Giant Swan return with their latest EP Do Not Be Afraid Of Tenderness, a tempest of cataclysmic beats, shard-like synths and howling yet vulnerable vocals. Reflecting on the projects’ foundations, the Bristol techno duo conjure memories of “sweat, undress and inebriation” and explore a newfound understanding of the power in tenderness, all the while reminding us what we are missing by not hearing music on a fat sound system.
The “loss, consolation and serenity” that Giant Swan look to express in this EP reflect wider themes in the world right now, which all feel important to meditate on at this time more than ever. Their controlled expression of chaos offers up a veiled answer for how to cope and find calm within this tumultuous time and acts as an impetus to cathartically dance all your negative energy away.

The EP starts with Silkworm, a thundering track which ripples with energy like a bull unleashed in the pamplona encierro, thundering along narrow streets chasing the listener into second track DYFLGOT. Here the adventure truly begins, maze like and dystopian with a barrage of punches awaiting in its core. It is however in the last track Do Not Be Afraid Of Tenderness that I feel we see the soul of this project. Splintering synths hit deep into the heart of the listener, piercing in their bittersweet euphoria, whilst vocally we get the clearest glimpse at the creators behind these armored beats and it is this offering which hooks you, and brings you back to listen again and again.
Where was this EP written, and when did you start the process of creation?
Rob: It was just written at home. I started the process of writing first sketches for the tracks at some point during the first lockdown in 2020 and then sent them over to Harry, probably around the tail end of the summer if I remember rightly - which I don’t, sorry! We handed it back and forth until we had the feel of the thing.
Harry: Yeah, it took me a while to respond to Rob's initial ideas, and I know Rob wasn't fully into what I added at first (laughs). It took some time for us to get on the same page to be honest, probably because we'd not seen each other since March that year, so naturally it took a bit of time for us to understand where the other was coming from. But then the more we reconnected the easier the process became.
In these tracks, specifically Do Not Be Afraid Of Tenderness, we hear vocals morph as they are continually manipulated switching from more human-esque into increasingly electronically processed takes. Does this process of manipulation of vocals help express yourselves in ways unaffected vocals cannot?
Rob: I suppose so, in a way. We’ve always used vocals in unorthodox ways just by including them as a fairly central part of our weird techno music, particularly when performing live. I don’t think it’s something that unaffected vocals can’t express necessarily, but more through wanting to express something human and relatable in ways that are unfamiliar when associated with the human voice. Particularly in more dancefloor orientated tracks, adding in a vocal can really be the glue that brings all the rhythmic elements together. For that track in particular, it’s one of the few we’ve written that has actual lyrics so probably to a certain extent I was a little self-conscious and wanted to add another layer of grot on top of them for posterity.
Harry: I really love working with vocals, and as Rob says it can bring in a more human context to the often-celebrated cold sounds in a lot of club music. I'm super into how people like Todd Edwards and a lot of UK Grime artists create a sense of warmth and energy by re-appropriating vocals samples into something new and exciting.
Are electronically processed vocals automatically less or more human?
Rob: I wouldn’t say one is more or less human than the other really - it’s all about the intention behind using a voice. It wouldn’t be a stretch to envisage vocals that could muster something decidedly less human when listening to a track. I always liked the idea in metal that the vocalist would be screaming and grunting and trying to sound as inhuman as possible in order to establish a sense of distaste or unease, but how also its this big mark of worth in that particular style. I don’t think you can extract the inherent ‘humanity’ from vocals in any music really and even if the voice is synthetic, there’s a part of our animal brains that will try to hang some sort of recognition or association to it in order to quantify it. I think that’s an interesting paradigm for vocals to fit into.
With the title of this project being Do Not Be Afraid Of Tenderness, who do you feel this statement is directed at?
Rob: It’s a pretty layered title to be honest - it has a lot of meaning behind it that I’ll let Harry expand upon for the most part. For me, its sort of a general carrion call rather than something specifically directed at anyone in particular. It can definitely be read as a message of hope and support in such a trying time for everyone.
Harry: The title is aimed at anyone struggling and needing answers that they can't find within themselves or their immediate context. The phrase is in particular reference to the idea of allowing yourself to be helped, and to open yourself up to tenderness and consolation from the world, whether that's from a person, a community, 'God', a higher power or art. Whatever it is for you, it's generally about allowing ourselves to be helped and embracing the vulnerability that comes from beginning a process of healing. To heal is to learn but learning can hurt.
Coming to inspirations behind the EP, and I understand if you don’t want to talk about this Harry, but I saw that the EP was dedicated on its cover to your late father, has his passing and his life influenced this project at all? And how, if at all, has this music acted as a form of therapeutic process for you?
Harry: Yeah definitely, his influence will always be there with me and will come out in ways I won't even be aware of half the time. He was a very spiritual person as a result of experiencing so much loss in his life and a complex relationship with addiction. I feel like I'm learning a lot more about my own relationship to spirituality and addiction since his passing, and it can feel enriching yet very difficult to confront some of these ideas. Again it's that whole process of learning that hurts sometimes.
I feel privileged to be able to express myself in a creative way, it can be very cathartic at times but also very difficult because you can put a lot of pressure on yourself to have to do that person or experience justice in what you create. Sometimes I think I get more from the actual process rather than the end result, though. There's something that feels too final and linear about art that is 'finished', whereas the process of creating itself adapts and flows with your experiences at the time, as apposed to this fairly 'still' fragment in the form of a finished recording or piece of art. It can feel weird to think about creative narratives working towards an 'end point'.
I saw that you both created the artwork, what is the symbolism behind the horses, are they meant to represent the both of you? How did its creation come about?
Rob: When it came to designing and deciding on the artwork we conferred for a bit about the themes we were interested in. Harry was looking at a lot of horse imagery - I’m not sure why to be honest - he’s always got an eye out for striking and historically rich imagery and this time it was horses. As always, Harry took the lead with the design of the covers but this time he was working from a series of collages I sent him. we’ve always worked like this - nurturing each other’s creative outlets and trying to encourage collaboration between our respective practices.
Harry: It felt really good to work on something visual together, I loved the collages Rob sent over. The idea of the horses, is a continuation of this idea of 'freedom commodified' which we touched on with the use of the weed and wi-fi symbols on our LP design. There is something so liberating about a horse running free, but perhaps that's because throughout history we're so used to seeing horses 'owned', in some way or another, by humans, with their purpose adapted to our own: travel, war, sport etc. I just thought horses show our history with commodifying and ownership in a pretty concise way, but above all I wanted the cover to show a sense of peace and emancipation.
You have a documentary coming out about your UK tour back in November 2019 called Flight Of The Giant Swan by Joe Hatt. What was the process of watching this back like?
Rob: Joe shot it on that tour almost without us noticing. Watching it back was amazing actually - I cried a few times. Seeing footage of our previous life was very emotional, not least because it as all so much fun and now look at us all! Candid accounts of us in various states of sweat and undress and inebriation was bittersweet and I really can’t wait to get back and do more tours with our lovely mates and all those lovely strangers.
Harry: Yeah was very surreal watching it. It felt like a lifetime ago. I still can't quite picture how we can bring that past into the future yet, but it will reveal itself over time I'm sure.
I remember seeing you both at The Loco Klub in Bristol for the show on this tour, it felt like a true homecoming. It seems you were given a big ol’ swan at the show as a welcome back. Was it made of anything tasty? Have you been given anything else strange at shows?
Rob: Yes it was made of cake and was made by an amazing woman called Jane Cameron. Honestly, that was probably the strangest and most wonderful thing we’ve ever been given at a show.
Harry: I was given a Britney Spears cigarette box after a show in Czech Republic once, that made my year.
Harry, I know aside from Giant Swan and your solo project Mun Sing you run Illegal Data, a Bristol night and label, which saw its second compilation unveiled to the world recently. How has this process of curation been for you and have you seen any bleed between these two worlds into inspiration for this EP or do they feel like very distinct worlds for you?
Harry: Working on Illegal Data stuff this past year has helped me a lot. It feels so good to promote other artists we feel passionate about. I get so inspired by every artist we work with on Illegal Data, and that definitely feeds back into my own music and at times Giant Swan too. Curating the latest compilation was a nice way to develop that sense of community that started from our club nights on to something more global and accessible to those outside of Bristol. It feels like the next step for us.
I kinda see the worlds [Giant Swan, Mun Sing and Illegal Data] being quite separate, but there is definitely a crossover when it comes to the ethics and inclusivity we aim to promote with Illegal Data and Giant Swan. Illegal Data gives me a chance to engage more with melodic music and traditional songwriting, which I don't really get a chance to talk about as much when touring with Giant Swan. People mostly want to talk to us about Rob's modular synth, which is more than understandable.
Rob you have also been busy outside of Giant Swan, most recently releasing an EP via The Trilogy Tapes - have you seen any crossover between these works? How did it feel to return to vocals again via Giant Swan?
Rob: Not really to be honest. I think the music I make on my own serves as a distillation of my interests in the wider field of the music I’m into. I’ve given bits and bobs of techno and more stylistically similar stuff to Giant Swan a go, but for stuff that’s just ‘me’ - I think I’ve always wanted to keep the two quite separate. I think that’s why I make music that’s a lot more spacious and abstract than the average Giant Swan tune. Giant Swan is a statement shared with another person and when it’s just me, it becomes something I wouldn’t necessarily want to explore with anyone else. For example, I knew I only wanted to send those tracks to Will TTT and developing a relationship with a person I respect outside of Giant Swan and just coming to everything at its own pace. It’s nice to keep the two things separate.
It felt great to return to vocals, actually. That is something I’ve come to realise is that right now, I’m not really confident in a lot of ways when it comes to producing myself and I’m so used to working with Harry that experimenting and refining what we’ve always done together is still a rewarding process.
You both also recently performed a Boiler Room session in a deserted Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. How different did this process feel compared to your previous set at the Southbank Centre in 2018?
Rob: We played a lot faster and are just generally better now I think. Plus there was nobody actively directing the audience to mill around us and synthesise ‘a vibe’ which was nice. We just got on with it. That whole event at the museum was wicked - everyone else on the bill was great and being able to get back to work for a surreal evening was very emotional.
Harry: Was lots of fun that one. Hilariously awkward but more memorable as a result. Felt a bit more like a rehearsal in a way, having to trust our own instincts as apposed to reading the room or the reaction from a crowd to determine what we'd wanna do next. So it did make us feel a bit obnoxious doing this fast techno thing in an empty room with these big amps alongside a bill of generally more 'musically patient' artists haha.
Did you notice any changes in attitude to your performance in general on returning from these various lockdowns?
Rob: Yes massively - its something we’ve both been discussing a lot in recent months. Like how there’s suddenly all these despondent DJs and people who’ve just been amputated at the party gland and there’s this new normal of streaming and special Boiler Rooms and what have you. I get it, we’re living through totally unprecedented times, but, it just didn’t feel right to get all undressed and lairy in the same way. We react so much to whichever audience we play in front of, so to have that removed entirely from the equation has just totally upended us. We’ve developed a slightly new way of playing live as well, so it's been great to have the opportunity to experiment with new things. I wish we could do a show without any cameras, mind. It's not natural to have everything filmed and kept for eternity on the internet.
Harry: I think a lot of club music is really socially informed so it's a bit weird to think about a sort of fictitious 'dancefloor' when trying to connect with people at the moment. There is something very freeing yet sacred about the dancefloor, it can be everyone's stage, and that's what I've missed most about contextualising club music to the current climate, and I'm finding this lack of democratic audience engagement very odd. Sure artists and DJs might get their stage in the form of a live stream or seated show, but how can the audience respond and express themselves in the same way? Maybe in the live chat window lol.
I know you are both fans of pop music, if there was one pop artist out there at the moment who you would want Giant Swan to collaborate with who would it be?
Rob: Yung Lean/Sad Boyzzz and all the Drain Gang or Little Mix.
Harry: I love M.I.A and Kate Bush, i think they're such visionaries and I'd find being a studio with them massively inspiring, although I was saying the other day about how it's good to separate our love for an artist from a want to work with them. Sometimes the best way to show appreciation is by supporting them in ways that don't involve wanting to have your name in the credits hehe. 
Thank you for taking the time to explore the creation of this EP and its surrounding contexts with me, one final question. What are your plans for the future?
Rob: Keep going. Keep writing tunes, making art and loving each other.
Harry: Keep going. Keep writing tunes, making each other and loving art.