One of the more interesting come-ups so far this year is that of Swami Sound, the New York City artist and DJ at the forefront of the NYC Garage scene. His music blends the locked-in patterns of garage and two-step with the bustle and sprawl of the city, with hard, knocking drums intersecting busy melodic traffic. 2023’s been a big year for Swami; his debut album “Back In The Day” landed in February, accompanied by interviews with Finals and Bandcamp Daily. He also shared a spotlight on New York’s prestigious The Lot Radio with musician and DJ Ase Manuel (with underground dance pillar dazegxd making a cameo), and the official Swami Sound Instagram is full of references to upcoming shows.
When aspects of an artist’s career converge like this it’s tempting to think that they’ve come out of nowhere, but Swami Sound has been working for years; their history is full of original tunes, DJ sets on various platforms, and exceptionally tasteful remixes of popular songs in the “two step verification” series. Here are 8 great Swami Sound songs to get you up to speed with this one-of-a-kind producer, singer, and beatmaker.
Back In The Day (Soulecta Dub)
The title track from Swami Sound’s debut dropped just over a year before the album itself. It’s a complex cut, with synths that glare like sunlight on pavement and vocals that bounce around a sonic hall of mirrors. Soulecta’s rework followed in August. Soulecta condenses glitchy vocals from Swami and featured artist CVMILLE, trading the original’s bittersweet complexity for an unfiltered sense of soul. Against newly added electric piano chords and a simplified four-on-the-floor beat, the song takes on a liberating energy perfect for the dance floor. This is a song overflowing with joy and freedom. When Swami sings “Who said I made you that way?” he throws off every restraint, inviting the listener to do the same.
Frank Ocean – Cayendo (Swami’s NYC garage mix)
Swami breathes life into one of Frank Ocean’s most peaceful works in this careful and intricate conversion. Flickers of Ocean’s voice echo from left to right as Swami constructs the main drop, placing synth strings and driving garage drums to heighten the drama in the relatively untouched vocals. He picks particularly raw samples; the mix is full of clicks, taps, rimshots, preserving an organic element as the atmosphere gets more and more cinematic. Emotive at every turn.
“If we behave like we’ve always known, then where’s the space if I’m wrong?” asks Swami Sound on the third track of his debut album. Every element of this song feels like a reward of some kind. The groove is intricate and brisk, built to highlight brief moments of space. Questions of loneliness and balance dominate the first verse as Swami’s voice recalls Kid Cudi’s low glide. As a low-pass filter descends on the tune’s last moments it’s like the listener is placed outside the club, wrapped in meditation and electricity.
Pinkpantheress & Ice Spice – Boy’s a Liar pt 2 (two step verified)
Full of life. Basically a full rebuild that bursts open at the end into some fantastically assembled breaks. Swami uses rounded and agile arps and leads to amplify the fun of the original, adding propulsion to what was already an energising song. The polar opposite of that jazz remix that did the rounds a few months ago.
Omarion – Ice Box (Swami’s redub)
Hearing an artist really extend their efforts is always an amazing experience. On this redub of Omarion’s 2006 single “Ice Box” Swami steeps himself and the listener in the psychedelic embrace of Y2K-era trance, complete with uncompromisingly digital strings, stuttery synths, and a huge four-on-the-floor beat. He keeps the line “I got memories” on loop for much of the opening, going on to loop “my heart”, calling in the glorious transcendence of 2000s club music. Emotion is the mission, the massive kicks driving looped mantras into the listener’s chest. It’s heady, humid, massive, and anchored in a profoundly suave piece of RnB history. A tune that would surely feel at home on the USB of headlining DJs.
Feel It (feat. Chevy Kev, Mr. LU* & mau)
This bouncy single with a studio’s worth of collaborators shows Swami in a different light. “Feel It” is far more attuned to pop playlists than most of his recent output. Funky synth bass holds down an array of bright lead tones as Chevy Kev does more talking than anything, setting a mood for mau’s auspiciously lowkey verse. Swami only sings for three lines; he swoops in describing an elusive feeling that “comes in time to feel it”. Swami’s bridge is clouded in a vast reverb, but his voice ties everything together. Brevity aside, it’s one of his most memorable vocal moments.
“Midnight Dominator” serves as a stress test for Swami’s NYC garage sound, a fitting introduction for an artist obsessed with flipping and reworking existing sound. This is one of the most creatively mixed songs to hit the underground in a while; the first minute alone has vocals that feel as if they’ve been physically layered between modular-esque synth chirps and rustling ambience. Swami steps between contraction and explosion before letting the drums off the leash. He sings; “Talking to me, machines talking to me”. In the clearer moments this feels a reflection of the tune’s organic rhythms, in the noisier second half it’s like the tools and synths and samples have themselves taken over. As the opener to the “Back In The Day” album, “Midnight Dominator” signals a commitment to re-working listener expectations.
Amidst his more experimental work, Swami knows how to put together some proper club material. “Refuse” is a highly confident tune full of intricate percussion and dominating bass. Vocals and melodic elements fall in and out of the timeline, accessed as if at random, as the essentials stay locked in. Sustained bass rhythms invite the listener to find their own groove in the pyramid of elements, and when that classic 909 hat comes in it’s impossible to not feel some compulsion to move. This one’s sure to gather reloads; tell your local DJ to listen in.
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