“We All Came from Punk Bands”: A Chat with Beautiful Swimmers
With the opening of U Street Music Hall and the proliferation of forward-thinking DJ nights, you may have noticed an influx of electronic music in D.C. over the past few years. As a label owner, producer, and musician, Andrew Field-Pickering of the Future Times label has been a crucial player in much of this. He releases his own music under the moniker Beautiful Swimmers, crafting disco-laden grooves and progressive house beats with bandmate Ari Goldman. The two just released a new 12-inch on Future Times today.
Washington City Paper: How long have you been making music as Beautiful Swimmers?
Andrew Field-Pickering: I guess you're official when your first release comes out. So, I guess it was April of last year when our first LP came out. Before that, our bands toured together. I was and am in Food For Animals, and Ari [Goldman] was in Manhunter.
WCP: What drew you to electronic music?
AF-P: I've been messing around with this kind of stuff since high school. In Food For Animals, it was like brutal, unusual electronics, but there were some samples, too. Beautiful Swimmers is electronic, but we also draw from disco, funk, and cosmic rock, too. My parents were into Talking Heads, which definitely had an influence, but getting hardcore in house and techno has been more my thing. You know, when that wave of British electronica hit the states in the mid-'90s and it was on MTV, I was 13 and I thought that was really cool. That was pretty bad stuff initially, like that Prodigy album, but finding more awesome things with that as a reference point was pretty cool.
Washington City Paper: What's with the recent disco revival?
AF-P: People ask us what's the new thing with disco, but I was reading stuff four years ago where people were asking the same thing. I think it's getting more popular now—I guess more people are using that as a cornerstone of what they produce, with indie bands getting disco and house influences in their songs. There are more bands where certain members also DJ. Back in the early '90s, British bands especially started having drum machines and the bassist would also be DJ. It switched gears at one point, but it's switching back. Ari and I have spent so many years of looking for disco and house records, it doesn't seem super new to us. I think new people are latching onto it.
Actually, D.C. is super sick for finding crazy disco and house records. We've traveled around and gone record shopping different places, and D.C. is definitely one of the sweetest. We were just finding random records and not knowing what they were in the beginning.
WCP: What does the electronic music scene look like in DC?
AF-P: D.C. is cool because it's super tiny. A lot of people even who don't have crossing interests end up playing shows together in D.C. I feel like we fit in in DC amongst other things. In New York and L.A. there are enough bands for people to get in to super specific stuff—not just genres but subgenres and sub-subgenres. In D.C. there's not enough of it to get into super specific stuff, so a lot of different people end up in the same spot. We all came from punk bands in high school—I didn't start making house when I was 12 or anything.
We did parties at the Black Cat in 2004 and 2005, and I think there's a core group of maybe a couple hundred people who have latched on to our vibe, and that's really cool. I think we might've helped get certain people into that stuff around here—not everybody, but certain people—and that's another way we fit it. So, if you like that kind of music, you can come see Swimmers and we've got ridiculous examples of whatever you're into. If you like house, we've got crazy house. If you like techno, we've got some weird techno records. We like when people get into it and they didn't know about it before. Maybe someone heard about Lindstrøm on Pitchfork, then they find out there are so many more layers to that onion.
WCP: What does the process of making a record like this look like? Is it largely sample-based?
AF-P: There's definitely a lot of samples mixed with stuff we play. The first and last song on the new 12-inch have like four or five samples and us messing with keyboards on it. The second track is a straight disco edit. We try to make actual songs from start to finish, but they're also DJ tools. So, [the second track] "Give It All You Got" might not always match with the first song, but with us, you buy something you can DJ with.
We try not to use samples from anything good—we try to DJ records that are good as opposed to sampling them. Mostly we're trying to save parts from bad songs. Maybe we find a house record that starts playing and sounds like it's gonna be awesome, but then it goes into a weird sax part, so we say, "Whatever, let's take the drums from it." Sometimes you find yourself hoping when you hear a weird house song that it goes bad so you can use the drums, otherwise you just end up DJing with it.
You can catch Beautiful Swimmers' DJ night, The Whale, at U Street Music Hall tomorrow night, and on the third Wednesday of every month. Free.