Monday 22 October 2012

Swn Festival 18-21 October 2012 | Review

Arriving ever so gracefully to its sixth birthday Swn once again took over the city centre of Cardiff bringing its undoubtedly diverse and talented line up in tow. Over it's short life span the festival has continued to go from strength to strength and has seen artists as far and wide as Those Dancing Days, Yeasayer, Los Campesinos! and Perfume Genius take to the stages since it's birth in '07. And 2012 was set to be no different.
Unfortunately due to other commitments (Bloc Party gig in Bristol) I was unable to attend the opening night but I was assured it was on equal par with the rest of the weekend.

So as Friday rolled in I set off to see my first act of Swn 2012 that showed great promise after listening to every single act on the bill (yes, I really am this meticulous with every festival I go to).
Occupying the other O'Neill's bar in Cardiff on St Mary's Street Jewellers took to the stage.

With their blend of flickering beats and fluctuating synths Jewellers truly captured the atmosphere within the moderately intimate venue. A beautiful way to ease the crowd in to the hectic weekend that would ensue with their warmth and pulsating textured pads.

With a rough idea of the main acts I wanted to see over the weekend there was plenty of space in between to wander around and witness acts that didn't necessarily fit in with my usual listening tastes. And it's quite often that these unplanned random discoveries turn out to be great. Such as the case with the next band. With a short wait until The Cribs played at the Great Hall I found myself stumbling in to the Moon Club and catching the start of Gala Drop's set. A Lisbon based band producing some brilliantly bright percussive instrumental music was more than enough to showcase the diverse line up featuring over the weekend. Next up was Mr Fogg at Undertone. Once again, not really knowing too much beforehand but being drawn in by the raving reviews from the likes of NME and Q made for another excellent discovery. Harmonious vocals and having the ability to possess a charm that makes your music instantly familiar goes a long way in today's musical world and Mr Fogg has it down to a T.

Mr Fogg
The next stop off was Cardiff's student Union, The Great Hall. Sadly I missed Mazes who were first on but managed to catch Frankie & The Heartstrings who put on a stellar performance. It's a shame the majority of the crowd didn't turn up until The Cribs were due on. The band didn't seem too bothered though. A great vibe throughout! Headlining the Friday The Cribs were going to be nothing short of amazing. Returning to Cardiff after playing Swn's debut in '07 and undertaking their longest ever set the Jarman brothers put on a show stopping performance. There's no denying the Welsh crowd can be rather brutal with their idol standing and odd cheer but there was no signs of this last night. Involvement from all and a brilliant party atmosphere (quite literally with it being Gary and Ryan's birthday) really took the roof off at Cardiff's SU.

Frankie & The Heartstrings

The Cribs
With day one completed our aching feet and ringing ears only had more more amazing acts to look forward to. AlunaGeorge kicked the evenings proceedings off catching the last few songs from her set. Sounding just as good live as in the studio the duo's contemporary take on R&B pulsates throughout the venue. And it's a good thing too as we had to watch from the back, the place was rammed!
Making the stroll over to The Moon Club once again we just about managed to squeeze in to catch the delayed start of Tall Ships. Some technical difficulties resulted in the band not being able to perform their full range of songs which was a shame but they still managed to captivate with their unique sound creating a powerful aura. A perfect blend of post rock bliss and math-rock melodies. 

Tall Ships
After a couple of songs we thought it'd be best to head to Clwb Ifor Bach in order to ensure entry to Palma Violets as I was sure they'd be attracting much attention. Sadly it was already full so we decided to hang about Undertone waiting for No Ceremony ///. Having already blogged about many of their previous singles I was excited to finally put some faces to the music. And they far from disappointed. A fantastic turn out for the Manchester group's eerily haunting, yet equally energetic set. The trios euphoric orchestration of auto-tuned moody vocals sitting at the forefront of their aspirational productions transform effortlessly to a live setting. A definite highlight of Saturday.

No Ceremony ///
We decided to hang around afterwards to catch Stubborn Heart. Another previously featured artist on this blog who I was eager to witness live. It turns out this is their first ever gig. And even though the lead singer stated his nervousness by displaying his shaking hand and one small cock up by singing in the wrong key and then deciding to scrap the song all together (it sounded fine to me) their show went seamlessly. Their delectable charismatic blend of electronic beats and pop delivered in such style made it hard to believe this was only their first ever live show.

Stubborn Heart
So after a heavy night partying in a crowded and sweaty Clwb Ifor Bach courtesy of Steve Lamacq the final day had sneaked up on us ever so fast. Leading us in was Jemma Roper. A familiar face (having danced to her records many times on a Saturday night at Clwb) it was nice to experience the more psychedelic side. A joyous affair of raw gritty lyrics and jangly guitars.
Having heard great things about Swiss Lips we headed upstairs. Their chain wear coordination aside the band packed a powerful energy. Hard hitting synths and vibey basslines soon warmed the crowd up. Sadly we had to bounce early in order to reach Buffallo in time to catch a favourite of mine Fear of Men. This time last year the crowd was abysmal but Cardiff was out in force this time around. A bewitching display of hazed out guitars and vocals. I was picking up a lot of early Best Coast vibes. And that's not a bad thing! The Brighton four piece sure know how to create forward thinking, somewhat surf inspired, pop gems.

Fear of Men

After some food it was back to Clwb Ifor Bach to end the evening. Various Cruelties, another big favourite, truly left me speechless. Having already supported the likes of The Vaccines and Kasabian the band sure know a thing or two about performing live. Very clean cut and some of the tightest percussion I've heard over the weekend. A soulful display of guitar driven indie rock. Although having to entice the rather timid Welsh Crowd forward on numerous occasions ending with a cover of Ian Brown's Fear the band picked up the pace and soon had the crowd moving

Various Cruelties
With sad (yet excited) hearts, closing the festival for me was the ever impressive Clock Opera. With no need for an introduction and having already seen them before I knew what to expect. High energy-driven unique percussive indie. Explosive bursts of vigour made for an entertaining performance keeping the crowd on their toes. A beautiful way to end a beautiful festival. Womanby Street might take some getting used to without all the delicately palced Swn balloons/banners and busy party atmosphere spilling out from all the bars alligning its path.

Clock Opera
All in all Swn continues to amaze year in year out. One of the biggest improvements on 2011's run has to be the crowds participation. Every show I watched had a brilliant turn out. Whilst I made my festival solely about the music it's important not to forget Swn promotes a whole range of other activities in its ever diverse line up of events. From fashion to art, Bingo (with a twist) to live seminars. Swn really does cater for all and with the friendly Welsh crowd and definitely really is my favourite inner city festival around.

So with that I give thanks to all the volunteers, bands, organisers, promoters, live sound technicians and festival goers. Without these the festival would cease to exist! I'm already counting down the days to next year.


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