SWOLL is the minimal, low-end-heavy electronic project of Matt Dowling, who has played bass for a handful of DC bands over the last decade: Deleted Scenes. the EFFECTS, Paperhaus, Joy Buttons, to name a few.
After the dissolution of Deleted Scenes in 2015, Dowling started working with Benjamin Schurr (Br’er/Blight Records) on a series of sparse, melancholic, yet hook-driven new songs. Utilizing limitations as a compositional tool, the duo focused on a spare sonic palate of old drum machines, bass, baritone guitar and haunting synths. Stylistically, SWOLL marries elements of pop, electro, rock and trap with major emphasis on grooves. Dowling’s falsetto floats atop chugging bass lines as a stark contrast to the dark growling beats, giving the music both an intimate and powerful presence.
The term SWOLL is generally thought of as a pop culture reference to bodybuilders, or “muscle dudes.” It’s a derivative of the word “swollen.” So the muscle dude, who spends 4 hours a day at the gym, and may or may not be on steroids, looks like he’s a swollen version of a normal human being. The swoll dude does this for reasons likely of validation via tangible results. The project SWOLL, led by Matt Dowling, bassist of many DC bands over the last decade (Deleted Scenes, the EFFECTS, Paperhaus, Joy Buttons), is a re-appropriation of the pop culture term. In Dowling’s eyes, we’re all SWOLL in 2017. We’re swoll with e-mail, we’re swoll with social media, we’re swoll with real news, we’re swoll with fake news, we’re swoll with TV, we’re swoll with music, we’re swoll with dating websites……in 2017, we’re all SWOLL as fuck in our own way. SWOLL s/t is an exploration into modern relationships within modern life, and further exploring a certain sadness that exists as a result of being swoll as fuck. When you’re SWOLL, you might look really good in the moment, you may even feel really good in the moment, but ultimately being SWOLL is depressing, as it describes an approach towards an unattainable ideal; a zen state where you love yourself for your abs, or your productivity, or your creativity, AND EVERYONE else does too. That unattainable ideal feels more possible than ever to more people than ever in 2018, but could there be a fundamental misunderstanding of the human experience underlying collective efforts to get SWOLL? Or maybe getting SWOLL as fuck is the way to go in the current context of human experience. But there’s no question that it represents a sea-change in terms of how human beings interact with one another, particularly in relationships and intense collaborations.
On SWOLL s/t Dowling’s song “Stars” is a cover of sorts of Kraftwerk’s “Hall of Mirrors.” In the original version of the song, Kraftwerk sings “Even the greatest stars, discover themselves in the looking glass.” Looking at oneself in the mirror is an interesting concept, which Kraftwerk used in the 70’s to explore a fundamental question about human existence. Of course, the swoll bodybuilder tends to like to look at himself in the mirror. Results. Results. Gotta see them and bask in them. Again, extrapolating to today’s population, selfies happen as often as breathing in the modern world. We not only love to look at ourselves in the mirror, we NOW want others to love us looking at ourselves in the mirror. ““Hall of Mirrors” is possibly my favorite song of all time, and the reason for this is that, its depth of meaning seems to take on even more depth, and yet new, broader meaning, every day since the song was created (awkward sentence). I’m not sure that I can think over another song quite like that. It’s also catchy as hell.” says Dowling. He changes the words slightly to “Even the greatest stars, find themselves in walls built from who they are.” This concept relates to our current swoll-selves cultivating more “stars” than has ever been possible. People with tons of eyes on them…..ACTUALLY MEASURABLE eyes…..Instagram models with 10,000+ followers, 100,000+ followers….what do the numbers mean? Anything? Also, being a star doesn’t break you out of fundamental limitations that human being places upon themselves, or that others place upon them. If you can bench press 400 pounds, are you necessarily better off than if you could only bench 300? And what if you don’t look as good when you bench 400? Is that better or worse? Modern society has answers, but Dowling challenges us to think about how we came to think like this. It’s very linear thinking; linear is a rational ideal….but Dowling argues that life is not at all linear…..but rather that life is very non-linear…..and when you get SWOLL within a non-linear context, shit gets fucked up quickly, particularly with respect to self-perception and others perception of you. It’s kind of depressing, but it’s also kind of comical and ridiculous, to such a degree that maybe we can transcend the depressing features of getting SWOLL.
We can’t all fake it ‘til we make it. Or can we? Is being SWOLL good? Or bad? We’re not all vain, right? Everyone is working their ass off on something……but does everyone need to see everyone working their ass off to know it’s true? Dowling doesn’t present any of these realities as either good or bad, but rather just observes it. However, the observation results in a much darker emotion than a bright one.