Wednesday 23 October 2019

Live Review: Swn Festival 18 Oct – 20 Oct 2019

Scientists of Sound Live Review: Swn Festival 18 Oct – 20 Oct 2019

With everyone's festival tents and sleeping bags safely stored and packed away, raincoats and wellies were an unfortunate necessity on the opening night of Swn Festival 2019. With spirits far from dampened, the multi-venued event made its very welcomed return, blowing out the candles on its 13th Birthday cake in style.

This year's edition was my first visit since they re-envisioned themselves in '16 with a shake-up of traditions, before Huw Stephens and John Rostron handed over the reigns to Clwb Ifor Bach. It's safe to say I was left with the resounding impression "why the hell did I leave it so long before returning". With camp set up in O'Neil's, out of the elements, the bustling atmosphere inside had already reached a warm radiance as Cardiff's Hyll took to the stage. Welsh-speaking, mellowed melodies and a knack for creating warm-hued danceable pop made for an engaging performance. Next up, Birmingham's Sunshine Frisbee Laserbeam served up a sprightly dose of rattling percussion, high flying guitar riffs and searing vocals, all combined to match their equally brilliant name. Keen new-music fans will know, surprisingly Leicester weren't just known for their football team winning the 2015-16 season. Elsewhere in town a beautiful coming together was happening and the following year Easy Life released their very first single "Pockets" via Chess Club Records. A stark change in genres but their popularity served no doubts as the packed out room danced, sung and cheered in delight to the band's unique blend of RnB-infused storytelling. A definite highlight so early on, and the busiest I'd ever seen the opening night reach in all my previous years. With ears still ringing, last but by no means least, Cardiff's Himalayas set about closing the evening. Not to be confused with the giant mountain range in Asia, the band brought their own level of sky rising, tectonic force. It's clear to see why they're snapped up to play the festival circuit so readily as crashing guitars met a glamorous energy.

Easy Life
With heavy legs, and even heavier heads from the night before I made the afternoon trip to Clwb Ifor Bach to see what the fuss was all about for Coventry's Feet - it seemed like the Swn population had the same idea as the venue quickly reached capacity. Podophobia sufferers needn't look away as the band's shoes remained firmly on throughout, their groove-laden Brit-Pop influenced sound being more their forte. Still hazy eyed from Friday night's antics, their gangly limbed dance moves were a bewildering sight but soon had everyone loosened up and locked in to their trance. Across the road at Fuel (perhaps named after the horrible stench circulating the venue) Owain Felstead was well underway delivering his smartly produced pop. Perfected in every sense, and joined onstage by Rhys Griffiths, the pair unravelled their powerhouse melodies and devastating vocals with an unrivalled force. Elsewhere, in The Moon Newport's Jack Perrett showcased his towering indie anthems through insatiably catchy melodies and exhilarating percussion. High flying single Like A Fever was well and truly planted in my head with its ear-worm guitars and chorus.

With so many band's performing over the weekend, eating becomes a logistical nightmare, but thankfully there's a Spoons situated within spitting distance of Cardiff's musical centre. A quick pit-stop and it was back to Fuel to catch Brighton's Thyla. Having impressed on record I was excited to see what their live reincarnation would present and they far from disappointed. Think heavy noise mixed with copious amounts of post-punk melody and vivacious energy. With a quick stop off at The Old Market Tavern to catch the crashing cinematic masterpeices by North Wales-based outfit Denuo, I found myself front centre for The Howl and The Hum. A cathartic release of emotion, the York-based outfit wasted no time unveiling their emotively charged sounds to the packed out room. With plenty guitar driving crescendos and acute melodies, accompanied with a brooding, impassioned deliverance made for an impeccable performance. Playing a number of unreleased single's, there's evidence of real ambition here.

I'm not lying when I say the venues here are close. Back downstairs and a packed out room awaited latest indie up and comer Devon. My most anticipated set over the weekend and it far from disappointed with his infectious hooks and high strung melodies. Live, his animated sound burst in to life as the band delivered a hit-packed setlist. It was at this point I was half expecting a small riot to break out as Clwb's bars had sold out of beer on tap. A feat in itself for the merry crowds but thankfully peace remained and it was once again (a very) short trip back upstairs to catch Self Esteem. Ending on their popular single The Best the band truly proved the track's namesake and closed off another entertaining evening.

Jack Perrett

Owain Felstead
The Howl & The Hum


Blink and you'll miss it. With the final day upon us, anyone turning up late (or rather, on time) for Far Caspian might have been sadly caught short as they appeared to take to the stage 15 minutes early. Over in the snap of a finger, the Leeds-based outfit treated the Welsh capital to their resplendent, elongated dream pop. A beautiful wake-up call to get the crowd in the mood. A short wait later and Brighton's Egyptian Blue were rattling through their fuzzy, heavy sounding melodies. Elsewhere, next door a beautifully contrasting sound was unfolding through South Wales pop sensation Macy who worked her magic through dance-floor ready production and pristinely held vocals. County Line Runner saw my first trip down the street to the maze-like venue Kongs. "Our guitarist has gone to the toilet so can we all give him a big round of applause as he walks in" asked singer Adam Day. What unfolded was slow burning, deeply passionate songwriting seen through the eyes of a cinematic soundscape, much akin to The War on Drugs. Next on the list was Francis Lung, a delighted addition to the line-up with his recent album 'A Dream Is U' receiving much acclaim. The intimate stage set proved to be his perfect environment as Sunday's easy listening vibe got a whole lot easier although sadly to my disappointment they omitted my favourite track A Selfish Man from the setlist. With tired legs, and back pain resembling a crooked old man, I made the final trip to Clwb as the sprightly Edinburgh-based outfit Vistas rounded off a fantastic weekend of live music. If colourful indie-packed pop jams are your thing then this trio will have you sorted. It's remarkable that even at this late hour the Cardiff audience still managed to find the energy to dance.

Far Caspian

County Line Runner

Francis Lung

Across its industry mixer conferences and incomparable line-up, one that continues to give as much support to home-grown Welsh talent alongside the country's best up and comers, 2019's Swn Festival has managed to capture the true essence of the UK's developing scene. With its troubled few years now just a distant memory, let's hope this is a new beginning of a continuing long relationship with the Cardiff scene. Diolch yn fawr Swn!


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