To celebrate half a decade of mini-festival Swirl Fest, the hyper-local label is flying a handful of outsiders in from interstate for a 14-band-strong party, spanning two stages and a range of genres at Adelaide UniBar in February.
Swirl Fest is turning five
The young men behind Swirl Records — clad with skateboards and nose piercings — told CityMag in 2017 they started their underground music label two years before with the aim of creating something with weight behind it; a business that could legitimise the bands they worked with.
Seven years later, the label is now a scene staple and has become that weighty imprint, a legitimiser of musical acts.
Sitting in the Swirl Records engine room, deep in the belly of a multi-storey recording and co-working space on Gunson Street, Tom Matheson, who’s the business’ only remaining founder, says the label is becoming anew. Tom says one of the city’s most interesting and hyped outfits, Sour Sob, actually sought the label out.
“Funny story is that Maxwell [Elphick] and a lot of these people in Sour Sob grew up listening to SIAMESE and Swirl Records, and Maxwell did his research project on Swirl Records,” Tom says.
“I remember getting an email from him asking me some questions. It’s nice it’s as big of a deal for them as it is for me to be able to release them.”
For five of its seven years, Swirl Records has run its annual Swirl Fest (COVID-19 scuppered a couple of the events). Particles Festival marked the post-pandemic return of the label’s live music offerings this year, but it’s namesake live music party will be back bigger and better in 2023, with Tom pulling in some national heavyweights for the milestone.
Update: An earlier version of this story reported Moaning Lisa and Jess Johns were performing. After a line-up refresher, they have been removed.
On Saturday, 4 February 2023, across two stages at the University of Adelaide’s UniBar, post-punk experimental three-piece Shady Nasty, Melbourne-based alt-folk singer Ruby Gill and ‘Gong alt-pop-rock outfit OK Hotel will join a slate of locals for the subterranean musical blow-out.
“It’s always been a bit of a thing where Adelaide gets overlooked sometimes with national tours and stuff like that, so I think it’s nice to bring some national bands over and give the opportunity for their local acts to play with those bands, where they might not get the chance otherwise,” Tom says.
“But it does feels strange to be doing the fifth one. I almost feel like maybe it’s not quite good enough for a fifth one, but there’s always ideas in my head of big, grand, large things: pyrotechnics, clowns, wrestling. I don’t know,” he laughs.
Asked whether Tom is trying to curate a particular sound with Swirl Fest 2023, he says the only criteria is the music be alternative – no Hottest 100 material. Also, being the only decision-maker behind the label now means Tom can book whoever he wants.
“It just comes from my own taste in music and the bands that I think would fit,” Tom says.
“It’s definitely moving away from any sort of regular boring festivals or generic bands.”
Having two stages will allow punters the opportunity to either rest or ramp up, with the bands at the inside stage programmed to be louder and the outside space a little more subdued.
Tom has also programmed the day so the two performance spaces will not have overlap (fingers-crossed). This is so punters can sample everything; a mezze platter of sounds.
Much like for Particles Festival, Tom secured a grant to get this edition of Swirl Fest off the ground. Without a $5000 cash boost from the State Government’s See it Live campaign, he says the event would not go ahead.
For Tom, Swirl is not a money-making venture.
“I don’t pay myself out of anything,” he says. “That’s sort of what it’s been like the last two years. It’s just enough money to do one project and then then we wait and hope that we recoup that and do another project.”
This scrappy DIY attitude, free of commercial obligations, means Tom can flex the label’s muscles. And he knows that after seven years, Swirl Record’s strength comes from platforming and picking up-and-coming musicians astutely.
Next year he hopes he can expand Swirl Records from simply being a label into a “creative hub”, where he can enlist individuals to work behind-the-scenes, as he did years ago.
For now, however, he recommends punters buy the $30 Swirl Fest ticket to celebrate a label that — in a relatively short period of time — went from nothing to something quite spectacular.