A spotlight on one of the originators of the alternative music scene, constantly shifting through musical genres, Michael Gira is an American singer-songwriter, musician, author and artist. The main force behind the legendary Swans, The Angels of Light and founder of Young God Records.
Listen to Soundscapes vol.30, curated by Michael Gira
At first, I was pretty anxious to write this piece. Dedicated to a very important person, who has always had a fundamental role in my conscious life and above all my cultural education.To whom I will be forever grateful. Then I had a conversation with one of the smartest writers who I have great respect for – he suggested I refer this letter to Michael. Below, I shall try to personalise it.
To begin with, I recently learnt from my brother that we already had Swan’s vinyls back in almost Soviet Russia (‘91) in our house in Voronezh alongside Einstürzende Neubauten, Dead can Dance, Lacrimosa and the Sisters of Mercy of course (yes, luckily for me my brother has great taste in music). I do not have many proper memories from that time but weirdly later in my life, I did feel some kind of deja-vu while hearing all the above. Those were the records I grew up with since the age of 6. Ever since and forevermore.
“Michael Gira is an extremely private person; he doesn’t like interviews, and he does not enjoy the prospect of sharing his personal emotions (outside of the realm of performance) with anyone… unless he chooses to. Choice is a key concept in relation to attempting to better understand Gira; his personal freedom is perhaps the core, the very foundation of a musical odyssey that has lasted nearly a quarter of a century and shows no signs of slowing or mellowing by any interpretation.”
I have been trying in vain to convince Michael for an interview in the past 3 years or so and I won’t hide that the fact that when he actually agreed to put together a playlist for us and see me before his show in London I felt extremely happy and privileged. It was a cold and wet November Monday, when I walked into that Church in Hackney with Tom, my photographer friend. This was Michael’s first tour in 4 years, this time performing a solo set, so there was a long queue. The inside of this minimal gothic British church that has become a distinctive concert space was already decorated for the inevitable holidays.
Michael came down to meet us wearing a cute grey hat, we followed him backstage where he was having tea with Kristof Hahn (Swans and The Angels of Light member since ’92). He offered us a glass of red. It was around a quarter to 9 and they were just about to take the stage. In our brief chat, Michael mentioned the importance of constant research and variation in an artist’s career, bringing Richard Serra’s work as an example. He told me he now feels like pushing the envelope even more. That makes perfect sense because Swans were never the same over the years, always remaining true to their intensely dissident vocation. Michael explained his desire to continue experimenting on this tour while performing with his dear friend Kristof after the two of them completed the new Swans album together with a great line-up, album that will be released at some point in 2023.
Kristof was out first, presenting his new album “Six Pieces” (which he produced with Laurence English’s Room 40 label). His part was outstanding, melodic, dynamic yet somehow weirdly optimistic at the same time. It filled the audience with a positive recharge (me especially). Michael then emerged, causing crushing applause in the church, making it almost explode. He started his experimental noise set with “Parasite”… His cold voice immediately warmed up everyone’s blood. Seeing Michal on a stage of a church had an immense impact on me as on everyone else there present.
“I wonder if I’m singing what you’re thinking me to sing.”
I am not going to describe the set list like you might expect me to. I can just say that it is very hard for me to write about Michael Gira’s songs (at any stage of his career) as some of them (like Blind and Failure) make me cry every time I hear them.
I will now leave you with an excerpt from “Two Women” by The Angels of Light, a piece we heard in the church that day and one of the greatest poems ever written.