For a time, Swans were my favourite group. Brutal but oddly beautiful, they were the most extreme expression of what I wanted from rock and roll. There were bands who were faster and dirtier and more obscene, but Swans were particularly out there because what they were doing was quite clearly art. With a capital A. I liked that there was meaning behind it all and that they weren’t just a bunch of nihilistic punk wasters who wanted to shock people. As for the meaning: I didn’t really care. In fact, I found their obsession with violence, sex and death a bit silly. Still, for a kid who fancied himself as arty they were the perfect credentials band. My wonderful Greed T-Shirt also ensured that hip passers-by knew I wasn’t just a dopey kid.
Which is to say, of course, that I was as much a prat as any other teenager.
But all of that isn’t to say that I was just pretending to like them. All the arty stuff was just an added bonus. I was pleased with myself that I was indulging in something cerebral but was really loving the fall into the sheer noise and base terror of it all. Full blast through the headphones, night after night.
And it’s there, on the gut level, that Swans really work. They’re not pleasant, they’re not to be played in the background and they can’t be danced to. But their slow tempoed, brutal crunch can be just the thing to remind you that rock and roll – when it’s done right – can still get you right there.