DIGITAL COVER | JULY 2024

Words: Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson
Photography: Hyperfrank
Art Design: Adam Gill

Swindle’s Sonic Dreamworld 💫

It’s a bright and early Monday morning when Laura ‘Hyperfrank’ Brosnan, TRENCH’s executive editor and resident snapper, picks me up from my base in Brixton for a near two-hour drive up the M1. We’re on our way to the home of British super-producer Swindle, someone we’ve both known and whose work we’ve both supported since the mid-2000s. It’s probably been just as long since me and Hypes did this together: travelling far out to interview and capture a talent we highly rate, something we did on almost a weekly basis in our early years as budding writers and documentarians.

The story of Swindle, born Cameron Palmer, is a long and winding one. Since the South Londoner’s arrival on the scene in 2006, there have been a lot of different eras, some of them overlapping, even doubling back. He first emerged as a grime producer, creating and selling his own mixtapes of grime riddims he had cooked up in his bedroom (see: 2007’s The 140 Mixtape). Eventually, the scene came knocking and by the end of the 2000s, he was notching up a respectable CV, producing Chip’s first mixtape and working with the likes of Ashley Walters (Asher D), Roll Deep, Professor Green, and more. As a producer in his own right, he began folding the purple/jazzy sound that came out of dubstep into grime’s raw and rugged foundation. It was like nothing we had ever heard before, his older productions still a good decade ahead of us.

Jazz and funk has always been present in Swindle’s output. Long before grime or anything else, these were the sounds that raised him, pulsing through the family home, his father’s guitar-playing and record collection a central source of inspiration. Those early eras in his career helped define who Swindle is today. Years with Elijah & Skilliam’s Butterz empire helped send his music global, touring as a DJ in countries he used to dream of visiting. Meanwhile, as the headline artist on landmark albums like Peace, Love & Music, No More Normal and The New World, Swindle has been able to develop a sound that draws on all his influences to create something immediately recognisable as his.

It’s also helped him build a community of collaborators and like-minded souls who can just pick up where they left off every time they step in the studio together. That connectivity extends to his work as producer and executive producer on other artists’ work, too. You can hear that Swindle magic on albums by Kojey Radical, Loyle Carner and Mahalia—all of whom appear on his albums. It’s helped him evolve into the studio maestro and band leader he is now, but if we’re talking identity, it all starts with the jazz and funk of his childhood and that decision to embrace it and put it at the heart of everything he does.

Even now, in his current era of scoring TV and movie soundtracks—something he’s wanted to explore for as long as he can remember—Swindle carries those early experiences with him. The first soundtrack he scored is one he keeps secret. He isn’t credited as Swindle on it and remains guarded about the details, but if we consider that practice hours, then we can consider Candice Carty-Williams’ Champion his official debut, in which he worked alongside the legendary Paul Saunderson. Telling the story of aspiring musicians and the sound of Black Britain, Swindle had a load of talent to work with, including star of the show: Ray BLK. His latest score is for Queenie, another Carty-Williams gem, this time sourced from her novel of the same name.

Spreading his wings even further, this time, Swindle blossomed. Over the years, he has at times been underestimated and denied the same benefit-of-the-doubt afforded to some of his peers, but with Candice Carty-Williams, he’s found himself a collaborator and advocate who gives him full reign and support. Now with more freedom and more certainty in his vision than ever before, we’re getting the truest version of Swindle. Producer, exec producer, DJ, songwriter, band leader, husband, and father of three—this is Cameron Palmer.

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Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson: I think the first time I came across one of your productions was in 2007 via MC Purple’s “Beautiful Music”. It had that R&G thread running through it—a sound that had been bubbling underground for a couple of years by then—but you jazzed it up with some serious instrumentation that made it stand out from anything else that was being released at the time. You’ve since been lovingly dubbed “the jazzy grime guy” and have made a revered name for yourself within the production world. How has the journey from then to now been for you?

Swindle: I was thinking about this the other day: I feel like I’ve had a few careers, and being able to start again so many times has kept things interesting for me. Like, in 2006, I was selling mixtapes on the high street—Central London, outside Trocadero. I remember a policeman told us that they took our pictures and that if they saw us around there again we’d get arrested [laughs]. From around 2006 up until around ‘09, I worked on a lot of projects—Ashley Walter’s mixtape, Chip’s first mixtape, Professor Green’s project, Roll Deep’s album—and I was still working at the same time. Then, in 2011, that’s around the time Butterz was forming and I started DJing again, which I’d done a lot of when I was younger.

Led by Elijah, the early years of Butterz were focused on getting grime in the raves again, but centred around the producers, like myself, Terror Danjah, Champion, Royal-T and Flava D. We also worked closely with Rude Kid, Teddy (Silencer), Faze Miyake, and then dubstep was blowing up during the same time as well. I ended up DJing around the world; I went to places that I never dreamed of going to, like Japan, Brazil, South Africa… Sometimes, I feel like since I’ve come off the road, I’ve been a bit disconnected from my supporters; it’ll take a lot for me to go back on the road again because I’ve got so much work on, and my family’s at home and I love being here with them. But yeah, that takes me up until 2018—that’s when I started to miss writing music, away from the idea of it being played in a club. So I made No More Normal, my debut album that I released in 2019.

Was “Water” on that album? I should know this because it’s one of my favourite UK collab tracks of all time; I’d even go as far as to say it’s beautiful, and I don’t even talk like that [laughs].

[Laughs] “Water” was a standalone single. I actually made it for No More Normal, but Kojey [Radical] really liked it. We had a session and we made “Coming Home” and “Water” back to back. Then Mahalia jumped on “Water”, and the rest is history. That kick-started my next career: executive production and producing real records. I wanted songs that would be played on the radio, and we did that. Also, playing live was a massive part of that time around No More Normal, building the band, doing big-band stuff, working with orchestras, that kind of thing. Now, I’m at the beginning of yet another phase in my career: working in the TV and film space, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. When I realised that Quincy Jones had done that when he was, like, 20 years old, I was like: “Okay, when I’m 40, that’s what I wanna do.” So I was slowly working towards that, but it’s all happened so fast—scoring two TV shows and a few adverts—to the point where I feel like the new kid on the block again.

We’re gonna get to this current phase a little later, but before you were working with star vocalists like Mahalia, Maverick Sabre and Etta Bond, you were creating cinematic soundscapes for some of the country’s biggest grime MCs, such as Ghetts, Flowdan and Jme, and later rappers like Loyle Carner and Kojey Radical. What was it about these lyricists that made you want to work so closely with them?

Because they care about what they do. What I love about my relationship with, say, Ghetts is that, every so often, we’d check on and work with each other in some capacity. We don’t have a hundred tunes together, but he was on my first mixtape and he was on my last album, and there’s probably only a handful of bits in between there; we did “Strings & Horns” for his Conflict Of Interest LP as well. But he’s a man who cares and I could see that in him from early; like, from meeting him at Danny C’s in 2006. He would come there on his own—to South from East!—and not everyone was doing that back then. He always wanted to know how to use his voice in a better way and how to better construct his lyrics, always going a step further than anyone else.

And that’s what I’m like: attention to detail so much that it’s almost annoying. And, actually, Ghetts and I connect a lot over funk. I was like, “Bro, don’t you think you’re like the James Brown of grime?” Check his live show and you can see that the comparison in their stage presence isn’t as random as it sounds. I relate anything that’s going on now to its tradition and its source; Black people and Black music, there’s such a rich history there to where you can always point back to somewhere and go, “Okay, that’s that energy in a new translation.” I just like working with artists who are honest with themselves, and make music for the sport of making music.

I guess collaborating with singers and songwriters was the next obvious, natural progression.

Yeah, well, in 2010, I did a funky house EP called Who Said Funk?, which featured only singers. It’s not on streaming platforms though; everything pre-2011 didn’t make it to streaming, unfortunately. We made this music before streaming existed, or at least in the way that we see it today. It was never about streaming digitally, so a lot of that music just never got moved over. It just wasn’t part of the vehicle, which is a shame. But it’s also kinda cool that some of those things are rare. I see some things on discogs selling for crazy amounts. I saw a copy of my album, Long Live Jazz, selling for 80 quid! We sold that for ten English pounds [laughs].

I want to take it back a bit: from just listening to your work over the years, it’s clear you were destined to make music—for yourself and for others. And, much like Ghetts, you were blessed with a gift. Was it something you knew you could do from an early age and, if so, was it nurtured by your parents or any of your school teachers? Basically, what is Swindle’s origin story?

So my dad plays guitar, and I grew up in and around music because of that. He’s also very enthusiastic about jazz. I think, maybe, there’s this misconception that I just one day decided to be so jazz-heavy in my work. I never tried to be jazz. I never tried to be funky. I just come from that. I’ve got family members, like, blood relatives, that do music at a high level who I haven’t even met yet! I’m at my granddad’s funeral and auntie’s running up to the table and saying, “Which one of you’s Swindle?” So when it comes to jazz, funk, soul—I’m really from that. I just make music that I feel in today’s world and that’s kind of how it comes out. I’m raising my kids like how I was raised—we had instruments as toys. We had keyboards, drums… I can’t actually remember not doing music.

I was making beats at, like, 12 years old, and all of my brothers make music as well. So how I’m bringing my kids up is just like that, even more exaggerated, if that makes sense? I would come home from school and make beats; now my daughter comes home and she’s on the piano—she really enjoys it. She also started making her own beats, can you imagine! I’ve been doing this my whole, entire life. It wasn’t until I got to college and everyone started MCing that I was open with it, like: “Oi, you lot! I make beats.”

“I think there’s a big difference between beat-making and producing…”

Some people have this perception of producers as being these super introverted beings, holed up in their rooms making beats and only leaving to use the toilet or whatever [laughs]. Is/was this the case for you?

Yes and no. But also, I think there’s a big difference between beat-making and producing…

—okay! Let’s get into that.

Both are valuable. Like I just mentioned, I’ve been making beats my whole life, and a lot of that happens on my own. But producing is what happens to songs. Some producers play everything, and some producers play nothing. But there’s a difference, I feel, when I produce. I’m a producer, but I’m also a beat-maker. I can still make a beat in ten minutes, every ten minutes! Like what I did in the Tim & Barry video: literally making a beat from scratch in ten minutes. To me, producing is making a whole song, framing an idea and turning it into a product. The producers I still study are legends like Berry Gordy, Quincy Jones and Nile Rogers; their production, I think, is looking from a wider lens and going, “How do we turn this person's idea into something that people can digest?” That might be a song idea. It might be a sound idea. To me, that is producing. If I send someone a piece of music and they do their own thing, that’s beat-making. I made a beat and they’re doing what they want with it.

Interesting.

But I still make beats. I want to emphasise that. I made two just yesterday [laughs]. That Tim & Barry video—which is another catalyst for me growing this thing—I did that every day on my own. I used to make five beats a day! I heard Kanye say five beats a day all summer, so I just did that religiously. Like, “I’m not going bed until I make five beats.” But when I’m sitting back and Kojey Radical has an idea for a concept, I’m thinking, “Okay, how do we do this? What am I doing with this lyric? How do I bring this chorus up? What’s the intro? What’s the outro? Where should we bring in the choir, the strings and the horns?” There’s a lot that goes into it. Like, how do I produce an environment where someone can come in the room and feel comfortable to try things?

Do you believe that what you do comes from a higher power? Like, do you wait for something from up on high to drop into your spirit? How does it all work? I believe it does come from a world other than ours, and you draw from a source from either above or below.

And not everybody knows which side they’re drawing from. I do feel like it comes from a higher power, and that’s why there are certain things I will never do. I’ll never use that same chord progression that everybody uses and it goes to number one, because there’s usually something behind it that isn’t too positive. I made a conscious decision in between Long Live The Jazz and Peace, Love & Music what side I was on and it’s been a vehicle for me. For all the things that I’ve benefited from, from creating music, I make sure that I pay it back with gratitude. I create with a full heart because this is the cycle that allows me to do it for longer. People who never think about any of what we just talked about, or they just do stuff for the cheque or make music they don’t really like because it’s gonna sell, it always ends in turmoil or drug addiction or bankruptcy—something negative anyway—so I’m still quite selective about what I get involved in.

Wise. Very wise. So, Butterz: the label. How much of a hand—and impact—did Elijah and team have in your career during the 2010s? Collectively, you guys changed the face of UK underground music forever.

I agree with you. Elijah and Skilliam have had a huge impact on my career, for sure; it was actually Terror Danjah who introduced me to Elijah. This is, like, MySpace days, GrimeForum days, where we would all be sharing our ideas online. Elijah always had this push for independence, cutting our own path doing what we do and presenting that to the world. We looked at labels like Numbers, Hyperdub, some of what XL were doing, and a lot of it was focused on house and experimental music. Elijah was like, “Why can’t we do that, but for grime?” It was a challenge in the beginning, though. For instance, not being able to put MCs on the line-up because the clubs would shut it down due to Form 696.

I remember pulling up to Cable nightclub, and Jammer, Skepta and Jme were outside trying to get in, and they’re telling the bouncers: “We’re the special guests.” I’m telling the bouncers the same thing when I get to the door, then it becomes some big drama so the manager of the venue gets called. I used to see certain DJs get hammered, doing all this mad shit, and not like we did that stuff anyway, but we could never have gotten away with certain behaviour—for many reasons, but it’s not hard to catch the biggest one. We didn’t take it for granted, us being in those spaces. We took it seriously, man.

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“The thing that we benefited most from in grime was having a community. It’s almost lost now, but I see it in the new wave of people that have come through the school of jazz… People are jumping on each other’s sets, people are listening to each other’s music. There’s a real community there, like we used to have in a record shop or on pirate radio.”

Do you think it’s important for producers to find a team or a network of people who buy into the vision? Or can rolling solo dolo also be of benefit?

I think teamwork really does make the dream work. And the thing that we benefited most from in grime was having a community. I try to encourage people to have this because it’s almost lost now. Where I see it now is in the new wave of people that have come through the school of jazz. I see it in Ezra Collective. I see it in Nubya Garcia. I see it in Steam Down. People are jumping on each other’s sets, people are listening to each other’s music. There’s a real community there, like we used to have in a record shop or on pirate radio. I feel like we benefited so much from having that. We would see each other all the time! People are really missing out on that with this whole “I’m doing my own thing; I don’t need anyone” mentality. They’re blocking themselves and they don’t even realise it. The best things that have come, have come from communities. And that’s what grime had—in abundance!

We published a feature on TRENCH not too long ago about communal rhyming and how important it was back in the day because, in doing so, MCs were able to really help each other become better at their craft on a real iron-sharpens-iron type vibe.

I used to make tunes and bounce it around to people ten minutes before leaving to go to the rave because I knew Royal-T was doing the same thing. I knew Terror Danjah was gonna have a new banger of our remix—I’m looking at my peers first! We play a tune for eight months before it even comes out, and every time we add a little something to it so that it’s fresh to each of us, which is also like friendly competition: who’s gonna do what next? Even just having mates that you might see once a week or once a month, and you play each other the latest stuff that you’ve made, I don’t see that happening anymore. I’m just glad I grew up in a time where we did do that.

Before we started this interview officially, we talked at length about how growing up in the sticks of South London, near Croydon, you and your friends faced a lot of racism and your close friend committed suicide while you were on tour. This is a sensitive topic, so say as much or as little as you want—but how did it make you feel hearing that news while you were away, essentially living out your dreams and providing for your young family?

I remember the trip it happened on. What had happened back home is that someone that we all knew got murdered, and someone else that we all knew and loved took their own life. My best friend also went to prison that year. I found out my friend died on the way to a DJ gig. I still played my show; I just went numb. I’d just come from America to the Philippines to play a festival and I bought this Gucci bag in New York. I’d never had anything like that before in my life. $2,000 on a Gucci bag? And then we were on this boat going to the island where I was going to play this festival, and I had this heavy feeling on me anyway because I knew what was going on in the ends and here I was gallivanting around the world playing shows. At the show, there were these kids on rafts that they’d made out of plastic—empty plastic bottles and bits of wood; the youngest was probably about four years old, and they were begging on the boats.

The people who drove the boats were pushing them off with brooms, and there was a guy sitting in front of me throwing coins in the water and the kids were jumping in to get them. I didn’t have any money on me. I just had this Gucci bag, and I felt like the biggest prick ever! I was like, “This is not what all this is for.” I went from the Philippines to Switzerland, and I was up this mountain—for another festival—and I was finding moments where I really thought about what I was doing with my life. Somewhere along the way, I was like, “Well, if I can get a thousand people every night to say ‘peace, love, music’, things that mean a lot to me, then I’d be doing something good. I would introduce myself, like, “My name is Swindle. I represent peace, love, music,” and I prayed before every show. It became ritualistic, and that was the beginning of me going, “This is the path that I’m on now. This is why I’m going to make it in music: with peace and nothing but love. And I haven’t let go of that.

You don’t feel that guilt anymore, I hope.

Nah, I’m good now. But I had to go through that to get to where I am now.

On a lighter note, let’s talk Champion. That was your first time doing the score for a TV series—shout out to its creator, Candice Carty-Williams. How did that gig come about?

So, Champion was a combination of a few things. I’ve always wanted to work in TV. I’ve been talking about it forever! I was advertising it in the music; tunes like “What We Do”, the intro to No More Normal, all this stuff... I’ve always admired Quincy Jones, and I know he did scores for films and TV shows so I was just like, “That’s what I’m gonna do.” I found an agent—Hamish Duff at First Artist Management—and he was like, “Look, this thing’s come up. It’s called Champion, and someone from their team is really enthusiastic about you doing it. Obviously, it’s your first time round, but would you be up for working with another composer on it?” That someone was Paul Saunderson. He did shows like Shaun The Sheep and all this mad stuff—really decorated guy. And I was like, “Absolutely! Let’s go.”

I was in America at the time, and so was Candice. So I met her at a cafe in LA and she was like, “I really like your album. I’ve always known that I wanted to call you at some point when I do a TV show.” We hit it off straight away and I was like, “This is my first time around, but I promise you: I only know how to give my best. So if you’ll have me, I’ll give you everything that I’ve got to give.” And then we got back to the UK and got straight to it.

You also worked on the score for Candice’s second TV show, Queenie, which is an adaptation of her best-selling novel of the same name. The music takes the viewer on an emotional journey—what was the musical brief you received to kickstart things, and what references and sonics were you keen to bring to the show?

I hit up Paul for some advice because working by yourself on a score and working with someone are totally different things. I’m a student as much as I am anything else, and I want to know how to tell stories with this music thing, and what I learned from him and through that process is priceless. I’m big on paying your dues—I make mentors out of everyone. When I was in my DJ phase, I would take notes from legends like Roni Size and Goldie; they would just be backstage chatting or whatever, but I found gems in that. Same with Mala, same with Danny C before that, same with anyone who has more experience than me. And I’m still like that now. Neil Waters did the trumpet-playing in my band and became my arranger. I’ll still ring him now and be like, “Okay, talk to me about this chord.” I’m just always down to learn and take guidance and stuff.

Candice made it clear that the beginning of this series is full of chaos. It’s fun as well, but it’s chaotic, so there’s lots of crazy beats. There’s drum baits from Pocket Queen, by the way, which I thought was quite cool: bringing Pocket Queen in to play on Queenie. But I hadn’t seen the episodes before I started writing to them. As soon as Candice asked me to do it, I grabbed the book and I’m listening to the audio book, doing my homework. As the drama unfolds, I’m at the piano, pretty much recording what comes to me straight away. Candice would show me references and be like, “We’re going hip-hop-ish here, and we’re going bashment-y there,” but everything outside of that was, like, the purest process. The vibe was clear because the writing is so good from Candice... Someone said to me, “You’re only as good as what you get to work with.” And that’s exactly what it’s like working with her, as with most of the other artists I work with.

That creative relationship, it’s chemistry. And you either have it with someone or you don’t. Me and Candice have it. We can almost finish each other’s sentences now, or she’ll say something and I’ll be like, “I swear I was thinking that as well.” What I love most is how much she cares about things being authentic—in the same way that I do. It was an honour, really, to be trusted with her baby like that. And then the further I got into it, I was like, “There’s actually so much in Queenie that I can relate to.” Even just the characters in there I can see in my own family, and myself. By the time I’m on episode six, I’m like, “I know this person in real life.” There’s one piece of music that, for a long time, was called “If Only”, which became that last track with Bellah [“Way Back To Me”]. I wrote that to a scene that really resonated with me and I sent it to her. She called back and was like, “I just cried watching that scene.” We were on the same wavelength.

How different is scoring a TV show or film to making music for yourself and other artists?

There’s definitely similarities: in records, the song is king, and in film, I guess the story is king. Or queen. Or Queenie. Do you know what the truth is? Before Champion, I did another one, and I didn’t credit it under my name because I wanted to learn the chops. So there’s another thing out there that I scored that nobody knows about [laughs].

You can give us that exclusive today, if you want? [Laughs]

Nah, I’ll keep that one to myself for now [laughs]. Not because I’m ashamed of it or anything, but because, like I say about paying your dues, I went in as a student. As a student, I didn’t trade off my name: Swindle. I went to learn my shit and work under somebody else and work on something outside of myself that wasn’t about Swindle, and I needed to do that. It was like doing my homework.

The score for Queenie is also on Spotify—it’s quite rare for a score to end up on streaming platforms, no?

I guess it was a joint decision to do that. There was lots of really positive feedback from Lionsgate, Disney, Channel 4. They were like, “We love this music.” Even as I was making it, there were lots of really nice things said about it. I was quite protective of my catalogue, though, and part of me was like, “When you do an album, there’s a radio campaign and I’ll be doing all this stuff.” There’s an expectation in terms of numbers as well. Score albums come out, but we don’t ever know about them. They’re not pushed. But I wanted this to be in my catalogue because I’m proud of the music—but more than that, it’s proof. I look back on the people I admire—Nile Rogers did Soup For One, and Quincy Jones did Ironside—and there’s proof of their work. I’ve been told so many times that I should be getting more flowers than I do, and I’m just like, “I didn’t get the Mercury, but I’m going for the Lifetime Achievement Award.” [Laughs] For real, though, the proof is in the pudding. I’ve been here 20 years so I’m ready to pay my dues and do the next 20 years. And when it’s all said and done, you’ll be able to look back on what you’ve done and be proud of it.

Now that you’ve got these experiences and achievements under your belt, what move does Swindle make next?

I’ll be doing more scores, most definitely. I want to do more, and I want other producers to want more as well and to know that there’s more out there than the struggle of doing 100 sessions a year, hoping that someone’s going to use your song. You can cut your own path—find your own community and do things your own way. We are sophisticated. We can write sophisticated music, and it’s okay to want more than a beat.


Posted on July 02, 2024