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Friday, 9 November 2012

Live Review - Sŵn Festival

Sŵn Festival
October 18-21, Cardiff

It all kind of takes shape and comes alive as soon as I'm in the grand enclaves of the Angel Hotel in Cardiff at the Welsh Music Prize and midway through a conversation with the great Gruff Rhys I look around and see the crop of the Welsh music scene bantering glowingly over beers and vegetable samosas...we are here, Sŵn has officially began and there is culpable excitement in the air.

Now in it's seventh year Sŵn Festival is growing and expanding on each of it's annual appearances. Organizers John Rostron, Huw Stephens and Gemma White have moulded the festival into a powerful local institution that draws hundreds to the capitol city every year. The line up is vast, all encompassing and concentrated on the best, most radical artist's currently within the Alternative/Indie scene worldwide and as a carrion call for what we can offer to the world in a musical sense Sŵn is genuinely atop a mountain of it's own creation.

Thursday: first stop is Cardiff University and a return from Scottish nu Psych hipsters Django Django. As expected the Solus venue is packed to capacity, it appears as if everyone has turned up to hail in the dawn of Sŵn 2012 and the expectant spirit is intoxicating. The band hit the stage with a flurry of tribal beats heralding a rapturous reception that continues throughout a performance that mixes up their raw Syd Barrett-esque whimsy with a knowing nod to post punk dynamics. By the time the Zulu warrior stomp of 'WOR' arrives the audience is one sweltering mass of rhythmic union. A euphoric beginning to the weekend ahead.

Friday arrives with a suitable alcohol-ingested haze and a dash down to the other side of the city to Chapter Arts. It's a major characteristic of the festival - the sheer amount of adrenalin fuelled travelling throughout the city to each venue. And with that a wonderful sense of collective camaraderie within the cities' musical hub. Faces old and new mingle and salute an explosion of dynamic energy within the city. A time of empathy, ecstatic reverie and musical coalition. I'm here at the Canton venue to view Stealing Sheep. Easily one of the highlight's of the weekend for me, the band are a unique proposition of neo-folk intent. Taking a definite psychedelic left turn in their approach to the form, the band glow with a freshness and endearment that illuminates through the hypnotic ethereal, haunting grace of 'I Am The Sun', through the addictively catchy stomp of 'Genuiive' to the now anthemic class of 'Shut Eye' (song of the weekend?). The band simply exude an ethereal charm, combined with classic alt-pop nous.

Saturday comes around witnessed through the vision of an impending twilight zone as me and my cohorts stumble elegantly towards my local venue, the baroque grandeur of The Gate, a converted church that tonight houses an evening of melodic splendour courtesy of Cardiff's very own harmony drenched troubadour's Zervas And Pepper. Currently climbing a well deserved ascent to breakout acclaim, Z & P rise to the occasion tonight with aplomb. This is almost a rapturous homecoming for the band as the 300 plus audience fill the holy interior of the venue with a hushed reverence. The band take the stage and immediately capture the heart's of us all with the infectious warmth they are becoming renowned for. Engaging the crowd with their inclusive charm, the soaring melodies of 'King Of The Sky', 'Buffalo Crow' and 'One Man Show' wash over the crowd with an exalted beauty that borders on the truly sublime. They have no peers and they have no equal in the sheer class and conviction of their delivery. A band apart that have transcended their classic folk pop/rock influences to become king's in their own court. A truly heavenly occasion.
Being Sŵn it's pilgrimage time again, as I take to the concrete trail to the other side of the city, passing the city centre high japes of various familiar faced festival celebrants to find myself back in the familiar climbs of Canton to witness Welsh psychedelicists Islet. They are a curious spectacle in the local scene. Their power lying in their sheer abandonment and wild untamed energy. Mixing a locktight rhythmic skill and searing soundscapes with an on stage dedication to throwing caution to the wind intensity, that would make At The Drive In blush. Islet triumph as they are truly the sum of their various invigorating parts. You just can't help but be sucked into the hypnotic vortex of their unique display. The evening rounds out with a visit back to the centre of the festivals vortex at The Moon Club. We are starting to forget what night it is, how much we've slept, and how much whiskey we've thrown into how many jar's (a quick sideways glance into my wallet explains). Plus my feet have taken leave of me finally. But heck...what fun it's been and there's still another day of thrills aplenty to go.

I wake up Sunday with a slowly emerging realization that I'm in the bijou comfort of my flat and not in the corner of some venue I danced the night away in the night before. And with that also comes the revelation that tonight my planned highlight of the weekend Toy would be performing tonight...expectation coupled with a growing explosion of a second wind awaken within me. Dusting myself down I head towards the eye of the storm and arrive at O'Neils Bar in the central hub of the city. Toy are deservedly riding atop a wave of coverage and high acclaim right now...and why? Because they are simply the most exciting and convincing proposition I have encountered in the world of nu-psych since the emergence of The Horrors. Their high drama mix of coruscating post punk melodies with pulsating driving motorik rhythms reaches a climatic apotheosis tonight. They simply shred the place apart with their high energy Kraut-inspired dynamics...all performed with a cool almost removed deftness that reaches one climax after another. Toy own the stage tonight with a baroque, silky glamour that shine's ownership and style in a way that set's them apart. 'Left Myself Behind' thunders along to it's shattering climax that all but sucks everyone into it's hypnotic ascending outro. And then there is 'Kopter', a finale that stuns all viewing into a reverie of mouth's agape enthralment. As it's crescendo threatens to explode into the stratosphere, building into an almost symphonic wall of ecstatic noise, they leave the stage to stunned reveration. The performance of the festival and maybe of the year itself for me.

It's now reaching the inevitable end of the weekend, as all are throwing caution to the wind and going for that one last big thrill...And what better way to end than in the shimmering company of Gulp. A whirlpool of dream pop symphonies, Gulp engulf you with a gentle caress whilst subtly nudging your senses with occasional leftfield sidesteps. Being the project of Lindsey Leven and partner Guto Pryce (Super Furry Animals) they intoxicate with you with lush simplicity. Debut single 'Game Love' wraps itself around the senses like a sonic comfort blanket, and they finish off proceeding's with the sweet catchy confection of 'Diamonds In The Sky'.

And with that we stumble again inevitably to the climax of the weekend at Wales premier venue Clwb Ifor Bach for the conclusion of the weekend to dance, shout rejoice and finally drown our sorrows as the realization that this triumphant occasion is about to conclude. For all concerned this was the greatest Sŵn yet. A momentous success that has established it's rightful place in the cannon of great Welsh musical achievements. Next year can't come Sŵn enough. 

Andi Edwards

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