Music Review: Swing Hoppers @ Under the Hill

by Chris Thumwood and Danni Gillespie

The Swinghoppers are a three-piece band comprised of rapper Off Beat, beatboxer Pye & soulful vocalist Sharleena Ray.  Together, they create a modern twist on swing classics such as ‘Minnie the Moocher’ (renamed ‘Minnie’s Revenge’ to suit its new swing-hop vibes) and ‘Fellin’ good’. Their set was humorous, energetic and a delight to watch. The songs were inventive, and the band were clearly having as much fun as their audience (who were up jiving away in front of the stage). On the Beat caught up with them at Under the Hill Festival.

On the Beat How does it feel to be a part of Under the Hill Festival?

Pye: Absolutely amazing! I was here last year hosting the stage  – this time I managed to get two of my friends along – well my “business associates!”

OTB: How does this year compare to last year?

P: It’s bigger, its better, with more sunshine!

Sharleena Ray: We have been here for about three hours.

Off Beat: It was pretty shitty when we arrived…

"We're pretty cheesy!"

OTB: Oh no, did you have to set up in the rain?

Swinghoppers: Yeah!

P: But the first live band came on, and they brought the sun out with them.

OTB: So you’re on quite early in the day, how does that feel? Is there a lot of pressure being one of the first acts?

SR: Well we are quite new, so we have done our share of that. I think we used to be a little bit nervous last year but we really enjoy it actually. Its different, it’s a nice variety.

OB: It’s a challenge as well. At a festival, because there’s so much open space people can hear the music without having to stand next to you to listen to it. When you’re in a club it’s a small and compact environment so people have to come and stand next to the stage. But at something like this, they can comfortably sit 100 feet away and just listen to it and appreciate it but you don’t know that they’re doing that because they’re not standing there so the fact that we’re able to get loads of people up and dancing that close to us.

SR: The interaction is much more two-way, because it’s daylight you can how even people far away and how involved they are and you can respond better for them and deliver what you need to get them more hyped, because you can see. However, with a dark place you’ve got lights in your face and it’s much more of a one-way thing.

OB: I guess the one other advantage to going on during the day is that everyone’s not too hammered yet so with a lot of our stuff which is quite active and humorous, and it’s not that subtle because we’re pretty cheesy.

OTB: We loved the boy-girl battle song. Sharleena, this question Is for you - how is it being a woman in a male dominated band?

SR: It’s great! It is fun being the only girl; you get to balance it out. We have quite a progressive noise and we’re a pretty forward-thinking band. I’ve come in as the singer and Off Beat is the rapper - actually he’s been drawing me in and I’ve had lots of feedback with people saying, “we want more of you,” so therefore on our next EP we both rap. We’re constantly monitoring equality in the band and making everyone equal, trying to develop it into some kind of offering of something interesting. Gender doesn’t really come into it, we play on it and enjoy playing different characters and roles. I don’t think I needs to be a huge thing, I think it’s an empowering.

OB: I think you own it as well. For example, in tracks like ‘Minnie the Moocher’ – the original song in fact the female character is a victim, it’s about her becoming a heroin addict and being treated badly by the men in her life, and we love the tune, Cab Calloway smashed that one.

SR: And it’s interactive.

OB: We flipped it on its head and made Shar a femme fatale character where she’s killing us or pitching us against each other. We’ve got a remix of ‘Hey Big Spender’ on our next EP and it’s a similar vibe.

SR: Where the boys will be fighting over me and try to impress me and I’ll be like “nah!”

P: I think a lot of the time me and OffBeat will make ourselves look like idiots to try and give Shar that centre stage.

OB: And I think also important to be conscious of just doing that, like reverse sexism – like “you can always be the strong female because you’re a girl” – I think we’ve got a good balance. In band politics in general, we try and be as diplomatic as possible and any situation we try to vote on. With a couple of exceptions of a couple of incidences where I’ve made a decision on behalf of the band, they’ve always backfired horribly – it's taught me that any decision needs to have an equal vote on it. The brilliant thing about us being three is there will always be two outweighing one.

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