It’s a weird thought that something as tedious as redundancy could give birth to a product as inspired as FOREST SWORDS. Turns out if you give a graphic designer with a four track and a laptop a year off, the result is something as innovative as it is staggeringly beautiful (Disclaimer: Any graphic designers reading this don’t quit your job just yet). This is the case it appears for 25 year old Matt Barnes at least, who has critics foaming at the mouth with what essentially started as a hobby.
After finding himself at a loose end following his job loss Matt found his passion for music returning, something he had neglected during his pursuit of a career (fuck the rat race, maaan). After putting a few of the tracks he had knocked together on the internet, he was soon contacted by New York based label Olde English Spelling Bee, offering to put out some of his work in the form of a vinyl EP. As he explains to me, this was an incredibly helpful promotional tool in itself; “OESB has its own fan base that will buy anything that’s on the label. They know what they’re getting when they buy from them.” Several pressings later and it appeared that the public liked what they heard; something even Matt himself hadn’t really expected having not yet put any excessive exertion into his musical venture. The success of these vinyl releases meant it wasn’t long until an English label wanted a piece of the action and so No Pain In Pop, a London based independent, swooped in and released the much acclaimed album Dagger Paths. Around this time the frenzy of critics tripping over themselves like a gang of rabies-infested monkeys with Macs began and is, thus far, unceasing.
So what is it about Forest Swords that thrusts him above all else in the saturated world of online music? One listen to Dagger Paths will tell you pretty much all you need to know. The LP doesn’t just simply avoid the concept of genre, it slaps it in the face in a club and then ignores its calls. It’s just ‘so’ Forest Swords. There are few artists out right now who can render you this powerless as mesmeric themes and meticulous loops draw you into an almost synaesthetic state throughout each and every track. Forest Sword’s music just feels visual and even rarely shows it is a product of the Wirral, as you hear the roll of the Atlantic and the roar of a sea breeze over relaxing dub beats. This is music that feels natural and therefore it’s unsurprising when Matt admits avoiding reading any reviews in order to not know what it is that people like about it. When he tells me; “I don’t consciously think I’ll make it sound like this or this or this,” he is the first artist I can actually believe such statements from because his music never actually does feel contrived. It feels like a visceral product, an honest statement straight from his darkest recesses, and that’s what makes it such a rare and beautiful thing.
We discuss his plans to perhaps bring this splendour to a wider audience with live shows and though he admits that Liverpool is “a city built on live music,” he says that live outings are “never something that has been at the forefront of [his] mind.” Despite this, he is planning a couple of shows with No Pain In Pop in which he is looking at perhaps utilising a choir in order to replicate the numerous haunting and obscure vocal samples in his work. If such an event were to go ahead then it’s certain the clamour to attend would be overwhelming.
With the popularity of Forest Swords being a direct product of the download era of music, I am keen to get his thoughts on the issue, especially on the difficulty in artists making money these days. He states that developments have “levelled the playing field” somewhat, in that everyone can get their music out there and whilst he may not now be able to make amounts of money which he can live off through music, the converse of that issue is that he would never have been discovered in the first place without the internet. As he is looking to release a new album in the Spring, which he excitedly added he is “talking to some bigger labels” over, this issue is set to affect him yet again. And yet, there is no bitterness over it hurting his paycheque, as he confesses he understands both sides of the argument (I think that means he’s downloaded before…).
What we all must hope for is that if the last decade was the one that contained the ‘download boom,’ then maybe this will be the one that contains the ‘download settle down a bit now and find a bit of rhythm?’ Starting with 2011, it’s about time the whole thing got into some sort of swing in order to allow more artists a chance and remove the climate of uncertainty in the music market. If you want one thing to be sure of in the meantime though; whatever this year does hold, it’s going to be a big one for Forest Swords.