Focus Wales 2024, Wrexham, UK, May 8-11, 2024 | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, June 25th, 2024  

Punchlove

Spiritualized, Punchlove, Bored Marsh, Bethan Lloyd

Focus Wales 2024, Wrexham, UK, May 8-11, 2024,

May 20, 2024 Photography by Adam Houghton Web Exclusive
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May usually marks the official start of the UK festival season, and when it comes to showcase events there’s none better than Focus Wales. The 2024 edition was Focus Wales’ fourteenth soiree, and with over 300 artists playing across 22 stages throughout its four days, this year’s event also marked its biggest yet. Encompassing an array of both new and established acts from all over the globe - a staggering 39 nations were represented this year - Focus Wales has surpassed the likes of Liverpool Sound City and The Great Escape in being THE place to go for not only discovering fresh, exciting talent. But also in providing opportunities to play in front of captivated audiences consisting of an assortment of eager punters and industry professionals not necessarily searching for “the next big thing” par se while sharing a common goal in finding a new favourite artist to latch onto.

Situated in the North Wales city of Wrexham, an area that is currently undergoing a resurgence thanks to the success of its football team, rejuvenated by the ownership and investment of Hollywood actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney whose influence has played a pivotal role in restoring the club to the third tier of English football and as a result, seen the area booming for the first time in decades. Multiple spaces and venues have opened up making Wrexham a hub of creativity and one that’s also rubbing off on many local artists and musicians, as this year’s line-up demonstrates. Ambient, darkwave duo Eye are one example of the area’s buoyant musical community. Essentially the project of Jessica Ball, formerly part of psychedelic outfit Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard and Gid Goundrey, who’s worked with Gulp and former Boo Radley Martin Carr among others. Although no longer based in Wrexham, their eerie sonics resonate an industrial clamour that could only originate from somewhere like here, and its no surprise their Friday evening set at Ty Pawb - which serves the festival’s main hub for its duration - pulls a sizeable crowd.

Likewise Bethan Lloyd, an artist Under the Radar has come to know and admire in recent years having initially discovered her at Focus Wales back in October 2021. It’s Lloyd’s drive and determination to constantly evolve their sound that makes her such an intriguing proposition, and despite releasing one of 2023’s finest debut LP’s in Metamorphosis, Lloyd is already onto the next musical adventure. Fusing traditional Welsh folk with drones and an almost shamanic presence, her set on Wednesday evening in The Parish is the first “WOW!” moment of the festival and one that gets talked about for the entire weekend.

Bethan Lloyd
Bethan Lloyd

Another highlight from North Wales comes in the shape of Campfire Social, a collective from Chester who’ve been dubbed “the Welsh Broken Social Scene” a while now. But whose sound has now come into its own which they demonstrate by pulling a huge crowd in Llwyn Isaf - a 12,000 capacity marquee on a field next to Wrexham library. It’s a joyous and momentous occasion that sees audience members singing back every song word-for-word at husband and wife dup Thomas and Carrie Hyndman, whose radiant grins alongside those of their fellow bandmates gleefully tells its own story. Their long-awaited debut album is out later this year on Chester independent label Popty Ping and promises to be one of this year’s finest.

Campfire Social
Campfire Social

Staying in Wales, Cardiff’s Wylderness haven’t played live for two years so there’s an air of anticipation around their Friday teatime set in Hope Street Church. While obvious nerves and patchy sound don’t help at the beginning, they come into their own once they’ve hit their stride. Those Diiv comparisons fully and rightfully realised. Another excellent Welsh band are Cardiff four-piece slate, whose fusion of glitchy post-punk and errant psych rock conjures up images of an embryonic Working Men’s Club duelling with Fontaines DC at their most frantic. While livewire singer Jack Shephard is one of the most captivating frontmen we’ve come across in recent times, delivering lines to the likes of “Sun Violence” and “Remoter Heaven” off their excellent debut EP Deathless as if his life depends on it.

slate
slate

It’s also something of a pivotal event for Anglesey based four-piece Holy Coves, who’ve been simmering away on the Welsh scene for a while now. Led by inimitable frontman Scott Marsden who also runs Welsh independent label Snowdonia Records, their anthemic take on all things psych rock (think BRMC/Black Angels) is the kind of thing that could and should be filling stadiums one day so playing to a packed Hope Street Church is a piece of cake by comparison, the audience mesmerised by Marsden’s and Holy Coves slick panache from start to finish,

Holy Coves
Holy Coves

Of course, as with any great festival, there’s clashes galore, meaning we can’t see everything we’d initially hoped to. But with the array of Welsh talent mentioned above alongside the likes of Red Telephone, Chroma, Adwaith and Baby Brave - all of whom feature prominently here - its probably fair to say the future is bright in the valleys. However, with Focus Wales being such an international event, Under the Radar casts its net far and wide. Anglo-Ukraine four-piece AKINE are an enthralling proposition whose music sits somewhere between the nu(ish) metal of Evanescence and austere post-punk of Siouxsie & The Banshees. Singer Nicole Kozina has a voice that demands attention while the rest of the band draw from their sonic palette throughout.

AKINE
AKINE

Montreal’s La Sécurité take the best bits of post-punk - and by “best bits”, we mean Talking Heads, Devo, Kleenex and the B-52s - and turn it into something altogether new and exciting for the 21st Century. Signed to one of our favourite Canadian indeopendent labels Mothland Records, they’re an enticing proposition that ultimately sends the packed Penny Black crowd into ecstatic raptures, throwing shapes aplenty on this balmy Thursday evening. Fellow Montreal punks DVTR are another unmissable proposition that’s both musically taut and unforgettably wild in equal measures. The duo - Demi Lune and Jean Divorce - are a formidable force that could be the offspring of Chicks On Speed and Confidence Man if there were such a coupling, Spending as much time in the crowd as on stage, Demi Lune is as charismatic a frontperson as we witness all weekend. At times confrontational yet always fully engrossed in their wares.

La Sécurité
La Sécurité

Meanwhile Brooklyn’s Punchlove stake a reasonable claim for “band of the festival” that finds Under the Radar at each of their three showcase events over the course of the festival. Musically reminiscent of early nineties shoegaze outfits like My Bloody Valentine, Medicine and Drop Nineteens yet also steeped in a youthful vigour befitting of a band with an average of just nineteen. Playing different sets every evening that not only showcases every song off this year’s excellent debut Channels, but also gives an insight into where they might be headed next. While it’s difficult to pick a favourite set - all three ROCK for various reasons - that first show in the homely confines of the Wynnstay Arms on Thursday evening was a genuine moment of collective, jaw dropping awe that spread around the room like an open mouthed Mexican wave.

Punchlove
Punchlove

Also bringing the house down - God’s House that is - was Annie Dressner over in St Giles’ Church. Originally from New York but now residing in the English university city of Cambridge, Dressner’s understated vocals and storytelling make songs like “Nyack” and “I Just Realized” resonate with an honesty and intensity that’s drawn worthy comparisons with artists like Suzanne Vega and Juliana Hatfield, and rightly so. Modern day folk at its finest.

Annie Dressner
Annie Dressner

While South Korean trio Sailor Honeymoon play feminist punk rock that’s equal parts Bikini Kill, Shonen Knife and Sonic Youth. Which is just as well as they also have the best merchandise on offer this weekend courtesy of their Kim Gordon inspired t-shirts. Following them on Friday evening are multi-cultural London-based outfit Flamingods, whose potent mix of traditional Eastern folk, psychedelia and rhythmic groove makes them the perfect post-midnight act to get Friday night’s party well and truly started.

Sailor Honeymoon
Sailor Honeymoon

Saturday is quite a proud day for yours truly as my native city of Nottingham boasts a formidable presence today. With a local music scene that’s probably healthier than its ever been in my lifetime, darkwave inspired post-punk outfit Bored Marsh draw a sizeable crowd for their mid-afternoon slot in The Parish. It’s easy to see why as numbers like “Alright, OK” and “The Grind” entice the room early doors for a pulsating set that doesn’t let up for air until the last notes of “Idiot” bring their exit march to a fitting conclusion.

Bored Marsh
Bored Marsh

Fellow Nottingham outfit Eyre Llew are making their third appearance at Focus Wales this year, so there’s already an “eyre” of anticipation for their teatime set at Penny Black, if you’ll pardon the pun. Recently extended to a five-piece, they’ve blossomed in the time they’ve been away writing, honing and polishing the songs that will eventually feature on their as-yet untitled second long player. Nevertheless the new material oozes with a supreme confidence which suggests the best might be yet to come from a band who’ve already amassed such lofty comparisons to the likes of Sigur Ros, Bon Iver and Explosions In The Sky.

Eyre Llew
Eyre Llew

Another band from the city currently making significant headway are Midnight Rodeo, whose spaghetti-western tinged psych rock saw them signed to esteemed independent Fat Cat Records early on in their career. Now, with a whole new bunch of songs ready to go and an album coming in the autumn, their time to shine is now and they grab it with both hands in front of a packed Hope Street Church.

Although not technically a Nottingham band, we’re adopting Spiritualized as one of our own for the purpose of this weekend based on the fact three of the current band members are based here and the band’s rehearsal studio is situated in the Lady Bay area of the city. As expected for the main Saturday night headliners, Llwyn Isaf is packed to the rafters and Jason Pierce and band complete with gospel choir do not disappoint. While the current set is heavily weighted towards 2018’s And Nothing Hurt and 2012’s Sweet Heart Sweet Light albums, they’re a joyous sound to behold and one that serves as a befitting way to close any festival.

Bored Marsh
Bored Marsh

Not that Focus Wales is over by any stretch of the imagination. Flagging after four intense days of sun, networking and live music, Under the Radar makes one last pilgrimage to Penny Black for Benefits’ incandescent rage that proves so powerful even the sound engineer quits before the end of the set. “Flag” and “Traitors” prove as viscerally intense as anything we hear all weekend while Kingsley Hall subtly references Steve Albini who tragically passed away on Wednesday at various points in the set.

Without meaning to sound like a broken record, Focus Wales really is as good as it gets for any showcase festival in the world. As Under the Radar finally catches up on some sleep, we can only dream at what the 15th birthday edition next year might have in store for us.

Sailor Honeymoon
Sailor Honeymoon




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