Musical highlights from 11th April’s one day Dimsŵn festival; this is the little sister of the Sŵn three/four day festival held in Cardiff in October, (this year confirmed to be in November due to event clashes in the City). Last year, Sŵn held it’s first all-dayer, and by all accounts it was a success, leading to a second batch of bands heading to Cardiff this Saturday, I thought I’d head down and give it the once over.
Things kicked off early afternoon and carried on into the small hours with club nights and DJ sets taking over, as usual there was a mix of bands from home and away and with a variety of genres to chose from. From 3pm in Undertone a trio of punk bands kept me coming back inbetween some tasty craft ales.
Twisted in particular were impressive. I missed them recently when they played at the DIY Cardiff gig with Caves so it was great to get another chance to check them out. Livi’s off kilter semi-spoken bark also somehow manages to carry a tune and they nail the short sharp but fun side of punk brilliantly, they seemed tense at the start but soon eased into the set. Another higlight for me was WaLL, a more abrasive, scuzzy alt-rock feel here and plenty of fuck-you attitude, it really didn’t seem to matter if they had an audience or not, however their front man did apologise to me after he trod on my foot during one of his flailing adventures off stage, so I feel it may have been mostly for the show. Bloody Knees were entertaining, bit poppy for me but worked the crowd well, plenty of stage presence from their frontman and Shinies also stood out; dreamy indie rock and a tight performance.
The one day version of Sŵn is harder to do if, like myself, you are not with a group of friends, the gaps between sets were 45 minutes meaning you couldn’t stay in one place for long as the venues all cleared out at the end of each performance and I found myself watching bands I wasn’t keen on whilst waiting for other venues to get set up. Lesson learned for me I think, but overall it was a solid event.
It would have been great to have heard the Goodtime Boys new album Rain properly before seeing them play on 24th May, but it wasn’t to be – our PC only came back from the shop a few days ago after breaking down with the album stuck inside its cold dead maw, leaving me sadly playing catch-up.
Honestly though, not knowing the tunes by heart didn’t take anything away from their performance, which was strong and fluid. Since seeing them last in 2012 it feels like the Goodtime Boys sound has evolved gradually into something more melodic and varied and in a live setting the band felt tighter and more confident. It was a commanding performance even in that small venue, and with no stage to separate them and us, they held our attention easily while they ripped through their set – playing pretty much the whole of the new album.
It feels strange that Goodtime Boys are still playing £5 gigs in tiny basement venues in the UK when they’re signed to Bridge 9 in the US, but Pennie explained to me after the gig that the band is not interested in being the next big thing; after all, he’s been there before and to me it seems right that they are getting to play with bands they love in front of smaller groups of hardcore fans like this.
Of course, it wasn’t just Goodtime Boys playing, before the headliners the excellent Svalbard opened the evening with their noodling envy style guitars over screamed girl/boy vocals. This band are getting better all the time and I’ve read a few reviews where they’re being touted as the best upcoming band in the UK and it’s understandable – they sound fantastic live, arguably better than their recorded output. They are obviously well practised and pull off all those epic post-rock style moments with ease, sounding huge in the small venue. They also pulled in a pretty sizeable crowd for first band on.
Next up was London hardcore mob Grappler; under the surface of weighty riffage and heavy hit drums there is a lot more going on – some complex guitar work and nicely melodic sections filter through and I imagine that on record the little touches would be even more evident. Their live show is all about their intense frontman though – he’s almost scary up that close – leaning in and screaming in our faces whilst eyeballing us with manic stares and then moving side to side, kicking out and flailing limbs in every direction catching the front row with glancing blows.
I’m going to recommend you check out all the bands mentioned here – Goodtime Boys debut full length album Rain is out now through Bridge 9 in the US or you can order from Palm Reader Records in the UK. Svalbard and Grappler can be found and listened to on their Bandcamp pages (links in the band names).
Swn Festival Day 3 & 4 highlights
This Is Wreckage opened my Saturday – this is a band that likes to play loud and dirty and the crowd were with them every step of the way. The Swn guide quoted for fans of Big Black and The Jesus Lizard so this was one I couldn’t miss and I was more than pleasantly surprised. the bass was huge and dirty, the guitar was juicy and jagged and the vocals husky and nicely judged.
Swn Festival 2013 – Day 1 & 2 Highlights
Day 1 – Thursday 17th
The Opening band of the weekend for me was His Naked Torso, a discordant, angular duo from Cardiff dealing in noise-rock of the ear shredding variety. The Moon was pretty full of curious onlookers but the duo still managed to make enough noise that I got out my earplugs immediately. They used drums and guitar along with some caustic screams to get their point across and melded in some nice head-bobbing beats to keep us all hooked.
Even for a Saturday night the room downstairs at Clwb was pretty packed for Jetplane’s set and It was clear from the crowd chatter that fans haven’t lost any of their love for the band during their 6 year haitus; those present were certainly geared up to rock out. This was the last date on the tour before they returned to Ireland and the band could be seen chatting with the crowd as they always do, creating a relaxed atmosphere.
Once they they took to the floor and started pumping out those heady rock tunes it was clear that they were on form and playing hard and fast – set opener Acrimony sounded intense and almost epic in that space. Front man Andrew Ferris commented that the venue was perfect for them – no stage, just a row of monitors to separate them from us so we were eyeball to eyeball, they really looked like they were enjoying performing once again.
With Mr Ferris grinning inbetween lines of lyric they pumped out a volley of hits, including tracks from their superb new album Don’t Try. Single, Radio Heart, sounded even better played loud and the excellent Walls Of Derry went down a treat; the personal nature of the song really coming through in the live setting. Old favourites, I Opt Out, The Violence and Brave Gravity (from Once Like A Spark) sounded tight and melodic but with a gritty edge, the crowd were at this point singing back the lyrics at full volume and getting closer to the stage and more energetic with each passing track. Tunes from their previous album Backlash Cop including the title track and Why Do They Never Play Les Savy Fav on the Radio? added texture to the set and reminded us all of how diverse their back catalogue is; a solid mix of tracks overall.
It was a pleasure to have JPL back in Cardiff and playing on such great form; this was a set of winners played with style and heart and it made us all realise how much we’d missed seeing them play. If you’ve not caught them on tour make sure you go out of your way to catch them next time, you won’t regret it.
It was a pretty poor turnout at LePub surprisingly, with four bands playing for free people really missed out on a treat, more fool them.
First up was The Modern Farewell, a local band featuring Jon Greenwood (he of many other bands) and playing straight up melodic punk-rock tunes. I hadn’t seen them before but they were fun, coming over as relaxed on stage and making everyone feel at ease – they also had some pretty catchy little tunes, a great warm up.
Next on was Bristol mob Caves with a different line up than usual and playing mainly older tunes, great set actually, although the vocals were pretty high in the mix (I noticed a few people putting their fingers in their ears throughout) – their melodic punk-rock tunes are real crowd pleasers and got the tiny audience moving straight away.
MINE were up next, not headlining tonight but it can only be a matter of time. They have a huge sound, fantastic post-rock style epics backed by screamy punk vocals and some really memorable tunes. They played tunes from their last 4 track EP, Crossed Out and Hidden In Drawers in particular sounded superb – the riffs dark and chunky but shot through with more delicate and uplifting moments all sounding clear and tight and oh so impressive. They also gave us a new track from an upcoming record to be announced officially next week – excellent news. This band continue to impress, let’s hope they come back our way again soon.
I had intended to post a live review of the Swansea leg of the Annabel & Dowsing European tour (on 7th June at Mozart’s) some time ago, however, the ongoing saga of my crappy Internet connection has put a stop to not just this but all my online activity in the last couple of weeks, which has been frustrating to say the least. Anyway, as it’s a bit late for the review now I’ll sum up…
The gig ended up being one of those shows the band would most likely prefer to forget ever happened which was a real shame – we’d waited months to see them and had been hugely excited in the run up so the fact that the night fell apart a bit felt even worse. Actually the warning signs started when the venue was changed from Bristol to Swansea which it turns out has the worst rail links in the world – the last train back at 10.30 on a Friday (shudder). On the day it seemed to go well at first – beautiful weather all day and the walk to the venue was faster than expected, unfortunately Dowsing and Annabel got held up in traffic from Brighton and arrived at the venue super late, without time to unload their kit or sound-check and with less than an hour to fit both sets in, which needless to say, wasn’t going to happen.
Luckily Hell Money who supported were excellent and saved the night from being a total wash out – check them out here. Dowsing played a very short 5 or 6 song set – which considering the circumstances was really decent. Unfortunately the band we’d gone to see, Annabel, came on fifteen minutes before we had to leave and played just three (of my favourite) songs before we made a dash for the train. The set seemed strained at best and although you could see they were really trying to get in the mood, the hours they’d just spent sitting in the van showed. It’s easy to imagine they picked up towards the end of the set but we were not around to see it which was pretty gutting. If I was made of money I’d have gone to catch them in London a couple of days later but alas I’m not.
Looks like we have a working connection again now after engineer number 4’s visit today but we’ll see. If it lasts I’m hoping to post a bit more regularly in the coming weeks so check back for more rambling soon.
The Bronx @ Clwb Ifor Bach, 10th January 2013
A last minute venue change from Cardiff Uni to the smaller Clwb Ifor Bach meant this gig ended up being the first sold out show on the tour and the more intimate venue made for some great crowd/band interaction.
Frontman Matt Caughthran takes the stage draped in a Wales scarf and talking about the rugby the day before – he always knows which buttons to push and it worked a treat, the crowd already eating out of his hand before they’d even played a note, but even so, the first couple of crowd pleasing tunes saw a surge for the stage and a pit open up in the floor straight away. Early on Matt began descending into the crowd – with no barriers or security to be seen he made frequent trips into the pit – soon literally the whole place was moving and bodies were flying off the stage every couple of minutes – top stuff.
The set was a mix of old; False Alarm, Six Days A Week, Shitty Future, History’s Stranglers, Knife Man, and new, with tracks like Under The Rabbit and The Unholy Hand from recently released The Bronx IV – I could go on but I wouldn’t want to bore you with a huge list, needless to say it was full of hits played with energy and professionalism and they kept us all moving until the last track. Caughthran had a ‘moment’ part way through the set and couldn’t stop grinning, he explained that they just love to play and who can blame them if every set gets such a great reaction from the audience. It felt over far too quickly but after braving a huge queue at the merch stall everyone left happy and satisfied, (if very sweaty), a top performance once again from The Bronx. I never get tired of watching them.
Day 4 of Swn was a bit of a disastrous one all round really and not the best way to end the festival. I decided to go in to town for 3.30pm to see Without Maps at Buffalo and realised once I was there that I’d forgotten my ear plugs so ended up stuffing tissue in my ears – not my finest hour really. I stuck around for some of Samoans but got paranoid about the plugs and slunk off home early for food and to pick up the offending articles.
I felt like I was getting back on track later on as I headed back into town for Hawk Eyes, however…I got to the venue about 20 minutes early and it suddenly filled to capacity and Islet started playing instead… I slunk off again for the second time that day to discover that Hawk Eyes had pulled out of the festival, so I wandered round for an hour or so catching bits and pieces of bands I wasn’t keen on and feeling disappointed until Exit International came on stage at The Moon. Luckily they were excellent and restored my faith in music at the last moment.
It was a poor way to end my Swn festival experience unfortunately. It was day three that saved the weekend for me and in the spirit of Swn I discovered a couple of really good bands as I did last year. I think to sum up my experience this year I would say that for my taste it was a less interesting line-up, apart from Saturday there were only two or three bands on most of the days out of the whole line up that interested me at all – and a few of those pulled out, it also felt more indie/folk than last year. At other times there were unfortunate clashes – on Friday for instance where Gallows and Pulled Apart By Horses were on at the same time in different parts of the city so I had to choose. It’s good that the organisers put genre related bands on the same days but it does also mean that some clashes were bound to happen which was a bit of a shame.
Day three and an early start – 2pm at The Moon and a batch of what turned out to be rather excellent hardcore bands placed well together by the festival organisers.
Up first are MINE, excellent swirly guitar sound and screamy vocals, apparently this was their second show…not sure if they meant second show ever, if so they did a pretty good job of winning me over. I liked them so much I bought a tape from their very nice frontman afterwards. Gnarwolves suffer some technical issues but in the end get down to business with some pretty decent skate-punk tunes. Goodtime Boys really impress – Alex Pennie’s new band – emo-H/C , he really goes for it on vocals and they have a nice line in quirky, dreamy riffage which counteracts the screaming nicely. Last up at The Moon are Pariso, again, they impress, this time we have downtuned, dirty guitars and screaming with grooveable rhythms you can move to, great stuff.
Over to Clwb Ifor Bach after a quick coffee break to perk me up and Black Moth who are excellent – their front woman works the crowd well with her sexy rock and roll vocals and their metal riffage sound brilliantly heavy and dark live. They pull in a big crowd and everyone leaves on a high.
Last up for me tonight is Holy Mountain, the heavy duty stoner rock meanderings of these Glasgow boys goes down really well – the crowd does thin out towards the end but there are plenty more gigs going on so it’s not a reflection on their set although the scant vocals do tend to get lost in the mix somewhere which is a shame.