LISTS Robin Stewart, Beyond Giant Swan By Joseph Francis · February 13, 2024

Chances are, if you’ve heard of Robin Stewart, you’ve heard about him through Giant Swan, the project he helms alongside friend Harry Wright. Together, the pair upended the club culture of headnodders behind laptop screens by injecting it with their industrial edge and IDLES-like energy. Soon, they had fans flocking to their live shows looking to get sweaty. It has been this way since 2018. But last year saw a shift for both of them. Wright released their debut solo album as Mun Sing in June, and Stewart followed closely behind with When A Worm Wears A Wig, his debut LP as RS Tangent.

“It’s a techno project. I’m ostensibly calling it that,” Stewart says via Zoom from his flat in Bristol. “Whatever people want to call it, they can call it, but for me, that’s a techno record, and the tunes I’m writing now are techno tunes.” In a way, RS Tangent comes as a surprise: both he and Wright have skirted around the techno tag in their various interviews as Giant Swan, hyper aware of the macho, aggressive nature with which the genre has often been associated since it came to Europe from the Motor City. But at the same time RS Tangent feels inevitable, like embracing the techno side of Giant Swan was the logical next step for Stewart.

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Stewart’s past forays into dub align well with techno’s engrossing nature. Where dub sucks you in with its delay, techno hammers you into the ground with its kick drum. It’s something Stewart noticed from his early days of hearing the music. “I remember the first time I saw Surgeon play, it was like, ‘Fuck this is something that is as focused as going to see Jah Shaka’—the way he’s creating tension and dynamic between frequencies and how simple, how relentless it is.”

This “relentless” aspect of the music is what he’s chosen to focus on with RS Tangent. Stewart loves how easily influenced humans are by other humans, and suddenly latch on to crazes. “All of a sudden everyone’s got ‘the bread’ or everyone’s got ‘the coffee‘—I love that shit.” That idea was the catalyst behind Avon Terror Corps, a platform Stewart founded with a few others (who prefer to remain unnamed) which aimed to give context to the experimental music they were exposed to by their friends in Bristol. They turned it into a label, and would release their friends’ music, no matter how niche. It has now amassed around 30 releases and Stewart tells me he’s, “proud of the freaks that have come out of the woodwork, that have got in contact and been like, ‘I make music of me shouting into a drainpipe.’ And you hear it, and you’re like, ‘This shit bangs.’”

He admits to being a bit of a puppy with how easily inspired he gets. The various projects he’s done with other Bristol producers in 2019 and 2021 are testament to that: there’s the steppers/noise record with fellow Young Echo member Sunun, the dusty country album as Ambulance vs Ambulance with Jeffrey Lee Hearse, the IDM-leaning EP under Yewande Adeniran’s (aka Ifeoluwa) ipaadi label, as well as the fact he started getting into DJing—something he’d resented “for stupid reasons” before.

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Now, Stewart sees DJs like i-sha and k means as both inspirations and influences on his work. “I get inspired all the time, but stuff that actually influences me is really specific.” Regis, for example, is someone he regards as an inspiration, but not an influence, whereas Wright is someone who’s both an inspiration and an influence, “because of my proximity to him.” With RS Tangent being a solo project, and one catered towards DJs, Stewart has sought out new influences, k means being one of them. If she says she’d play one of his tracks in her sets, then he knows he’s on the right path.

Bonding over their shared love of Conrad Pack and the SELN Recordings crew, k means explains how, as a DJ, she gravitates towards Stewart’s music because it doesn’t sound like traditional techno. “You get some music which is so relentless that you can really hear that it’s meant to be played in a big room,” she explains. “But I think Robin’s music is quite the opposite of relentless. There’s a lot of flexibility for your own interpretation.”

It’s funny that she doesn’t find Stewart’s music as RS Tangent relentless, as that’s probably the first word that will come to other people’s minds when they hear it. On “Bovine Overbite,” “Touch The Tap,” and “Swimmer’s Ear,” kick drums pound resolutely forward while offcuts of texture are the closest you get to a melody. But k means has a point: It doesn’t have the same seriousness as your average techno track. “It sounds like it’s falling over itself,” she says—something Stewart backs up by calling his music “three-legged techno,” which “is like four legged techno, but with a leg missing,” he clarifies.

All it takes is the hiccup of a hi-hat or the clink of some metal before a kick drum to turn an unwavering rhythm into a hobbling one, adding character without shying away from techno’s format or loudly going against it. Stewart brings up the example of Kevin Martin (aka The Bug) as someone who’s going deeper into a genre over the years rather than reinventing himself. “That Fire album is without a doubt his heaviest record,” he says. “But he’s not reinventing the wheel. If anything, he’s just maximizing the function of that wheel.”

The same could be said of When A Worm Wears A Wig. Where Giant Swan flirted with techno, RS Tangent plants a smacker on its lips. Where his explorations in dub were boundless, When A Worm Wears A Wig sticks to the road. And with this definition we get a version of Robin Stewart, that we didn’t know we were missing.

Here is just a small sampling of Stewart’s many mind-warping works.

Robin Stewart
And then

“With the stuff on NoCorner, the focus was on reduction and bass and abstraction and taking it to a level where it’s almost silly, like—ooh wah bah crrr!” says Stewart gesturing with his hands as he reenacts a series of stirring effects popping up around him. The 28-minute drone piece “And Then” off his cassette Ominous Bath for NoCorner is a good example of this. Stuttered plucks, creaking doors and distant rustlings snake in and out of its deep hum. It would make a fitting soundtrack to a folk horror, like Enys Men (2022), or a séance.

Left Possessed

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“Instead of going for meals and talking about what we were going to make, we just played music at each other,” explains Stewart about his and Sunun’s short-lived time making music together as SRS (their alias initials pushed together). The recording of Data Fossil was one of their first encounters, after being put in contact by mutual friends, and was done in one take. It was during the height of Stewart’s engagement with Avon Terror Corps when collaborations were plentiful and, seeing as they both had a history of making dub music, it made sense to bring them together. “Left Possessed” is one of the EP’s most ritualistic tracks, its drone coming from what sounds like a drowned propeller which pulsates beneath wisps of Sunun’s hushed Italian vocal.

Robin Stewart
Stellae Conlinis

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“Stellae Conlinis”—from Will Memotone’s compilation under his moniker O G Jigg—is one of k means’s favorite tracks to open a DJ set. “It has a lot of velocity that really sucks you in,” she says. Sparse earthly textures—like the rasping of corrugated plastic or the clinks and clanks of metal—surface sporadically through a space that’s occasionally punctuated by sub bass tremors and shimmers of choral vocals. The scale Stewart creates here is both epic and unnerving.

Robin Stewart

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“A friend was like, ‘I bet you can’t write a 160 BPM tune,’” explains Stewart about the inspiration behind “THCX” from his single Albatross on ipaadi, the imprint he shares with Yewande Adeniran. “It doesn’t sound like anything else I’ve done before or since, [and] I don’t really know if I’ll make music like that again,” he says. The music is the busiest Stewart has sounded outside of Giant Swan, and is the closest he came to techno pre-RS Tangent. “THCX” is more IDM than techno, though. The kick drum is erratic and the rest of the percussion and synths are scattered in a way that brings to mind the metal polyphony of gamelan.

RS Tangent
Bovine Overbite

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Full-bodied drums marching at 144 BPM are the template for this brilliantly-titled techno tune. Its lighter percussion gives the track the “three-legged techno” edge Stewart was talking about. They somehow sound sticky—like a stream of pesky Gollums scuttling after you and latching on as you hurtle through Maze Runner. K means compares it to a train going through a tunnel—something she has a soft spot for—and loves the tune’s versatility in a DJ set.

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