.