Sways Records

Sways Records

THE WAVE –  Silent Radio’s feature where we speak to the city’s venue owners, promoters and new music advocates. The guys (and girls) behind the magic and probably the very people responsible for one of your favourite music experiences…

Ben Ward (Sways Records): Meeting Ben Ward, one of three leaders of Manchester/Salford record label Sways Records, in Soup Kitchen, a venue which has been the host of many ambitious shows, including a show by Sways themselves where the artwork that inspires the label was decked throughout the basement acting as a perfect parallel to the gritty woodchip of the Soup Kitchen basement, seemed a perfectly fitting way to contemplate the graveyard dedicated to the memory of Manchester’s lad rock that the city’s music scene was back in 2008 – a desolate desert which probably inspired both venue and label to open their doors, as Ben remarked, in order to “sweep that shit away”.

The claustrophobic confines of lad rock cast a looming grey shadow over the efforts of more ambitious artists, eventually forcing them to hail themselves out of the heavily-clad dirt and look elsewhere for life and acceptance.  This is in-fact exactly what happened to the founders of Sways, Manchester-bred Ben and Martin whose band ‘The Marder’ on being faced with the city’s limited number of venues for young bands, at that time just Moho, Dry Bar, Night & Day and The Roadhouse (it’s important to note that where we’re sat now didn’t exist), fled to Glasgow and Europe where they found more forward-looking music scenes and most importantly, other musicians from Manchester who had ran from the ghoulish ghosts of the graveyard and it was in that disillusionment Sways began;

Why Sways Records Happened: “The origins, which aren’t even that long ago, because we launched 3 years ago, but it was about a year before that we started to become disillusioned with music in Manchester.

If you went back to 2008 Manchester you’ve got the remnants, you’ve got a museum, it’s living on its past. So, the promoters will be looking for bands that either sound like The Stone Roses or maybe they sound like the Courteeners, who maybe want to sound like The Stone Roses, and they’re probably the reason why people come here in the fast place, but does that mean you should create a museum where people go, ‘You know, tonight we should go to a gig and see these bands that sound like Stone Roses’, you don’t want to go out and see every band sounding like that, you don’t want it to be just a museum, but that’s what it was.

The promoters were paid by the venues to bring those kinds of things in; it was much more for the tourist than it was for anyone here. We just assumed that was it and it would last forever, you don’t assume it would change, so that’s why we ran off and did pretty much all of our gigs in Glasgow and in Europe because the people there were appreciative of something different.”

However, ironically in running off from the Manchester music scene the-soon-to-be Sways founders met like-minded musicians and vowed to breathe life back into the scene they had recently dislodged themselves from;

“At that time, we were playing gigs in Europe, in fact we got booked more there than in Manchester, and it was there in Berlin we met Emperor Zero and they were like minded, so we kind of thought in Berlin why don’t we do something to change things? So, we came back buoyed that we were amongst people with a similar mind-set.

563721_369730329738384_1070546995_nThe pact, I think was made on a beermat or something [laughs] and we just promised to record them and put them out.

In The Beginning: The early days for the label were as unhinged as the personalities who would soon be releasing music on the label, and things got even more out of control when those artists, who hitherto had been inhibited by the conventions of the scene, swarmed in to see what this label could do for them, unveiling a cluster of bright musicians who like Ben’s band where as yet unheard of;

“No-one had run a label before, no-one had been a manager of band, no-one had been in the industry before; we were all outsiders.

It took us a year to figure out where the hell you get vinyl done, then we worked out we had to go to Czech Republic to do this, and we still do which is mad.

Then, even on launch we didn’t know what we were doing, we just knew we had records and we had to sell them to do more releases; which is essentially how it worked, we’d sell some, we’d make some money back, then we’d put out another release.

Then, however we started to realise there’s lots of good music in town, amazing music, we realised we had to put more money in so we could get more money back, and so it ended up starting something like a few hundred quid and becoming thousands of pounds; it spiralled out of control because we’re not bankrolled by anybody, there’s no rich benefactor.”

Getting noticed: There was then one meeting which truly lifted Sways from the undergrowth and into the consciousness of many in and around the city;

“So, it was one day when I was walking down Oldham Street that I met Jamie (Money) and because he’d heard of the two bands we’d released stuff by it instantly made him interested and he said ‘actually you’re doing something different’ and when you start attracting the attention of someone like Jamie, you know you’ve reached a different group of people.

So, when he came to the Bunker and saw what we had he was amazed and said we should be doing our debut single with you, so that opened up pretty much everything since, to different bands, different musicians, GREATWAVES came from that, Kult Country came from that, and it also opened up the channels to press, and France is our second biggest customer now and Money helped with that, but we continue to sort of tap that really as that’s important for us, culturally as well, they love Manchester but not the one that was here before, the one that we’re reflecting.”

The Fuhrer Bunker as a venue: The bunker, which has become infamous to many, now became the image which Jamie foresaw as he looked upon the remnants of a bag factory still packed with the industrial machinery of a bygone era;

“Jamie saw that it could be used for something and said if you let us use this space and you build a functioning venue where we can play music then we will bring people, so that’s when we went ‘yeah, let’s do it.”

1479462_718163421561738_2050693728_nThis decaying factory which slumps adjacent to Strangeways and is victim to the harrowing cries of prisoners, then became the start of something and as new promoters around town Now Wave, who worked with MONEY and Sways ahead of the two opening shows, stood in the desolate basement waiting for the night ahead, hoping to get around 50 people in, they were unaware of the important ground they were standing upon;

“Now Wave were involved and we didn’t know people were going to come down, we might have got 50 people and never done anything like this again, but those first shows were amazing because you suddenly saw people who wanted to see something different coming to the Bunker.”

So, it was in a desolate seedy underground basement that Manchester started to lift itself up out of the soils of the past and this backstreet ethic now begun to reflect itself around the city, as promoters, labels and bands began to work together to create an environment, which although paid homage to its past, looked forward to a future which flung the inhibitive creature of the past off its back;

“As we started to make ground, there were new promoters in town, so your Now Wave started then, Underachievers, Please Try Harder started then and other small labels launched.

So, it was almost like a load of people swept it away, all at once, swept away the shit.”

At all costs: However, as things grew and the MONEY single, with that oh so famous front cover of Jamie stood penis out, made piercing tremors beyond the boundaries of Manchester you would think things would change for the label leaders, yet in fact their conditions were worse than you could imagine;

“I had to live in the Bunker for a long time, it was horrible really, freezing cold, there was no heating and you haven’t got any windows so when you wake up you don’t know what time it is, it could be morning, it could be night, especially if you’ve been on a bender you literally do not know if it’s 7AM or 7PM, there was many nights like that.

You would wake up and see your own breathe, basically it was pretty horrible but it served its purpose as we managed to put out a load of singles because of it, and Martin still lives down there and he can cope with the cold a lot better than I can.”

So, to continue the flow of singles Ben avoided rent by staying in the Bunker, whilst working a tedious 9-5 admin job, where he still works now, to fund the label’s output.

Nights at the bunker then became an established outing and once a month Ben’s bedroom would become a floor of empty cans stained by traipsed in mud, however in Sway’s eyes these nights became too established and underscored the originality they wished to represent;

“The shows were really exciting but then it becomes established so you kind of want to stop, so we stopped then really.

Not doing the same thing: You just want to do it a few times, otherwise it sort of becomes the norm; we actually ended up finding people who we wanted to put shows on there themselves, so we’re talking like rave nights even more underground than we were, which was exciting because it was a different crowd.

Ultimately, though the idea of putting bands on in there is not as exciting as it was.”

The Bunker

The Bunker

So, the impact of Sways then became more central taking over the city’s now numerous venues and transforming them into subversive art-based events where music and art colluded as one.

Releases from the label, like the nights at the bunker, were confined to limited copies in order to avoid becoming the norm and also, more simply because of a sheer lack of resources which prevented and still prevents the label from releasing more artists from Manchester, where they believe there is an incredible wealth of talent;

“If I had the money or we had the money, I would have put out at least three times the amount of releases we have put out because there’s so many releases we could have done with other bands, who we’ve had to disappoint through the purposes of that we simply do not have the resources.

More labels needed: In Manchester now, you’ve got whole other scenes and in my opinion there’s room for 10 more labels to do it in the sense we’ve done it, now three years later were selling to Jamaica, America, and Europe, we don’t just sell in Piccadilly records, and other labels could do the same, I mean there’s definitely room for 10 more labels and I think it would help because of the sheer amount of music going on.”

Although, bands have left Sways for bigger things i.e. Money and G R E A T W A V E S, who are both now signed to Bella Union, the future of Sways remains as healthy as the scene which it reflects, with Kult Country set to record an album with MJ of Hookworms later this year, and with albums also currently being recorded by Ghost Outfit and Naked (On Drugs), while the debut single of Whalley Range duo Bernard + Edith has just recently been released.

Ben, in fact views this year with particular importance and sees it as a time when the label can grow to the extent that it can retain bands of similar talents to those they’ve lost, and begin to compete with the country’s major labels, although in a different manner;

“We never started out to be a stepping stone, we’ve given up a lot to do this and we’re not here to fund the pockets of some faceless businessman.

Sways RecordsAlbums, Albums, Albums: This Kult Country album is the biggest release we’ve ever done and it’s on such a big scale that we’re equalling those big labels with what we’re doing, we are putting everything into this, I mean Youseph [the lead singer] has been sleeping the last few weeks on a hard floor to do this and that is probably the most admirable thing because he is lying on the floor for his art.

If this release just goes alright we might struggle to put another album out for a long time, but as it should do, it should do really well and then we’d be able to put two albums out from this album, we’ve got albums queued up ready to go so hopefully this kickstarts the era, the next few years is hopefully trying to build that.”

As he considers those next few years, whilst naming all the releases set for the year – Emperor Zero’s ‘Heart of Iron’, a new track from Naked (On Drugs) and a Ghost Outfit album – his deep-thinking contemplative gaze which he has held throughout the interview, suddenly turns into a wistful twinkling smile and with a glint in his eye he remarks gaily;

“I wouldn’t leave any time soon, anyway.”

Paddy Kinsella

Hi all, my name is Paddy and I have a love for everything from African music to indie to house (basically anything other than heavy metal). Gigging and listening to albums are genuinely the things I most value and love doing.