Live Review

Swn Festival, Cardiff

You could say there was something for everyone.

Strewn with endless amounts of bunting and with an army of blue t-shirted volunteers at the ready, Cardiff welcomed Swn Festival with open arms and a busy schedule for the sixth time at the weekend. The multi-venue, Great Escape/SXSW-ish affair saw huge headline acts play literally across the street from Welsh-speaking indie pop bands - while industry experts shared their knowledge on everything from paying tax to what it’s like managing Coldplay, and a gaggle of independent labels sold records, t-shirts, and even beach balls. You could say there was something for everyone.

There was at least something for the four members of Future of the Left, who scooped the second annual Welsh Music Prize for their third record ‘The Plot Against Common Sense’ on the Thursday - beating hearty competition from the likes of Cate Le Bon, Los Campesinos!, Kutosis, and Bright Light Bright Light.

There was plenty for non-members of Future of the Left also. Torches crowned Swn’s opening day with a glorious set of moody pop downstairs at Clwb Ifor Bach - frontman Charlie Drinkwater’s powerful vocals managing to impress even more than his onstage grooves, while the manager’s talk at St David’s Hall was interesting and insightful - the type of event that gives Swn that special something.

Newport duo Jewellers battled the odd technical difficulty on Friday at St Mary’s Street O’Neill’s but still managed to put together an impressive and enjoyable 30-odd minutes of glitchy, chilled-out electronica.

Mazes previewed plenty of new material during an strong set to a disappointingly empty (but very much large) Solus venue as part of the top-up ticketed show with The Cribs and Frankie & The Heartstrings. While new songs such as the excellent ‘Bodies’ heard them headed towards a more looping, repetitive Krautrock sound, songs from debut ‘A Thousand Heys’ kept a youthful and fairly geographically distant crowd interested with its catchy, distorted guitar pop.

Later in the evening The Cribs delivered an emphatic and triumphant hour and 10 minutes of energy and noise to a much busier Solus - treating the bouncing crowd to ‘Mirror Kissers’, ‘You And I’, and ‘Wrong Way To Be’ in amongst the usual classics such as ‘Men’s Needs’ and ‘Be Safe’. With Ryan Jarman noticeably under the weather, short on breath, and really quite thin, what looked like it could be a shaky night for the trio turned into one of the stand-out sets of the whole weekend.

Following an afternoon spent in amongst the company of Big Scary Monsters, Art is Hard, Kissability, Alcopop, Barely Regal, Moshi Moshi and others at Chapter’s independent label market, current Radio 1 darlings AlunaGeorge played a decent but somewhat underwhelming show to a very busy Buffalo Bar on Saturday evening. While the 90s-ish RnB songs were enjoyable - and the cover of Montell Jordan’s ‘This Is How We Do It’ very much appreciated - it could be a little while before the live performance manages to catch up with the current excitement and expectation that comes with the success of ‘Your Drums, Your Love’.

Those who made it through the somewhat incomprehensible one-in-one-out policy to get into a nowhere near capacity Chapter Arts Centre for Islet were treated to an incredible spectacle of how music should be - art before entertainment, always. Approaching the stage with hand-held bells in true majestic fashion, the four-piece lived up to their high live standards and reputation with what was more a theatrical performance of experimental rock than a mere live demonstration of album tracks.

Gallops, conversely, didn’t quite live up to their usually very high live standards with an energetic but slightly disappointing 30 minutes at St Mary’s Street O’Neill’s. While newcomers to the instrumental Wrexham band are likely to have been impressed with their powerful combination of rock and electronics, those who have seen them before may have left wanting that little bit more from the four-piece.

Sunday saw O’Neill’s treated to a stunning set from Cardiff’s Among Brothers, fltting between emphatic and ambitious electro-tinged post-rock to delicate and tender folk-ish pop, before Mowbird played a fun if slightly sloppy set of noisy, lo-fi, guitar-led slacker pop at Dempsey’s and Micachu and the Shapes took St Mary’s Street O’Neill’s by the lapels and gave them a good experimental pop shaking.

Right after Micachu in the same venue, Cardiff five-piece Joanna Gruesome took the term noise pop to the nth degree with a gloriously energetic, loud, and thoroughly fantastic set. Their earlier 90s twee pop sound was met with a newer, more aggressive, almost riot grrl-ish direction - demonstrating why the likes of Jen Long and Huw Stephens seem pretty excited about them.

Finally, Brighton’s Fear Of Men thoroughly pleased a surprisingly not that busy Buffalo Bar with a mix of old and new jangly guitar-pop - a trend that continued into the much-hyped Peace who brought a strong but not excellent set of Oasis meets My Bloody Valentine meets The Beatles meets plenty of other British bands to a strangely empty Clwb Ifor Bach.

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