There's a real beauty in the heart of the Swn community. Whether it's your very first time experiencing the wondrous array of musical delights on offer, or you're a seasoned regular, you really do get a sense that this is a lot more than just another inner city festival. It's a hub of talent and hard work, dedication that pays off once more as its 2016 edition unfolded. Following a short absence as the team regrouped to bring a smaller more concise festival in 2014, Dim Swn, Swn Festival's new one day event is one not one to be mistaken for small scale. Quite the contrary in fact with such a jam-packed line-up to look forward to once more.
With my stomach lined and the first pint of many sunk I headed towards 10 Feet Tall to catch Parcs. I hadn't done much preparation for this year's event, possibly a good thing, but one outfit that did catch my eye (or ears, rather) was the atmospheric South Wales trio. A perfect choice to ease festival folk in to the afternoon ahead with their layered electronic percussion and floated guitars, the group made for an impressive listen - singer Elly Sinnett's vocals not to be overlooked. Next up was The Bay Rays at Four Bars in Dempseys, an act already touting for bigger things with plenty of media hype tipped by Radio 1's Huw Stephens. Launching in to their blistering rock'n'roll, the Kent based trio served up a heavy onslaught of doozy vocal hooks and catchy guitar melodies. As the venue began to fill up considerably, the band's energy quickly began to transcend in to the crowd as they loosened up and edged forwards eager for more.
The joy with the more neatly compact Dim Swn is that all the venues are in incredible close proximity. Mind you, it didn't help too much with my aching legs considering most of the stages were up 3 flights of stairs. Though I guess I was skipping the gym having an unhealthy self-indulgent evening so I suppose it did count towards some form of exercise.
As Shoebox Orchestra rounded up their set at The Moon Club it was a short stroll back to 10 Feet Tall to catch the endearing Orla Gartland. The Irish now London based singer/songwriter pulled in quite the crowd with her honest and spellbinding performance - a treat to have her joined on stage by Greta Isaac, the pair showcasing a number of new songs they've been working on since living together. Not related but equally magical, Jake Isaac had the whole downstairs of Clwb Ifor Bach entranced. Playing a stripped back set with only his smouldering vocals and guitar to hand, the London-based artist enjoyed a fair bit of crowd participation and with a little warm up and enticement soon had the room singing vocal harmonies. Unplugging his guitar and getting in to the crowd for a special acoustic up-close experience, fans were treated to an intimate and engaging performance - his enthusiasm and gratitude a breath of fresh air.
|The Bay Rays|
Next up was a band I'd been looking forward to seeing for quite some time. Having been won over by their mesmerising sounds in previous incarnations, their recent re-emergence under the moniker Leif Erikson had already proven to be an exciting journey so far. With only 2 songs shared to date I was keen to hear more and they did not disappoint. With a fair helping of bluesy guitars and melodic rhythm sections the band sure know a thing or two about crafting mature meticulous guitar music.
A quick break for food to re-fuel and it was on to Four Bars to catch Island - a band I've only recently discovered but one I was looking forward to most. With their expansive Americana influenced guitars, gripping from the opening chords, a magnetising sound unfolded through the bands beguiling instrumentation. Their mix of smooth melodies and gravelly vocals served to be a perfect juxtaposition in dynamics.
Having been a fan of Glasgow's Holy Esque for a number of years now since first hearing their single St. back in 2013 I was more than eager to get back down to The Moon Club once more to catch their set. Known for his distinctive searing vocals, frontman Pat Hynes was unblemished on stage. Rattling through tracks from their recently released debut album 'At Hopes Ravine', the band showed just how far they'd come as they confidently channelled their energies in to chest rattling guitar lines and thundering percussion. A pleasure to see them in such an intimate venue.
With a short stop off to catch the end of Estrons, my view obscured by just how popular they were, faintly making them out on stage through a room full of heads, I made the choice decision to head back to The Moon Club for one final time to witness My Name Is Ian. Having seen them recently support Blaenavon they'd done more than enough to win me over and I was back for round two. Comedic banter a quirky addition, the band's music is concise. Melting together lo-fi scuzzy guitars with rattling basslines and cathartic percussion, the Cardiff based group spurred on by the crowd delivered an unrivalled energy as they unfurled a range of upbeat jangly anthems. Quite possibly one of the city's best kept secrets with a back catalogue of hits to leave anyone but in awe, their blistering and witty songwriting is second to none. A truly top way to end my evening.
Whilst the festivities continued long in to the night, the 10 hours of drinking and standing finally had caught up with me as I shamefully headed for the last train home. It goes without saying Swn is an incredible feat. No matter who you spoke to, everyone had different 'must see' acts proving just how diverse the line-up was, catering as best as it could to everyones tastes. Having witnessed band's such as Daughter, Catfish and the Bottlemen and Ben Howard all grace the stages here at the start of their careers over the years, Swn Festival will forever be the innovative behemoth it is, no matter what form it takes on. It's 10th birthday more than a success - here's to the next 10!