Thursday 26 October 2023

Live Review: Sŵn Festival 2023, October 20-22

For the avid music fan, there really is no better way to discover the next best sound than at an inner city event. Least of all to mention the value for money with such a huge line up crammed in to a weekend of fun. Sprawling across 8 venues within the Capital, Sŵn's 2023 new music addition promised to be a real treat with one of their strongest line-up's to date, and it certainly did not disappoint.  

Why does it always rain on me Sŵn. Is it because I lied when I was seventeen? Not to let the stereotypically wet Welsh weather dampen spirits, Friday's opening evening of Cardiff inaugural new music celebration took place solely at the Tramshed which worked out conveniently with the damp atmosphere causing havoc thanks to storm Babet. 

Opening proceedings was Cardiff's Slate who took control of the stage in effortless, commandeering fashion. It's hard to believe they only have two songs on Spotify from the confidence on display, but this is a band that have their head firmly screwed on and know a thing or two about Rock n' Roll. There's even an emotive poetry piece mid show to bring their sound full circle on the art spectrum. Next up Bill Ryder-Jones delivered an almost post-rock inspired set with careering guitars that released a pent up energy through the band's cathartic melodies. With the ability to switch between soft-tempo, piano led ballads, to blissful guitar layered anthems set for stadiums, his sound truly comes to life in a live environment and tonight was business as usual. Dutch indie outfit Pip Blom were next on hand to treat fans to their unique experimental indie pop. Their third album 'Bobbie' was released on this day through Heavenly Recordings so as expected the band were in high spirits which transcended beautifully in to the audience. A perfect way to warm up the limbs for the audio and visual brilliance that is Lynks who closed the opening night. Blurring the lines between artistry, performance and musicianship, the London based pop-churner has already racked up streams in their millions on Spotify and it's clear to see why. An electrifying way to welcome back the festival in all its glory. 

Pip Blom

Bill Ryder-Jones

With a strange orange ball in the sky and coats safely stowed away my Saturday began with the confident and sprawling pop nuances of Ellur. Always one to (politely) persuade the crowd to get dancing, despite no one being warmed up just quite yet, the Leeds based artist always delivers in emotion and power as new singles are debuted and classics hit the sweet spot of pop perfection. A quick dash up Cardiff's St Mary's Street and I was inside the packed out upper floor in Clwb Ifor Bach to catch the first secret set of the weekend, which happened to BC Camplight. Playing through an acoustic piano set you get a true sense of the power in his music as tracks from his latest record were belted out. And if you didn't come for the music you most certainly stayed for the comedic value he so naturally expulsed.

It's great to see so many Welsh musicians showcased across the weekend and atop of my list was Gillie who I managed to catch last year. Delivering a seamless set with glistening guitars and synth layers, it's impossible to tell the band haven't played some of the tracks together before as divulged by singer Gillie Ione Rowland. Further afield at the festivals largest space, English singer-songwriter Willie J Healey was giving the crowd in Tramshed a well deserved chant off with cheers for "Cardiff" and boos for "Bristol". His recent album 'Bunny' was received to great acclaim and it's evidently clear why as his jazzy guitars and soulful sound eclipsed the room. 

Determined to get my steps in, I made the sprint back to the epicentre that is Womanby Street to catch Max Rad who was mid set creating a whole rave from just his keyboard and loop system. Having wrote about his music over the years it's been great to watch him develop his sound which truly comes to life amongst the live environment. Genuinely pleased to be here making his Cardiff debut, it was a sure fire way to kick start a Saturday evening with pulsating electronics and silk-smooth vocals. 

Next door in Fuel Wales's answer to Royal Blood Alffa were creating an entrance for themselves with towering guitars and thunderous percussion. Known for being the first Welsh-language band to receive a million streams on Spotify is no easy feat, but one they take in their stride as their music delivered in exhilarating fashion. Elsewhere across the road in Clwb, Jessica Winter put on her own display of pop prowess and impressive costume changes. 3 during one song in fact. Hard to define to one genre the empowering display of pop, synth and all out energy is a sight that needs to be witnessed. Next up was British singer and rapper Hak Baker who has steadily built a name for himself on the live circuit. His politically charged lyrics and divine musicianship made for an electrifying display and it was easy to see why he's become so popular. 

Back at the Tramshed, Sadly with The Last Dinner Party pulling out last minute, SCALER stepped up to the plate in fine style with their chest rattling electronic sounds. More than a band of producers playing a DJ set, their industrial techno sound is built from the ground up live accompanied by a mind altering array of flashing lights and visual imagery. Shifting through tempos they played continuously creating a truly tense atmosphere. A hair raising way to end the first full day of music. 


Willie J Healey


Max Rad

So in true hungover fashion I'd already walked to the wrong venue for the first band of the day. Thankfully the venues aren't situated too far apart so a quick strut through town I finally made my way to catch Slaney Bay. Just in time too as the venue quickly reached capacity as fans rushed to catch a glimpse of their jangly effervescent guitar pop. Following their set and determined to build legs of steel I trekked back to the original wrong venue to catch Chilli Jesson. Dress smart think smart seemed to be the theme here as the band's suave shirts and trouser combinations create an eye catching appeal, just as their music tackling fraught mental fragility and humours lyrics draw you in. Fans of Palma Violets will be all too familiar with their closing song as they brought out their past creativities to much joy. Thankfully my legs were receiving a well earned rest as much of my evening was spent camped out at Jacobs Market. Downstairs Manchester's Corella delivered a powerful display of guitar swinging indie, inclusive of a crowd participation sing-along as singer Joel split them down the middle and pitted left against right in a vocal battle. They were hotly followed up by electronic punk duo Shelf Lives who managed to make quite the noise for themselves with soaring guitars and rumbling dance beats. 

Sticking within Jacobs Antiques Market, Bristol's Saloon Dion were just a short (100+ steps) trip away upstairs in the Gallery. Who doesn't love a pun based name. Taking the crown for the band having the most fun all weekend their Brit-pop inspired tunes carried forth their high energy and big smiles as they proved to be ones not to be missed. 

With no time to waste it was back to Clwb Ifor Bach for fast rising artist Viji and her soulful scuzzy pop tunes that delivered a perfectly chilled sound for a Sunday evening. I'd hoped to catch more of Welsh outfit Los Blancos performance in Fuel but by the time I arrived it was already packed out but from what I saw it looked to be an energetic display of Welsh Language experimental rock of the finest variety. 

A change of pace was needed and who better to deliver that than Conchúr White with his intimate, heartfelt acoustic melodies. Quiet enough to hear a pin drop (or an am being packed away in this case) his sounds filled the room of Tiny Rebel's performance space. On the opposite end of the scale Fat Dog were causing quite the storm over in Clwb. Big cowboy hats. Charged up guitars and percussion. A mosh pit that singer Joe regularly joined. And a self sacrificying ritual of sorts for good measure. Trust me, it's as wild as it sounds. The crowd lapped it up, eager for more as their powering basslines and crashing percussion left no stone unturned in their path of destruction. 

With Butch Kassidy's equally empowering sound thrashing out the downstairs of Clwb, across the road I take refuge with a sit down for Brighton's The New Eves. Blending pagan rock with harmonious vocals their intricate instrumentation and soft tones made for an excitable listen. 

With aching feet suitably rested, it was back to Clwb for one final hurrah with Minas providing the festival's closing soundtrack. Proving to be the most promising act for me, his collective sound and multi genre approach to songwriting is a sight to be seen (or rather heard) and no time was wasted in amping up the crowd. Technical hiccups are no match for the sheer unmitigated energy delivered in their showstopping performance as punk met electronic production in explosive fashion. 

Conchúr White

Chilli Jensenn


Saloon Dion

With just the after party left, for anyone still standing, Sŵn bows out for another exhilarating year. Older and wiser. It's safe to say the bustling atmosphere and friendliness amongst this year's festival community was at an all time high. The buzz throughout the city streets was unmatched and has left new music fans with plenty to sink their teeth in to with such a bumper-packed edition. Sat at my office desk I all but wish it could be Sŵn Festival every weekend. Until next year. Diolch yn fawr!

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