The Drums, The Twilight Sad, Wild Beasts, Girls, Three Trapped Tigers - Swn festival 09 Review
Kyle Ellison & Rhian Daly 15/11/2009
Swn festival- Cardiff venues- 22nd - 24th of October 2009.
The time has come around again for SWN festival to take over the streets of Cardiff, now in its third year. Curated by Radio 1 DJ and the guy who's being tentatively lined up for John Peel's crown, Huw Stephens, its an event thats fit to burst with all kinds of exciting new bands that you might not necessarily find at any other festival (yet, anyway).
Having formed only 6 months ago, Fiction have already managed to squeeze two festivals into their schedule. Its no wonder people are taking notice of them either - with no drummer the band use two stand alone drums that regularly take a beating during their short but sweet set of menacing angular pop.
Following them are Three Trapped Tigers, a band that possesses huge potential, combining melodic synth and guitar sounds with sporadic Lightning Bolt inspired drumming. They are an entertaining band to watch live, certainly, but it feels like they will need a lot of guidance to have the same success in the studio. Although some of the electronic sounds they use are dubious, and they often go astray during complex build-ups, at its best, this is a powerful and engaging performance from the London based trio.
While Gold Panda attracts a relatively large crowd upstairs in the legendary Clwb Ifor Bach, I can't help but feel his set would have been better suited to a later billing. Hunched over a table filled with the usual gadgets and laptop, he mixes plodding electro beats with ambient and synth sounds. Although the audience can be seen nodding along and visibly enjoying the set, a half an hour slot is hardly long enough to ignite the dancefloor.
Skipping across town to Roath's beautiful converted church, The Gate, there is a heavy sense of anticipation for tonight's headliners, Wild Beasts. This excitement is very nearly stifled by a technical error that sees the big impact vocal introduction completely muted, which the band struggle to recover from during opener The Fun Powder Plot. After this minor glitch, however, the band appears to be in top form, with the two voices making glorious use of the space and acoustics offered by tonight's venue. The set list is comprised of a few highlights from the band's debut but relies heavily on new album, Two Dancers, and this heartfelt title track is arguably the sets most powerful moment.
Having risen mid-afternoon with the hangover from hell (kindly provided by Los Camp! referenced club night Twisted by Design), I'm in need of something gentle to get my evening under way. Thank God for Sweet Baboo. Playing to a packed Y Fuwch Goch where pretty much everyone seems to know every single word to every single song, Stephen Black is the perfect self-deprecating host, mixing delicate folk songs with wry banter.
In stark contrast to Sweet Baboo are the Longcut; post-rock acid house pioneers from yesteryear, Sony's old plaything that got left by the wayside but managed to drag itself home, lick its wounds and come back ten times better. With second album Open Heart about to be released, the majority of the set is centred around previewing it to the crowd. But when A Tried and Tested Method starts, the electricity in the room shoots through the roof, its a wonder no one blew a fuse.
Next is the sweet 1-2 of touring pals Swanton Bombs and Girls. The former make a hell of a racket for just a two-piece and definitely benefit playing just before the festival's most anticipated act, as the small room fills up til late-comers are left queuing down the street in the rain.
The thing about Girls is they don't really seem to care if you care or not. They just get on with it, don't interact with the crowd, don't even introduce themselves - just start playing. Not that it matters. Being the absolute definition of a buzz band right now, they've already got everyone's interest and for that we're rewarded in song. Racing through most of Album, its Lust for Life that is the obvious highlight, sparking a mass singalong and causing elder gentlemen to lose their inhibitions and shout themselves hoarse. When its all over, those queuing outside can finally get in, rushing in asking if its over. Yep, its over but boy, was it special.
Back over at the Gate, the festival has made use of the coffee shop space, which hosts Michigan experimentalists, Our Brother The Native. Performing as a two piece, the bands set up includes drums, a guitar and a large table full of loop and electronic equipment. As can often be the case with bands like this, much of the pleasure is taken from how these songs are constructed, rather than the songs themselves. In saying that, the bands set never becomes dull to watch, and in all too brief moments, produces inspiring results.
Tonight's headliners in the theatre space are Scottish shoegazers The Twilight Sad, making their first ever appearance in Cardiff. Despite a modest crowd, perhaps due to conflicts in the busy Swn schedule, it's visible what this performance means to the loyal fans that were present. As the band launch into a set relying heavily on new album, Forget The Night Ahead, a front row of fans sing every word back to the band with a sincerity that mirrors the bands own. It's an awe-inspiring performance that culminates in debut album highlight, Cold Days From The Birdhouse; serving as a reminder of the power of live music, during a weekend when it's so easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of bands.
What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than in a pub watching some criminally good math-rock? Upstairs in the Model Inn, Super Tennis play what will be one of their last ever shows. Ferocious and fun, its a perfect goodbye. There's not much time to get all emotional though, as Tubelord take over. If you've seen the Kingston trio before, you'll know the kind of banter that effortlessly pours from drummer Dave Catmur's mouth is going to get you laughing your way to a hernia. Its not all about the funnies though, there's the music as well. Showcasing new album Our First American Friends (and new bassist Damien), Tubelord go all out (or as all out as one can go on such a small stage) with the likes of Night of the Pencils, He Awoke on a Bench in Abergavenny and I am Azerrad.
Ending the afternoon show is Welsh quartet Y Morgrug. There's something a little different about them... “We're twelve years old, not ten,” the tiny brown-shirted singer tells the crowd. It seems the program has made these boys out to be younger than they are, something they'd clearly like to rectify. Then they start their set, all Welsh-language guitar pop that isn't altogether there yet but has enough flashes of brilliance to make you wonder if this is how Blur would have sounded had they formed at 12 and sung in Welsh.
It's been roughly two years since I had seen Munch Munch, who had once impressed me supporting Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, however it's evident tonight that they haven't progressed much during this time. Their set is packed full of interesting ideas, but it's all far too messy to appreciate the hooks that clearly lurk beneath the surface. I overhear somebody saying that the band live in different cities, allowing little time to practice, and I wouldn't be surprised if this was the case.
Another band that had once been hugely impressive but now lack the same impact is Dananananaykroyd. Seeing them for the first time I was wilfully swept up in the enthusiasm and spontaneity of their performance, yet repeat viewings are not advised. What had once been an inspired bit of fun in the form of a wall of cuddles (think wall of death, but friendlier), is now as planned and as routine as any other aspect of their performance; taking the magic from their performance in a similar fashion to telling a child that Santa doesn't exist. I don't want to criticise Danananaykroyd, whose performance still thrills and excites the enthusiastic rabble down the front, but what had once warmed my heart leaves me feeling cold this time around.
Dashing back to the city centre and up the stairs at Dempseys, London noise outfit TEETH!!! are playing the pre-buzz band slot, just as the Longcut did yesterday. Tonight, we get glitchy, sleazy electro meets surf-punk genius, all shouty vocals and exactly nothing like the band following.
Described by some as New York's most exciting band for nearly a decade, The Drums have only released one single and already they look like they're going stratospheric. And no wonder with a performance like this. Their influences are clear on stage tonight (50s pop and the 80s Manchester scene), through the co-ordinated female backing singers to front man Jonathan Pierce's Morrissey-esque movements. The songs that sound so flawless on record somehow become even more spectacular live, with the infectious Let's Go Surfing, new single I Felt Stupid and Best Friend (the first song the band ever wrote) all getting the crowd going. Normally, buzz bands make you wonder why everyone's getting so excited but tonight the hype is justified.
Back in Roath, Los Campesinos!, the very curators of tonight's event at The Gate, continue to sound every bit the finished article on record. This homecoming show, however, is clearly an important one for the band, whose own enjoyment of the gig perhaps impeaches on their overall performance. It's difficult to fault the songs themselves; from the youthful exuberance of tracks from their debut, through the passionate We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed material, the tracks previewed from upcoming album, Romance is Boring, sound stronger than ever. Yet towards the end as the band joke with pals from other bands, it almost seems like regular (paying) members of the audience are playing third-party to some exclusive gathering of friends.
Back in Womanby Street, however, the heart of Cardiff's Swn festival beats late into the night. This results in a festival closing performance from Cardiff's own noisy punk duo, Right Hand Left Hand, whose performance in the packed Model Inn pub leaves a queue outside eager to get in. This truly is what Swn festival is all about; as band and audience feed off of a mutual energy that threatens to collapse the very establishment that holds them. Members of the crowd scale the walls, floor and ceiling, as members of staff look on with bemused expressions. Nobody leaves The Model Inn without a smile on their face tonight, knowing that Cardiff's wonderful city festival couldn't have come to a better conclusion.
Photos Copyright The Photographers listed here at photos.swnfest.co.uk