As a music curator, I'm sent a lot of music. But every so often, I'm hit with something that completely stops me in my tracks. Dutch producer SWACQ's remix of 'Faded Away' by Sweater Beats & Icona Pop is well and truly Music to Save the World! to (you can read about why here,) and had rightly been our featured track for the month of October.
With a catalogue that spans a huge range of styles and includes collaborations with the likes of Tiësto, Nicky Romero and Justin Mylo - not to mention the frequent spins on the iconic Hardwell on Air collections - SWACQ is clearly a force to be reckoned with in the world of electronic music.
Here, I had the privilege to interview the mind behind the mayhem about everything from writer's block to the future of music playlists. It's always a pleasure to get an insight into how creative minds work, and I think you'll all agree that the resulting conversation was incredibly interesting!
So without further ado, I give you: the mighty SWACQ!
Part I: Meet SWACQ
Matt: First of all, tell us about yourself! How long have you been making music, and what were your early influences?
SWACQ: Hi there! SWACQ here - Dutch DJ and producer based in Amsterdam. Also a shitty cook, and a night owl for life! I first got in touch with dance music more than ten years ago; then I started making my own productions, and took about five or six years to develop myself into the producer/artist I am today.
My biggest influence has been Tiësto, since he has been the one who made me fall in love with dance music. And to have been able to work with with him on his album (Clublife, Vol. 5 -China;) and collaborate with him on three tracks makes that even more special. Also John Christian has been a big influence for my career - he's mentored me for the past six years and helped me to develop, not only as a producer, but also as a person. I call him my second dad haha.
Matt: Tell us how you came about your unique artist name:
SWACQ: Well let’s start with the meaning behind the name 'SWACQ', which stands for Sounds With A Certain Quality. I chose such a name because I’ve always had trouble choosing only one style, so I wanted something that would reflect that. This is why when you’re putting on SWACQ, you can expect all kinds of genres which, in my opinion, makes it more fun to listen to! There’s something for everyone ;)
Part II: The Motivation Behind The Remix
Matt: How do you approach producing a remix as opposed to an original track?
SWACQ: The way I approach most of the remixes I do is muting everything except the vocal and starting from there. However, with this one it went a little bit differently. I was at home chilling on the couch when I got the email saying I had the opportunity to remix 'Faded Away', and after hearing the original track, I got an idea straight away! That idea is the melody you now hear in the drop.
Matt: When it comes to a remix, what do you have to do differently, and is there any pressure to ensure that what you create is both unique yet also holds up to the original?
SWACQ: There’s always pressure when it comes to remixing, because you want to make something fresh but at the same time respect the original track. I think with this remix I tackled both sides; you can hear instruments from the original blending in with the ones I made. Also vibe-wise, I kept the cute and happy side of the original track.
Matt: Is this pressure something you worry about, or do you just go where your ideas take you?
SWACQ: When it comes to producing, I try to worry as little as possible, since worrying too much only makes the process more difficult. Like I mentioned above, I got the idea for this remix almost straight away, so there wasn’t a lot of frustration going on here.
Matt: Tell us how you adapt your creative workflow to meet the needs of a remix; in particular, I love the raw power and energy that you brought to the track. How did you achieve this?
SWACQ: When it comes to workflow, I always try to make the process of creating as short as possible. I believe that when you’re creating something, you do that with your heart and once you sit on it too much, you start making music with your head.
I think most of the raw power and energy comes from the dirty low-end; the brasses; and then all the saturation/distortion that’s going on. I always try to process my synths and samples to make them sound a little crappy and dirty; back in the days with all the analogue stuff, a lot of crap leaked through the channels of a table, or the compressor had a little noise - which in my opinion makes the overall sound come alive!
Part III: The Creative Process
Matt: What's your creative process like? Do you get hit with a song idea whilst you're going about your daily routine, or is it more a case of just getting in the studio and making a mess until something amazing happens?
SWACQ: Most of my ideas start by just messing around with sounds or presets. I just go with the flow. Making a plan when it comes to creating music never comes out the way you want it anyways!
Matt: How long does it take you to take a track from an idea to a finished product?
SWACQ: Hahaha every project is different: sometimes it takes me three days to finish a track, and sometimes it takes me three months. It depends on how the track comes together from start.
Matt: Do you ever struggle with writer's block, or that feeling of perfectionism we get where no matter what we do, nothing sounds 'right'?
SWACQ: I think every producer stumbles upon these situations where you just don’t get it right or have no inspiration. Again, every time it happens it’s a different situation.
Matt: What do you do to recalibrate yourself in these situations?
SWACQ: Sometimes you just HAVE to finish something, and when I don’t have inspiration I can get mad and want to throw the whole computer outside, but for some reason I get over that madness and that’s where I can pick it back up again… I know, I’m weird
The other scenario is that I just sit back and listen to something that gives me inspiration, or open a different project where the idea practically already stands and then it’s just a matter of finalising stuff.
Matt: What would your advice to other creatives be when they're facing this kind of problem?
SWACQ: I would advise trying not to overthink. Just embrace that moment, if it’s not there… it’s not there. Most of the time taking a few steps back can give you a better view on how to move forward again. And of course you have my weird solutions mentioned above which you could always try!
Matt: So what's a typical studio session like for you - do you start with your beats, or are you all about melodies before anything else?
SWACQ: Most of the time I start with melodies since that’s what, in my opinion, will define the track in the end. But sometimes I start with beats; it really depends on how much inspiration I have. When I have none, it’s easier for me to work on a beat rather than push myself to find the right melody.
Part IV: The World of Playlists
Matt: Tell us your thoughts on playlists and the 'Age of Streaming'. What do you think a playlist curator should do to create a playlist worth listening to?
SWACQ: I think it all starts with the track choices that the curator makes. If you’re just gonna take all the music that other already playlists have, then people will most likely follow the ones that are the biggest. I believe that if a new playlist wants to pop out, you need to find those special tracks that not everybody has heard yet!
Matt: What role do you think that playlist curators should play in introducing artists to the right fanbase; how 'involved' should they be in influencing peoples' decisions to listen to a certain artist or track?
SWACQ: I think it depends on the situation. If the curator thinks that the artist in question is really good and should be out there more, they can give the track an extra push by putting it at the top of the list. However, I think the audience will always choose for themselves in the end. There’s not really a written law for how involved a curator should be; I think they should just push whatever they think should be pushed.
Matt: Is there a worry that the diverse range of music that has come from the openness of streaming platforms will be lost, as powerful curators influence the way people write their music in order to make it 'playlist friendly'?
SWACQ: I think there’s nothing to worry about. Music is so diverse, there’s room for every style and you shouldn’t focus too much on the big picture, since that will only distract you from staying true to yourself and creating the music you believe in. Besides, the audience will always choose for themselves anyways!
Matt: What what you advice be to artists who don't quite fit the mould?
SWACQ: Just don’t give a damn and keep doing what you believe in. One thing is for sure, you can’t please everyone!
Part V: Behind the Scenes
Matt: To finish up, tell me a unique fact about your remix of 'Faded Away'!
SWACQ: Well a fun fact is that when I was finished with the remix, I listened back to it with a focus on the vocals. And that’s where I heard that in the second verse of the song they are singing “It’s time to hella party like Madonna - Holiday”. If you listen closely to my remix, you’ll hear the melody of Madonna's Holiday playing for just a second!
Matt: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview with me. Is there anything else you'd like to tell our readers before we sign off?
SWACQ: Are you sure that you want to give me this self-promoting power? Hahaha! Well, I've actually got two new tracks coming out on Revealed Recordings [for those who don’t know, Revealed is Hardwell's label]. I'm also working on some big collaborations and making some more clubby tunes as we speak - so keep an eye on my socials cos a shitload of music is about to drop!
Also, send me your demos through swacq.com; I’m gonna start doing live demo sessions soon!
You can find SWACQ on the following channels:
You can read more about the artists mentioned in this interview here:
About the curator - Matt Jenko
Hi my name is Matt, but my friends call me Matt. I’m on the wrong side of 27, definitely feeling my age, but never felt happier and more content than I do at this point in my life. I’ve been through some rocky patches (who hasn’t) and lived to tell the tale, and boy do I gots some stories.
When I’m not putting my soul through existential hell in my day job, I’m making music, drawing pictures (and making them move in time to the groove, playa), and writing about everything from high-concept sci-fi rigamarole to my thoughts on the intricacies of the music industry.
I’ve been curating for musicto for bloody ages now, and am certainly one of the old guard; my fellow curators are like my family. I love belonging to this tribe of like-minded cats.
If you’re into music that paints vivid sonic landscapes, then we’re going to be the best of friends. And if you’re a Westerosi or from Rivia, hmu: I can talk about that shit all damn day.