Interview: Swimful

The cloud-rap artist talks falling in love with Shanghai and lucid dreams

‘When I was younger I used to practice lucid dreaming, and in one of the dreams I had a fella who had started a label I was on, come up to me and say, “Your name should be Swimful Buterfly”, and when he said it I was aware that the spelling had to be with one ‘t’ only.’

Meet Swimful, aka Jamie Charlton; a 23-year-old Englishman, who has been making arresting music for a good few years now. It’s an idiosyncratic source for an artist name, but despite the prophecy, Charlton eventually ended up having to shorten the name to just ‘Swimful’ because ‘literally everyone thought I had misspelled it.’

Charlton’s introduction to music can be traced back to his father, who used to play drums for a living. From an early age he picked up the sticks too, plus an array of other instruments. This led to him becoming, by his own admission, a ‘lethal weapon for a band’ precisely because he could fill in on most instruments when necessary. At 17, he had a rare opportunity to get involved in a group tape manipulation project with Machinefabriek, which led to his interest in production. ‘We got donated a load of cassettes, then we cut them up,’ Charlton says. ‘We had modified tape machines and reel-to-reel players, and created a sound collage from donated and found cassettes.’

Over the past few years Charlton’s been working with the rough template of cloud rap – a dreamier take on hip hop (think Lil B and Yung Lean) – and already has two self-released albums under his belt, with a third nearly ready to go on clothing label Mishka’s record offshoot.

His first real break came when madcap Bay Area rapping sensation Lil B jumped on one of his beats for the track ‘Real OG’. So when did that collaboration come about? ‘About three years ago, when I was in my second year of uni. I remember I was going to watch the Newcastle United match away at Craven Cottage [Fulham FC’s stadium]. I woke up, and my mate who was a massive Lil B fan put the tune on, and I said “Have you heard this tune before?” and he told me, “Yeah Jamie I’ve heard this beat before – you’ve played me it, I’ve heard you makin it’.” Then Lil B’s voice comes in and he’s like, “Oh, SHIT!” [laughs].’ More collaborations with Lil B and Oakland’s Main Attrakionz followed, as well as releases on Shanghai’s Svbkvlt record label.

Although now a resident in Shanghai, it wasn’t love at first sight for Charlton. His dad moved here a few years ago, but he wasn’t taken with the city at first. ‘I didn’t really like it,’ he says, ‘I thought there were too many people, that it was too crowded and very claustrophobic.’ So what’s changed? ‘I was coming over to see my dad for a few years – doing a couple of months in the summer, and one month in the spring – and I started to like the small freedoms you can enjoy here and the fact that some things still feel a little bit uncovered,’ he says. Soon, Shanghai began to creep in his music too. ‘I started going to Big Movie and CD bootleg places to pick up music,’ Charlton says. ‘I was sampling these things and taking sounds off Youku, and I started to feel like there was a connection between my music and Shanghai.’

These references can be heard on Charlton’s previous albums. At that time, the music he was making was well-suited to headphone listening. ‘I guess I was always more into the experimental stuff and ambient music,’ he explains. More recently though, he’s been moving away from headphone hip-hop, in favour of a more dancefloor-friendly sound that takes inspiration from the UK grime music scene. ‘[Picking up] DJing in Shanghai really turned my ear a lot, and I realised that you could use your own tracks in a way that could work on the dancefloor, and turn the mood in a different direction.’ His new tracks might technically fit in a different genre, but they haven’t lost the ‘Swimful’ sound.

Although still early in his music career, Charlton’s already achieve a lot. ‘I was making beats with this guy called Boo Radley who’s the producer for a New York rapper called ABGOHARD, and he was friends with Ben who runs the Mishka Bloglin,’ he says. ‘Boo told Ben to listen to my stuff, and Ben did a little writeup for my second record, then at the end of the year put me third on Mishka’s top 50 albums of 2014.’ With his current trajectory, Swimful looks set to take that number one spot in no time at all.

Swimful is at Dada Friday 29 January. See full event details.

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