Recently we stretched our legs and headed over to Chop Suey to check out Speakeasy Electro Swing Seattle, the monthly electro swing club night. Electro swing is a genre that walks a particularly fine line, marrying traditional swing music and electronic sounds.
We saw The Debaucherauntes, Sepiatoninc, and the burlesque deliciousness of Boom Boom L’Roux and the crowd was like nothing we’ve ever seen. It was the perfect collision of EDM and swing dancing, with LED hula hoops spinning at the same time as an incredibly talented young man was skillfully twirling a young woman in a circle skirt around the floor to the thrill of the rest of the dancers. Oh, and of course the drunken Santas. Many, many drunk Santas and other holiday mainstays were romping around the venue.
But rewind just a few hours into that Saturday, and you’d have found DMNW sitting in the green room with Carey Rayburn, founding member of Seattle’s only electro swing band, Good Co. We talked about the band’s roots, the excitement and struggle of building the e-swing scene in the Pacific Northwest, and the future of this fledgling genre.
The First Electro Swing Band in Seattle
Carey Rayburn is a young, energetic guy who wasted no time in filling us in on his background. He studied the trumpet and immense amounts of classic jazz at the University of Washington and graduated in 2010. He tried to pretend it was a long time ago, but we called him out; he’s a spry grasshopper yet.
Rayburn explained that he’s always digged electronica, and mentioned (with a notable tone of nostalgia) Daft Punk‘s Discovery. After graduating from UW, Rayburn decided to put together an electro swing album with a bunch of friends.
“It got a really great response from everybody we knew and they said ‘Hey, when are you guys playing?’ and I thought “Shit! I have to make a band now!”
Good Co uses electronic bass and drum lines and practices plenty of improvisation and freeform measures.Rayburn shared that he’s not a fan of “super-arranged big band albums”. They take inspiration from the greats -Cab Calloway, Louie Armstrong- but don’t like to play themselves into a corner. Rayburn explained it like this: “I like my jazz to have a little bit of dirt on it and not be so clean”.
Being a live band in an electro world is not easy. Rayburn shared with us how challenging it is to walk the line between electro and swing. He said it’s been really interesting to find out who will receive Good Co well. He laughed as he shared some of the responses that they’ve had as they’ve pursued more involvement in the electronic world.
“A whole band? You mean with people who play instruments?!”
We could feel the tension with which the fine line Good Co walks has been drawn taught. He pointed at the popularity of DJs who play instruments, like Griz, to further drive his point home, with a twinge of frustration in his voice.
“A DJ who plays sax is awesome, but a six piece band is too much.”
Rayburn summed up his thoughts on the reception that Good Co has had in the music community by stressing that he’d prefer that people hate them or love them over people who just don’t care. It takes a lot of courage to play and produce music, however you do it. It takes a great deal more courage to push the boundaries of the genres that you love. It’s worth commending a “love me or hate me” attitude, especially in the electronic music community, which is on occasion criticized for being less about the music and more about the party. (For the record, it is most definitely about the music.)
Speakeasy Electro Swing: A Club for E-Swing Lovers
Electro swing is unique from much of the electronic music world because its growth has been fueled by the establishment of clubs, often without a physical location. The very first electro swing club, aptly named Electro Swing Club, was founded in London in 2009. Speakeasy Electro Swing Club was originally established in Montreal, Canada, and has since put down roots in cities around the world: Oslo, Portland, Vancouver, Seattle, and Mexico City, to name a few.
Carey partnered with Val Rudy, the founder or the Vancouver, B.C., branch of Speakeasy Electro Swing, to establish a branch of Speakeasy Electro Swing here in Seattle. The events that Speakeasy Electro Swing puts on are not just about the music. They may include a variety of bands and DJs, burlesque acts, circus performers, dancers, and they’re open to more. Rayburn mentioned doing a steampunk night, almost in passing, and we jumped on the idea. Rayburn smiled and explained why they’d been wary of steampunk in the past: ““They’re a tricky bunch, those steampunk folks. They’ll either love you or say ‘Mmm, that’s not steampunk’”. Speakeasy nights draw from many crowds; they see people from the Burner community, electronic music lovers, and yes, even swing dancers.
Unfortunately, it is harder to draw swing dancers out than you might think. Rayburn pointed out that swing dancers typically have a specific definition of swing music. They also like breaks between songs, and a mixture of slow and fast music, to make dancing more enjoyable.
Hard Work and an Electro Swing Payoff
When asked about the changes to the electro swing scene in Seattle that he’d like to see, Carey said they would love to make the monthly nights successful. He shared that it’s been challenging to get enough traction for a monthly night (right now they’re putting on nights every few months), but that’s the goal. Eventually, they’d love to have touring bands coming from all over the world to make monthly events bigger, like Montreal’s Speakeasy events, which can draw upwards of 400 people out.
In addition to cultivating the electro swing at large, Good Co is putting the finishing touches on another album. “Everything is done except for the live horns,” Carey announced proudly. And next spring (2016), Good Co will be touring Europe. Things are really starting to pop. Rayburn is confident that the Seattle electro swing scene will develop at its own pace and into its own, special style.
“Italy is now really starting to pop. Italy, France, England and Germany… they’re all a little bit different.”
We can’t wait to see what’s in store for Good Co, and for electro swing here in the Northwest. To keep abreast of future happenings, be sure to like Good Co and Speakeasy Electro Swing Seattle on Facebook.
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