Swn Festival requires no introduction or explanation these days, particularly to anyone who pays attention to the Cardiff music scene. It is big. It takes over most of the city’s venues that are worth taking over. It invites involvement of musicians from the school of ones-to-watch, proven by Alt J and Wild Beasts playing there pre-fame.
2012 brought with it my fourth Swn-Fest shaped experience, and for the second year running I have sifted the musical treats witnessed for compilation into a favourite eight. This article will also appear in Plugged In Magazine.
The top spot has to go to this London based five-piece on the Blood and Biscuits label, who combine to form a truly epic instrumental electro-pop band. Their intros trick you into expectations of a straight up dance track before layers of guitar, drums and synth kick in, the concoction of fast pace and hammering rhythms filling every inch of your body with energy. New sounds constantly snake through their music, making complacency or dance resistance impossible. There was a lot of strut on show from the front man, but he was forgiven for his contribution to the edgily beautiful and all absorbing tracks – and if a front man can’t have front, well who can? The gents are this good with just an EP under their skinny jean cinching belts, so their future looks bright.
Shrouded by a sheet, I thought the band had constructed a cover purely for sound check privacy, but as the set began this remained to become a live art installation, and the gig a whole experience. Skittish projections flickered over shadows of the band members, the murky visions suiting the midnight black, iridium heavy music. Throaty reverberating guitars mixed with spiralling electronica mixed with drums mixed with dense dance beats to create stratums of sound that built up and slipped away in intervals. The music of this Cardiff based trio was gritty, perfect, astounding, their performance one of thought and intrigue.
3. Bo Ningen
The most silken haired, pretty dress wearing all male Japanese rock band I know. Eccentric? Yes. Amazing? Also yes. Their reputation is such that a queue of Swn-sters hoping to catch a glimpse stretched right the way down Womanby Street. Luckily our gang had secured early front row positions on Dempseys’ upper floor, and these efforts weren’t wasted as the band were the most captivating I’ve seen them to date. Our proximity was incredible, their volume extra loud, guitar swinging and hair tossing on form. The psych-rockers engrossed the packed out venue, the floor of which bounced ominously under foot in time with the crowd’s moshing movements, whilst all sorts of side show shenanigans were inspired by the craziness. Uber fans wrapped themselves in toilet paper and a too drunk and too close individual received a swift boot from one of the band members as he managed to unplug their instrument. Edgy, sweaty, ear splitting, a gig not easily forgotten.
Label brothers to Portasound, the Wrexham foursome named after a metal drum beat are another astonishing instrumental ensemble whose musical weaving of guitar, drums, keys and electronica is as complex as it gets. So technical in fact that constant communication with the sound tech was necessary during this ‘big O’Neills’ based gig, but slight distraction aside, these boys were fantastic. Their sound is big and storming, a hypnotic hurricane which whirls around the epicentre of drum wizardry that is Dave Morait. The crowd managed to persuade a single track encore to squeeze some more out of the sensational Saturday night finisher, and I’m sure would have remained rapt until the Sunday sun rose if given the option.
5. Dad Rocks!
Layers of trumpet, delicate strings, piano and gently delivered vocals could lull you into believing this Icelandic indie folk band are about musical beauty alone. Listen closer and you’ll hear lyrics of pathos and acerbity, sardonically recounting their take on aspects of society. The dreamiest tracks hold titles such as Battle Hymn of the Fox Father, Pants and Weapons. Theirs was an amazing performance at Swn, filled with enrapturing, exquisite tunes and laughter provoking lines.
It’s not every day you see a fifteen deep young person’s collective performing gospel, soul and hip-hop mash ups, with a few 90s covers thrown in for good measure. No Diggity anybody? Urban Development’s Vocal Collective sits within the organisation Urban Development, which is based in The London Borough of Newham and develops the area’s new urban music talent. Counteracting early Saturday hangovers, the collective’s talent shone brightly, bringing harmonies and glowing smiles abound, led by effervescent conductor Amede Unuabonah. We were lucky enough to witness a bonus impromptu Queen Street performance shortly after the Buffalo bar set, treating us to a top up of warm glow and melodies.
Imagine the musical version of my perception of a physics equation. To help you with that, I’ll say I’m not good at sums. This hardworking band’s particular amalgam of synth, drum‘n’bass beats and guitar didn’t make sense to me at first, I couldn’t find a way in – but I realised that isn’t the point. Their flair is for zig-zagging incongruous sounds and meticulously making them work. It isn’t nod-your-head stuff, instead my head spun with their unsettling psychedelic multi-rhythmic math rock but this was an eventual enjoyable dizziness. Titan is the apt name of one record, a fitting label for a product of musicians with giant talent.
8. Cut Ribbons
White Horses is the Cut Ribbons record that best encapsulates this Llanelli band’s strain of dreamy indie rock. Gorgeous front lady Anna’s soaring vocals belied her tiny stature, harmonising beautifully with those of guitarist Aled against a backdrop of energetic instrumentals. Applied with buckets of enthusiasm, the group have mastered a cut and dried winning sound.