Tuesday 25 October 2022

Live Review: Swn Festival 21 - 23 October 2022

Back for its inaugural celebration of live music and industry talks, Cardiff's Swn Festival made its very welcomed return to the historic and bustling Womanby Street (& surrounding areas) as its takeover of the Capital got firmly in to swing.

With ten stages to choose from across seven iconic locations, including Clwb Ifor Bach, Fuel Rock Club, Jacobs Market, The Moon, O’Neills, Tiny Rebel, and Tramshed, set to feature 100's of the freshest new music, the only wash-out was set to be the great British weather. 

Following a scaled back version of the inner-city festival in 2021, this year marked it's first full steam ahead event and the crowds excitement was certainly electrifying. Setting up camp in Tramshed for its opening evening, Prima Queen were quick to get the mood set with their dual guitar swaying melodies and blistering harmonies. Next up was Lime Garden with their humoured lyrics and energetic pop nuances who steadily got the packed out room moving. Welsh outfit Panic Shack were next to take to the stage and for anyone who's been following their journey will be all too familiar with their vibrant dancing and brash tongue-in-cheek lyrics. If you take the classic punk rock sound and flip it on its head then you'd be somewhere near to their sound. Impossible to pigeonhole, their ecstatic energy was made for events like this and breaking out their rehearsed dance routines was a certain way to get the smiles going.

Sadly BC Camplight was unable to make the event but fans were not about to be left empty handed with the wonderful Katie J Pearson stepping in to close the opening night with her polished pop perfection. A seamless way to kick start the weekend's festivities. 

With the first night under our belts, the thought of full night of action was to become a little more cumbersome to plan, despite the festival's brand spanking new app. Packing in this much music in such a short space of time meant clashes were inevitable and so began the pain of deciding who to see and who to drop. On the plus side with venues being in such close proximity, minus Jacobs, it meant a quick dash between shows was almost achievable. 

From a packed out and rather humid downstairs in Clwb Ifor Bach with John Myrtle sending warming jangly guitar-pop sounds across the room, a quick dash upstairs and you'd find Australia's Royel Otis already winning over fans. As relative newcomers, the Sydney based duo (expanded in to a full band show this evening) delivered an excelling set built upon glistening guitar layers and hazy melodies. 

Elsewhere, deep in the depths beneath Jacob's market is the darkened, smoke filled back room venue that seems almost too well suited for Priestgate's powering angst driven prowess. Frontman Rob Schofield makes his entrance known tearing off his vest and prancing in to the crowd before hanging draped off the speaker stacks. 

With a break in the rain, a quick dash back to Clwb Ifor Bach was well timed to catch fast rising outfit Chappaqua Wrestling who quickly whipped the crowd in to a frenzy with their snarling basslines and towering, tension rising guitars. Meanwhile, upstairs Murkage Dave was underway with his beguiling take on hip-hop as he spanned genres in seamless fashion. Not shy of collaborations, it seemed fitting for him to bring out multi-talented local artist Kiddus to end a triumphant set.

Across the road at The Moon, Leeds quartet L'objectif were in the swing of action with their explosive indie rock powered by charging percussion and propulsive energy. Stepping out early I'd hoped to catch the last half of former Slaves member Baby Dave but I naively misjudged his popularity and was forced to watch from afar back - thankfully I'm 6'2 so managed to catch a glimpse of the stage - sorry to anyone less than lucky behind me. 

With the rain gods in my favour a hastily final visit to Jacobs Market was in order for pop wunderkind Ellur who's confidence excelled throughout the room with towering pop sensibilities, played out with complete and utter empowerment. Delivering brooding anthems in an uplifting manner is no easy feat yet it's territory she knows like the back of her hand.

Royel Otis


Murkage Dave

Chappaqua Wrestlingl

How time flies when you're having fun. Totally caught up in the whirlwind of new music and excitement that Swn brings, as quick as it began, the final day was upon us. 

Whether intentionally planned or not, the line up seemed a lot more chilled to start. My hangover tips its hat to the schedulers. First up being Pet Deaths who delivered soothing intricate poetry driven folk, all with their added humour. You can keep your mass singalongs, only here do you get an orchestrated jangle of house and car keys as the crowd participated in the band's show. 

Heading upstairs and a packed out top floor was lying in wait for Welsh artist Sweet Baboo. Delivering a string of new songs through an acoustic opening set before the full band joined him on stage, the North Wallian singer-songwriter spanned warming folk nuances and upbeat sweetly sung rock in the finest of fashions. 

Meanwhile, back downstairs Brixton-born Jelani Blackman was quick to warm the crowd up with his eclectic grime and bass-driven sound. With his silk smooth charisma and pristine performing abilities, Blackman sits ahead of the game and it's not long before he's amidst the crowd with his energetic delivery as arms and legs fly. It's a nice change from the guitars and percussion that normally dominates inner city new music festivals.

I'm not sure anything can top that, but Cardiff's Show Dogs give it a good go. A supergroup composed of a wide-ranging mix of members, their 60's psychedelic influenced rock does good to keep everyone swaying and their feet moving. A great remedy to avoid being cemented to the sticky floors. 

Edging out and in to next door's venue to catch Gillie, having been handing out wristbands at the exchange all weekend, "I've finally been freed" she exclaimed. Armed with her excellent band the Carmarthenshire-born now London based artist provides a stunning soundtrack with intricate folk melodies and spellbinding vocals. Keeping with traditions there's even a Welsh language song debut which fits in perfectly with her heritage, neatly wrapped up with its powerful delivery.

Eleswhere, with a change of tempo, The Goa Express were on fine form upstairs in Clwb playing out their buoyant rock n roll and pummelling basslines. 

I soon however found myself amongst a sea of fans flowing downstairs to catch Welsh language outfit Swnami. A fitting end to a top weekend with their energising guitar melodies and driving synth pad textures.

It's safe to say following a year away, Swn Festival was back with bang. And the bustling, white and pink flag-lined streets of Cardiff were all the more grateful for it. Hats off to the volunteers, promoters and event organisers who continue to pull it out the bag time. Diolch yn fawr!

Jelani Blackman

The Goa Express
Sweet Baboo


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