Focus Wales 2023, Wrexham, UK, May 3-6, 2023 | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Monday, June 17th, 2024  

TVAM

The Coral, TVAM, Mary Shelley, Bethan Lloyd, Cloudsurfers

Focus Wales 2023, Wrexham, UK, May 3-6, 2023,

May 15, 2023 Photography by Kev Curtis (main photo) Web Exclusive
Bookmark and Share


​All the talk around Wrexham at the minute might be about football clubs and Hollywood film stars but make no mistake, Wales’ newest city was already on the map a long time before Ryan Reynolds set foot there. Focus Wales has come a long way from its humble beginnings in 2011. While its focus - understandably - has always been primarily on Welsh artists, its gradually become THE showcase event for internationally based acts to exhibit their wares in front of a UK audience. So while it’s grown significantly from the inaugural event to this year’s shindig that played host to over 250 artists from around the world watched by approximately 20,000 people, it hasn’t lost any of its core values or ethos.

While most of the daytime schedules are taken up by conferences, industry panels, talks and speed meetings between delegates and artists, there’s still enough room in the day for live performances in many of Wrexham’s growing number of venues and spaces. Indeed, its this kind of intimate setting that makes Focus Wales stand out from some of its more illustrious peers on the showcase festival circuit (hey SXSW and The Great Escape, we’re looking at you!).

Noah & The Loners (photo by PieMan)
Noah & The Loners (photo by PieMan)

With an absolute smorgasbord of musical delights to choose from and an array of clashes - always the sign of a great festival btw - Under the Radar are torn several times over the course of the weekend which can only be a good thing. As with previous Focus Wales’, there’s an avalanche of great Welsh music and we’re fortunate enough to be hosting one of them at our showcase in The Parish. Bethan Lloyd is someone Under the Radar have got to know over the years having first been introduced to her music at this very festival back in 2021. Fusing obtuse electronica with pagan poetry, her set is one of the busiest we encounter over the whole weekend. The previous night, Bethan’s other project Pre-Human are also a revelation. The duo - Bethan Lloyd and Isaac Ray - make gothic-tinged electronic music that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on 4AD back in their embryonic period.

Horizons has been a staple of BBC Wales for introducing new music to the masses, and their showcase at The Parish on the first night was no exception. Pick of the bunch were Banshi, a relatively new four-piece from Cardiff that make thought provoking psychedelic rock in the vein of Fleetwood Mac or Jefferson Airplane. Singer Yasmine Davies possesses a vocal range that could make traffic stop, while the rest of the band provides an impeccable musical accompaniment that should see them become one of the next Welsh outfits to prosper outside of their home territory.

Banshi (photo by Brent Jones)
Banshi (photo by Brent Jones)

One band that has started to make significant headway in recent years are Pontypridd trio Chroma, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that their show at the tiny Wynnstay Arms is jam-packed and ultimately, among the sweatiest of the weekend. Having first witnessed Chroma at this very festival four years ago, it’s heart-warming to see how far they’ve progressed. Recent single “Don’t Mind Me” almost brings the house down (literally), while vocalist Katie Hall is a bonafide superstar in the making. Equal parts Karen O, Beth Ditto and Kathleen Hanna, but with an individual style all of her own.

It isn’t the only time we’ll see her on stage this weekend, as the new line-up of HMS Morris features a host of instantly recognisable faces in an equally rammed Ty Pawb. Playing a set mainly consisting of songs from their forthcoming third album Dollar Lizard Money Zombie which drops in September. HMS Morris are a lampshade wearing, seven-headed beast of epic wonky pop proportions that deserve your time and attention whatever the setting.

Another band that gets better with age are Campfire Social. Also with an additional new guitarist in place, their winsome indie pop comes with a meatier edge and more hooks than a butcher’s shop window. Husband and wife duo Carrie and Thomas Hyndman deliver luscious harmonies while the band guides them along in fervent fashion. They even manage to garner a police escort of sorts at their low-key acoustic set on Saturday evening, when a power cut in the venue (Old No. 7) forces them to move onto the street and finish the set outside.

Campfire Social (photo by PieMan)
Campfire Social (photo by PieMan)

Gallops are probably the most established act from Wrexham having originally formed back in 2007, and their set in the Llwyn Isaf big top feels like a joyous homecoming of sorts. Fusing experimental electronic passages with stunning visuals that has the tent dancing feverishly throughout, they’re one of Wales best kept secrets that will almost certainly go on to receive the wider acclaim their wares merit.

As previously stated, Focus Wales is something of an international affair and in Swedish indie pop outfit Boy With Apple and Australian noise rockers Dust can boast two of the finest discoveries of the weekend. While the former might be familiar to Under the Radar readers having already wowed us at Viva Sounds in December, their My Bloody Valentine meets Saint Etienne (or even For Keeps era Field Mice) is a winning combination that sends revellers home happy after their midnight slot on Friday. While the latter can arguably claim to being the loudest band of the weekend, their sonic assault falling somewhere between A Place To Bury Strangers and ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead. Hailing from Newcastle in New South Wales, Dust are something of a revelation that can only make us water at the mouth in anticipation for their debut album et cetera etc which comes out in July.

Dutch five-piece Cloudsurfers also give Dust a run for their money in the decibel stakes whilst also demonstrating why they’re Under the Radar’s other showcase band. Playing seven songs that culminates in a riotous cover of Nirvana’s “Tourette’s”, Cloudsurfers make confrontational punk rock that’s both enraging and engaging. With long awaited second album Subhuman Essence out in September and more UK shows being pencilled in for October, they’re definitely ones to watch.

Gallops (photo by Kev Curtis)
Gallops (photo by Kev Curtis)

Austrian trio Dives and Spanish outfit Los Premios also make a lasting impression, albeit with very different sonics. Dives post-punk littered with shoegaze reference points reminds us of Au Pairs or Wolf Alice in parts, particularly on closing number “Wanna Take You There”, which is also the title track of last year’s excellent second long player. Los Premios meanwhile are a band steeped in classic rock, mixing the grace and panache of Carlos Santana or Jimi Hendrix with a modern day take that makes them one of Thursday’s more enthralling live acts.

Vancouver five-piece NADUH thoroughly epitomise just what Focus Wales is about. Taking their cue and inspiration from the likes of Destiny’s Child, All Saints and even the Spice Girls, their late night pop show on Saturday in The Parish is also a revelation. Their “divine feminine energy” comes across in spades on numbers like “Currency”, forthcoming single “Legacy” and closing number “Bitch”, which ends up with crowdsurfers and people on shoulders singing along to every word.

Brooklyn’s Mary Shelley are another band that entered Focus Wales as relative unknowns, yet by Saturday evening were on the tip of everyone’s songs. Playing a total of six sets over the course of the weekend, the four-piece proved to be one of the festival’s undisputed highlights. Their brand of energetic post-punk falling somewhere between the angular elegance of Devo or Talking Heads and all-out assault of Viagra Boys or even Dead Kennedys.

Mary Shelley (photo by Tim Rooney)
Mary Shelley (photo by Tim Rooney)

Back to the UK, and TVAM have emerged in recent years as one of the most exciting bands on these shores. The brainchild of Joe Oxley, if debut album Psychic Data announced their fanfare, follow-up High Art Lite took them to another level altogether and their incendiary Friday evening set in Llwyn Isaf complete with dynamic visuals also makes for one of the weekend’s biggest spectacles. Finishing on the second record’s anthemic title track, it’s easy to see why they’re currently being touted as one of the UK’s most riveting live acts.

Another band currently receiving lots of attention are teenage four-piece Noah & The Loners, whose politically charged, socially aware confrontational punk rock makes them an unmissable live experience. Meanwhile, in the ornate settings of St Giles Church, Birmingham based Katherine Priddy ably demonstrates why she’s being heralded as the new voice of British folk. Playing to a packed church not only in the pulpits, but also down the aisle and along the back, her repertoire falls somewhere between poise and grace of Joni Mitchell and captive story telling of Nick Drake.

With the festival drawing to a close, its left to The Coral to prove why they’re still one of the biggest draws on UK shores. Playing to a packed Llwyn Isaf, their set focusing heavily on both their self titled debut and most recent album from 2021, Coral Island, means the whole tent becomes one big communal song and dance party throughout. “I Remember When”, “Bad Man” and “Simon Diamond” are glorious openers in any setting, while pulsating versions of “Faceless Angel” and “Vacancy” off the last album evidently suggest their creative juices haven’t stopped flowing. Returning for an encore that sees them play three of their biggest and most popular songs; “Skeleton Key”, “Goodbye” and “Dreaming Of You”. They’d be the perfect band to close this or any other festival if it wasn’t for the late night afterparty of sorts at The Rockin’ Chair.

The Coral (photo by Tim Rooney)
The Coral (photo by Tim Rooney)

Because when it comes to late night, grand finales, there’s no one better to deliver them than Adrian Flanagan and ACID KLAUS. Playing a set compiled of material from last year’s excellent debut Step on My Travelator: The Imagined Career Trajectory of Superstar DJ & Dance Pop Producer, Melvin Harris that actually hits the spot even more potently in the flesh than it does on record, Flanagan and his three accomplices get the party started and some. “Party Sized Away Day” and “Bad Club, Bad Drugs, Bad People” are instant classics while even a short Casio-led rendition of The White Stripes “Seven Nation Army” to accommodate the “Fuck The Tories!” mantra that’s broken out all weekend (mainly as a result to Friday’s council elections and Tory whitewash!) receives rapturous outbreaks of cheers and applause.

In summary, this was another memorable Focus Wales that will go down as one of the organisers’ finest events yet. With bigger plans already in place for 2024 and set to be unveiled shortly, watch this space!

TVAM (photo by Kev Curtis)
TVAM (photo by Kev Curtis)



Comments

Submit your comment

Name Required

Email Required, will not be published

URL

Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

There are no comments for this entry yet.