Dirty yellow skies, a burnt orange sun, unfamiliar winds and an all round sense of impending apocalyptic doom. Remember that Monday when we all thought the sun had died? It was also the day I went to watch Forest Swords aka Matthew Barnes play live at the The Lantern.

Barnes’ sonic landscapes of crunchy, distorted vocals and dreamy, filmic layers provided the perfect soundtrack to any armageddon or in this case, a fitting end to an eerie day.

Barnes’ sonic landscapes of crunchy, distorted vocals and dreamy, filmic layers provided the perfect soundtrack to any armageddon or in this case, a fitting end to an eerie day

I catch up with Barnes for a quick chat before the show; we’ve never met although it feels like we have. He is sincere, without ego, and for want of a better word really, bloody nice.

The tour following his latest album Compassion, which came out this May on Ninja Tune, has taken Barnes all over the world, with final dates left in Poland, Greece, Turkey and the US. ‘I’ve never really toured before, I’ve only ever really done festivals or fly-in gigs, so touring in a van is a really new experience. Seeing people’s response to the album and then experiencing that connection with people in places I never thought it would reach is incredible.’

Being forced to meet people or be around people a lot, I have realised how great that can actually be

In contrast to working from home in a fairly solitary environment, Barnes has found it beneficial to be launched into the world of touring, where’s he’s constantly surrounded by lots of people. ‘Being forced to meet people or be around people a lot, I have realised how great that can actually be. I feel like I can take what I’ve learnt through that touring experience into my normal day-to-day life.’

When he isn’t touring around the globe, Barnes lives in Merseyside and says he still tries to stick to a routine. ‘I used to have a day job for a long time, so I still need that stability. I think I’d go a bit mad if I was getting up at midday and getting drunk all day.’

something transformational happens as he passes from green room to stage, adopting an altogether more powerful persona

Despite this shyness, something transformational happens as he passes from green room to stage, adopting an altogether more powerful persona. As the lights go down we are left with Barnes’ jet black silhouette with only the edges of a long leather jacket and a rolled up beanie against a backdrop of meditative, fresh visuals.

Many musicians translate better when you hear them play live and Forest Swords does, tenfold. The slithering rhythms flicker from live, sexy guitar and tumbling drums to delicate slices of vocals and samples of what sounds like ancient, tribal instruments. The experience is atmospheric and actually quite moving.

The slithering rhythms flicker from live, sexy guitar and tumbling drums to delicate slices of vocals and samples of what sounds like ancient, tribal instruments

Barnes cleverly combines old and new, live and synthetic to create something refreshing, modern and accessible. Without getting a bit too deep, it does feel as though the crowd and Forest Swords are somehow united.

‘I think about energy a lot. Making music and playing live, you think about how you can transfer energy around a room. When I play live it feels like a dialogue or a conversation.’

I think about energy a lot. Making music and playing live, you think about how you can transfer energy around a room

There’s definitely a synergetic feel to the show. The crowd is spacious and happy. It’s definitely not mosh-pit territory, but it’s also not so ‘cool’ that people aren’t dancing.

It had been four years since his previous album Engravings, ‘one of the most enduring debut albums to have emerged from the UK electronic music underground this decade,’ according to Dazed magazine.

Barnes has collaborated with Massive Attack’s 3D and Young Fathers on the score for climate change short La Fête est Finie, composed for hit video game Assassin’s Creed: Rogue…

Despite a four-year hiatus from making records, he’s been keeping busy. Barnes has collaborated with Massive Attack’s 3D and Young Fathers on the score for climate change short La Fête est Finie, composed for hit video game Assassin’s Creed: Rogue, and also composed the score for director Liam Young’s In the Robot Skies, a film made using only drones. In 2016, he also composed for Shrine – a standalone contemporary dance piece directed by Barnes.


There’s a deep sense of exploration that runs through all of Barnes’ works. An abstract translation, that makes for a refreshing yet familiar sound.

‘It’s less about listening to other people’s music and thinking “I’ll mimic that” – I generally go to art galleries, museums or the cinema and make a visual scrapbook or I’ll paste it all up on a wall. I’ll try and make how that looks or feels into a sound.’

There’s a deep sense of exploration that runs through all of Barnes’ works. An abstract translation, that makes for a refreshing yet familiar sound

Naturally, everything interrelates. Fibres from Barnes’ various different projects weave through his most recent pieces, though they are not recycled ideas but notions that ignite thoughts that Barnes will later explore further.

Barnes co-directs a lot of his music videos and visuals alongside director and visual artist Sam Wiehl, who he brings along to the live shows.

‘I’ve never really had the opportunity to do moving image before, it brings the shows into an entirely new dimension’.

The visuals for the show are mesmerising and meditative, a flowing sequence of slow moving female forms, against revolving masks and natural imagery. Organic, primal and totally absorbing, I feel as though I have been not only to a live show, but an art exhibition or maybe even a séance.

I feel as though I have been not only to a live show, but an art exhibition or maybe even a séance

There are so many different layers, that there is something here for everyone. If you get the chance to see Forest Swords play live, he’s definitely one to watch.

Words by Yasmin Ross
Photos by Dominika Scheibinger

soundcloud.com/forestswords // facebook.com/forestswords // @ForestSwords

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