So why not send our former intern, Jenny Booth, to a festival in the UK, right? Heck, if it helps her with a press pass, we feel pretty damn good about it. -Ed.
Having studied my degree in Cardiff—and always longed for a music festival on my doorstep—it was downright mean of Swn Fest's organizers to start it up the year I left school. Three years on, though, and I'm finally in the right place at the right time—if a little apprehensive as to how one of the world's smallest capital cities will rival last months delectable MFNW.
Swn, meaning 'sound' in Welsh, was set up to celebrate "dubstep and folk, hip hop and rock, indie and electronica and everything in between,"
and this year's fest offered 170 bands and DJs, with six of the twelve venues all handily positioned around one very cool, but dingy alleyway.
So I snapped on yet another scratchy wristband and set out to discover what the UK's newest and brightest musicians are up to these days
. With Laura Gibson and Hockey besieging our airwaves, and the Shaky Hands and Portugal. The Man touring all our clubs, what might we send back to Portland in exchange?
Well, first off, Cardiff has become implausibly tropical. The air, greasy and thick with storm clouds looming overhead, gets no fresher when the heavens finally open. It's warm, humid and sweaty, and even the rainforest of skinny jeans and winklepickers can't make this look good
. Mighty unusual for Wales, let me tell you. Less unusual are the signals of Britain's poor rep for binge drinking. I found these festooning phone boxes up and down the high street, classy or what?
and Marina and the Diamonds
already wowed yesterday; it's time to check out west coast representatives Girls
. But despite all the excitement surrounding the band's album, Girls' set is surprisingly lackluster. Yes, their songs are laid back, pills-proud, surf-rock and very pretty for it, but without making an effort to engage the audience, no one's bothered enough to listen
(the band comes to Portland November 18th, maybe home turf will be more inspiring). Leaving halfway through, we find the queue (sorry, people-waiting-in-line)
still stretching right down the road!
Rescuing my stuck-outside friends, we go investigate Dempseys instead. This turns out to be a proper old man/Irish pub, with live boxing on big screens and a charming folk duo playing banjo and guitar. Nevertheless this is not quite Dimbleby & Capper, who's late night Swn show is nowhere to be found. After 20 minutes puzzling, I discover the magic, very obvious door and stairway, and THIS is the sight that greeted us, woop woop for sequins and little else.
Photo courtesy of Sam King
Dimbleby & Capper
is Laura Bettinson, employing a troupe of navy hooded, beardy gents to support her, and ohmygosh she's eccentric in all the right ways
. Check out Beautiful but Boring
. With a feline voice and quaint ticks, the songs are electro-pop reveries that scitter and rumble around her caustic lyrics. Ever so slightly self-conscious on stage, she admits of Slick Maturity
, "I was feeling like a prick the day I named that one". She's just enchanting.
**First Huw Stevens spotting:
Just saw the curator of Swn, and a BBC Radio DJ in his own right, who champions every band that I love. Did I go shake his hand and profess my adoration?? No. Too shy. Fingers crossed for another chance tomorrow.
Earlier on we'd also caught Pulled Apart by Horses
at Clwb Ifor Bach (know as "the Welsh Club" to anglo heathens), which sounded a lot like I would if being pulled apart by anything: quite screechy and distressed. It was hilarious, then, when lead "shouter and guitarer" Tom Hudson rushed out into the middle of the crowd to stand and throw his best rock star shapes for the eager paparazzi. I'm told that after we left he also proceeded to vomit right into the audience
, so think we dodged a bullet there.
Snuck off to Swanton Bombs
across the street in Y Fuwch Goch. Pretty fast and punky with riffs galore, the London two-piece played a good show but failed to get the crowd moving, even with the machine gun drumming of Viktoria.
Shame. Much like MFNW, the bands seemed to finish far too early, and while Welsh kitsch-poppers the Pipettes
offered a DJ set, being the only four people on the Toucan dance floor didn't really appeal. Off to prepare a masterplan for...
Marking the end of Tropic Thunder, today Cardiff hit us with storm force gales
(well, I saw a sandwich board blown over, and spent most of the day trying to see through the hair and scarf combo pummeling my face).
SO much awesome stuff on today!! Yeah, the first group I caught were teenagers covering Green Day for friends and family (Supertennis at the Model Inn), but out west at the Chapter Arts Centre, things start to look up...
are the happiest Glaswegians I've ever seen, playing rambunctious Celtic anthems, like Biffy Clyro writing for Sesame Street. They also declared their love for the audience over and over, and over again. People should be let out of Scotland more often. Bassist Chris' American apparel caught my eye-
Menomena T-shirt spotted in Cardiff!
Turns out the band saw them in Edinburgh one time and are big fans. Bonding ensued.
In the next room, Chris T-T
gets people laughing at the Countryside Alliance and thinking about death, with his incisive Billy Bragg storytelling and charm. Expertly striking a chord with all his countrymen, and offering a dash more biting satire than Frank Turner, I have never understood how Chris T-T hasn't made more of a mark on the UK consciousness. Well worth tracking down.
Then on to one of the decided highlights of the festival
, Taxi Taxi!
(their exclamation mark, not mine). Hadn't heard much about these Swedish twins beforehand, but Oh Wow I'm a fan now. Perched in a small corner, they're like demure, Scandinavian Audrey Tautous, using Bjork's voice to call and cry, and transport us all to a sun-dappled springtime orchard. In the cozy bar surroundings of Y Fuwch Goch, interruptions from a glass washing machine only highlight how fragile and spellbinding their songs are. The loveliest duo, they tentatively find their words in English and charm the room's rain-soaked socks off.
They also take on Daniel Johnson's True Love Will Find You in the End
with such divine joy and gleeful hope - I swear I'm going to spend the rest of this year hunting down recorded evidence. Why didn't I buy their CD??
All of a sudden the bar is doubly packed, with burly photo guys and big rucksacks jostling for position down the front; can anyone smell BIG HYPE?? So it's a lovely contrast to see Cate Le Bon
and her band having to push through said photographers and scenesters in order to get to the stage - no fancy backstage area here.
And she's awesome! With a thick Welsh accent, and songs which take in a glut of musical reference points, she describes her forthcoming album as "a heady and highly personal Gallic stew of equal parts Nico, Malkmus and the chronicler's own emotional observations on the impossibility of existence." Swn is awash with dotty, vamped-up girls and their bands of nameless boys
, but CLB has real songwriting talent, and the ability to mix loud and quiet without ever losing that astounding voice. Plus her guitarist has an amazing hat:
Suddenly I realize I've had to miss both Stornoway
and Master Shortie
, which I'm grieved about. But feel they're safe to recommend, as when I saw them in a straw-filled tent back in May, both were immense. The former especially has upped its profile this summer with the most spine-tingling acoustic folk balladry
, all the while dressed as old-time farm labourers. Must spread the love, they were SO good!
Next it's a swift bit of walk-jogging eastwards to the Gate, anticipating big advance queues for Los Campesinos! I am not wrong, and spend a tense hour listening to Danananakroyd through the windows and being told we won't make it in, just before making it in. Stock up on cider in perfect time for Internet Forever
's best bad taste joke of the night. "Thanks for making it down here, we're hidden away and forgotten in this basement, bit like the Fritzl family no one talks about."
A guitar string promptly flies off in disdain, leading to a somewhat ad-hoc set, and though the band members all have colds, IF play super fun, scuzzily warped electro-pop that we can actually dance to.
Quite probably works better live than recorded but hey, they sell tapes! Being the only person in the world with a knackered CD player and pristine tape deck is suddenly a good thing: I got me a £2.50 bargain. And it's orange look:
**SECOND HUW STEVENS SPOTTING!!
Tramping upstairs to get in place for the main event, I bump into Huw on the phone in Welsh (sooo cool). Manage a sheepish grin on recognizing him this time, and got a smiling "Hi" in response. Ahh, that's enough for me.
The Gate is such a weird venue, with an arena of imposing benches all enclosing a small dancing area, it somehow feels like a courthouse run riot. Perfect for a Los Campesinos!
homecoming I guess. Students here at the same time as myself, I can't help being fond of the band whose song titles include This is How you Spell "HAHAHA, We Destroyed the Hopes and the Dreams of a Generation of Faux-Romantics".
And while they teeter perilously close to pretentiousness, Los Camp is just too darn likeable.
Like the precocious angsty cousins of Arcade Fire, this seven piece play like their lives depend on it, getting the whole room bouncing to Death to Los Campesinos!
God, Hold On Youngster
is a brilliant album. One guy manages the longest crowd surf I've ever seen
, despite a less than dense crowd, and naturally the band then takes a turn:
The release of second album, Romance is Boring
, recorded in Seattle, Connecticut and Monmouthshire, should make 2010 a jetsetting year for LC!, and I for one can't wait to see where it goes from here.
As Gareth Campesinos! points out, none of us have a hope of making it into the Slow Club show later, dammit... silent disco anybody?
(One last look at the tape. I mean, CDs never come with dinosaur stickers do they?)
All photos by Jenny Booth, whom we miss a lot 'round here.