Sŵn Festival, Cardiff, October 20-22, 2023 | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Saturday, April 20th, 2024  

Joyce, TVAM, Chroma, Pip Blom

Sŵn Festival, Cardiff, UK, October 20-22, 2023,

Nov 08, 2023 Photography by Jimi Arundell Web Exclusive
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Cardiff-based Sŵn Festival takes over the capital city’s best independent venues for three days of music from major players and vital acts from Wales and beyond. First started in 2007 Sŵn (meaning noise in Welsh) has been the perfect platform for young performing artists to get noticed and for revellers to enjoy the prize pick of the bands and musicians sure to make waves in the coming years.

The proceedings kick off with a seriously impressive Friday night launch party at Tramshed. I’m told they started with incredible sets from promising angsty post-punks Slate and the lauded Bill Ryder-Jones. Sad to say I missed both of them due to flooding on the rail tracks – thanks Storm Babet! Luckily, I arrived just in time to catch Pip Blom take to the stage. I have no idea why the Amsterdam-based indie rock songwriter and her band aren’t bigger as “School” is such an amazing anthem and “Babies Are A Lie” is so infectious. It’s all so effortlessly impressive, sounding cool as fuck and looking perfectly at home playing to an eagerly appreciative audience. In fact, Blom is so at home she accidentally keeps slipping into her native Dutch between songs which makes her even more endearing. Their latest LP Bobbie has seen her embrace a feisty disco electronica sound akin to Le Tigre, and new tracks “Get Back” and “Is This Love?” have the potential to see them breakthrough into mainstream consciousness. Sticking with the party beats; the self-described “merchant of pure gay chaos” Lynks (AKA Elliot Brett) lives up to his reputation and has Tramshed eating out of his hand. Frustrated by the strict curfew, the electroclash dance-punk wastes no time and speeds through a thrill-packed set that sees him explode with a primal energy all whilst wearing a homemade spiked balaclava (his signature style reminiscent of both Leigh Bowery and Pussy Riot) and flanked by a trio of dancers. Tearing through banging tracks “NEW BOYFRIEND” (which he explains is based on experiences at his own recent wedding), toxic masculinity takedown “Silly Boy”, “Str8 Acting” and his cover of Courtney Barnett’s “Pedestrian At Best” which slaps even more than the original; he proves more than worthy of headline status. And it’s such a shame that the crowd is comparatively small, with many seemingly saving themselves for the full weekend, but everyone who is there is matching the furious momentum, bouncing along to the break-neck pace.

As aforementioned, Sŵn goes big on major names and Saturday offered a wide selection of such tasty treats as rampaging stoner metal group Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, the enigmatic indie pop pianist BC Camplight and psych superstars Flamingods. And as tempting as they all were, I opted to sample more of the local flavour, seeking out such rising stars as Joyce who proved to be one of my favourites of the entire weekend. The former Future Of The Left guitarist Jimmy Watkins has enlisted Adwaith bassist Gwenllian Anthony and a drummer wearing a “Fuck Terfs” cap for a brilliantly brutal project blurring the lines between hardcore punk and venomous hip hop. Watkins is clearly pleasantly surprised by the sizeable number of people who have come to see the early incarnation of his new band at Clwb Ifor bach. He leaps around like a hyperactive child given too many fizzy sweets whilst shouting obscenities and pleading for signs of salvation. His oversized suit and baseball cap add to this juvenile image, contrasted by the painful experiences expressed via freeform poetry and a forbidding wall of cacophonous noise. Sure, it’s a set full of flaws and a couple of misstarts. But all is forgiven thanks to those killer bass riffs and Jimmy’s hilarious spontaneous banter shrugging away any mistakes as “a massive brain fart” and I cannot wait to hear the upcoming first album which has just been completed two weeks prior.

Joyce
Joyce

Jacobs Basement was the perfect place to catch alt-rock three-piece Chroma. Having just dropped their debut album Ask For Angela and playing to a home crowd (ish – Pontypridd is just twelve miles down the road), the trio threatened to collapse the entire building as their new material saw dedicated fans and new converts alike thrash together with many more waiting outside. There’s zero bullshit or pretension from the trio who can be barely made out in front of the blinding red lights of the subterranean stage, and their relentless hard and heavy set will be echoing in ears for a long time to come.

And a special shout out to Half Happy. The Cardiff gang have only been on the go for eighteen months or so and it’s no surprise the quartet have already taken home the Triskel Award at the latest edition of Welsh Music Prize. Their captivating take on dream pop and shoegaze has the entirety of the small venue The Moon enraptured, and it’s clear they have that special something to rise through the ranks and become a big breakthrough band in 2024.

But I’m yet to be convinced by mock lo-fi hip-hop two-piece Get Down Services. Riding the current colossal sprechgesang wave, the Bristol / Manchester pairing has already gained a bit of an underground following which is evident from a packed full Tiny Rebel. They’re clearly loving the attention, with one of them taking his top off before they’ve even played a single song and you can’t fault their enthusiasm. It’s just the comedy falls far short of Yard Act’s offhand witty satire, and I can’t shake the feeling I’m watching Dick and Dom trying their hand as a Sleaford Mods tribute act. Mind you, the joke will be on me when 6music gets a hold of them and they become everyone’s new favourite cult band.

Whilst Sunday was perhaps more sedate, it certainly didn’t lose any impact as we were treated to a wide range of promising fledglings and ones to watch. First up was the deceptively titled Murder Club at The Moon who are a sugary sweet riot-grrl-informed indie pop outfit from Newport. With songs about friendship and chatting to other women in the toilets on a night out, their catchy hooks and saccharine melodies have echoes of Sleater Kinney or Letters To Cleo and I love bubble gum bands like this.

The rest of the day is spent at Clwb Ifor Bach where we are treated to performances from the likes of indie rock trio Our Girl as led by The Big Moon’s Soph Nathan. There’s a deep vein of melancholia running through their grungy sound as Nathan proves to be the best guitarist of the weekend. Introspective alt-rock trio Slaney Bay also go down a treat with their wide-eyed enthusiasm, unabashed joy and constant catchy hooks. Plus, the eight-piece alt-folk ensemble Muriel offer a daring and exciting experimental take on a classical sound.

Breakthrough band of the moment Divorce also made a welcome appearance playing to a packed-out room bolstered, no doubt, thanks to the considerable amount of airplay their recent single “Scratch Your Metal” has been getting. Their strange hybrid of alt-country and off-kilter indie rock lives up to the hype, and the vocal harmonies of Tiger Cohen-Towell and Felix Mackenzie-Barrow has the entire Clwb Ifor Bach spellbound.

And saving one of the best performances for last; hypnotic psyche rock noisenik TVAM was a perfect way to wrap up Sŵn. Normally the solo work of Wigan-based Joe Oxley armed only with a mighty pedal board, drum machine and sampler – this time round we’re given the full band treatment, and the addition of live synth and percussion gives his atmospheric sci-fi sound and additional kick. Combing krautrock and post-punk with dazzling visual effects, Oxley and co. conjure a euphoric sense of retro-futurism we came to know and love on records Psychic Data and High Art Life.

TVAM
TVAM

Inevitably on any packed full festival, there will always be clashes and I’m gutted to have missed out on catching Keg, Pale Blue Eyes, Crimewave, Acid Klaus, Treeboy & Arc, Willie Jay Healy and Opus Kink – a testament to just how many quality players were on offer. I can honestly say I’ve never had a warmer welcome at any other festival (big shout out to Andy Black from Popty Ping Records, Matt Jarrett of Diverse Records and Crosstown Concerts’ Connor Cupples for showing me around!) and Sŵn can certainly be regarded in that high class of big weekenders and essential music events for the discerning gig-goer (see also Rockaway Beach, Focus Wales and KARMA Weekender). If you’re looking to discover the best Wales has to offer and experience the next generation of alternative artists; Sŵn Festival is definitely the place to be.




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