Future Of The Left, Thomas Truax, The Lovely Eggs, Threatmantics, Truckers Of Husk - SWN in Review Part One
Owain Paciuszko 26/11/2008
In part one of our Swn festival review Owain Paciuszko takes us through his highlights of the festival that spanned Cardiff's venues during the week of Swn from the 14th to the 16th November 2008 (with opening night party on 13th November).
Monday was the first day of Swnmass for me, I went to the fideo screening at Cardiff's wonderful Cineworld (Lord bless the Cineworld card!), the shorts on offer were a mixed bag, some were pretentious borderline Nathan Barley 'art' pieces, some were mildly entertaining animation, but the standouts were the documentary 'Forget Cassettes?' and the live performance by Truckers Of Husk, who had slowed down their new music video to last the entire length of their set because it wasn't quite finished and so they didn't want to show it to us at normal speed! The video - even dragged out to 25 minutes - looks amazing (it'll be bewildering at 24fps) and the set was absolutely brilliant, if strange considering we were all sat in a cinema, I wanted to get up and leap about.
There was a slight lull in my Swn-based activities until the actual weekend, which also clashed with some sort of rugby match and Children in Need, if only all three events could have collided in some sort of sporting musical charityathon rather than just colliding in the sense that bands had to lug their equipment all the way across town through the rugby fans as they'd closed down the centre of Cardiff to traffic and I'm sure I saw someone dressed as Pudsey the Bear, but just one, it's a bad year for needy kids.
I went to Clwb because I wanted to remain central and was a bit paranoid about running all over town and just catching lots of different bands setting up. I saw Volcano! first and initially I just thought 'This sounds a bit like current Muse, I don't like current Muse', but they won me over with their rather batty, changing sound that also sounded like other things. But I didn't like that first song because it sounded like current Muse.
Upstairs Threatmantics played a set as superb as every other set I've seen them play this year (I think this is the fifth?!), though they have managed to 'hone' their sound they are still as gloriously dischordant, screechy and cacophonous as they always have been live and whilst some of the production on their current LP 'Upbeat Love' caught me off guard the sheer quality of the songs both musically and lyrically is always front-and-centre no matter what.
Back downstairs there was all the hypety-hype about Rolo Tamassi, who have a cool movie-referencing name but a really awful sound. They were one of the festival's Marmite bands, though to me they just tasted like shit. I think I showed my age by saying something along the lines of 'I'm going upstairs for a quiet drink.'
I don't know if I saw Casiokids before or after Clinic but I have very little to say about them other than; 'the DJ played 'Mmmbop' by Hanson afterwards and I preffered that'. Clinic delivered a great set that sounded so much like their current CD they may have just been miming, there was nothing wrong with this performance except it was too good and I always like a bit of experimentation and error in my live experiences!?
Saturday I was a bit later than hoped to the Loose Alldayer at Tommy's Bar so I missed The New Tea Party and Little My (though I filmed the latter playing in the back of a van the following day). I caught the end of It Hugs Back's set and was rather unimpressed by the okayish pop I witnessed, didn't help their presence in my memory that they were followed by Connan Mockasin and band.
The tiny little New Zealander dressed in jogging bottoms with a squeaky little voice and an array of absolutely charming, whimsical and brilliant songs absolutely blew me away and now 'MeCheeky' and 'Sneaky Sneaky Dogfriend' (he likes his 'eeky' sound!) are lodged in my head and I must, must, must hurry up and buy some of his music. He was an affable and humble stage presence and generally a really very nice chap. Highly recommended!
Afterwards was Aidan Smith who I have long been a fan of since his early 'At Home With...' EPs, though I am yet to hear his current LP. He played a lot of new stuff accompanied by a gigantic drum, and there was some charm to the lyrics that managed to overcome the whining speakers, but this set didn't have the same intimate appeal that listening to his records on your own does.
Ending the night were The Boy Least Likely To who had swelled their numbers to stage filling proportions and the lead singer kept punching the air and grinding into the microphone as if he fronted Guns 'n' Roses. It seemed at odds to the cuteness of their music, but they were a fine ending to this early chapter of Saturday's Swn.
Ambling over to Clwb I watched The Joy Formidable who were pretty good, though the lead singer reminded me vocally of Brian Molko from Placebo, except she's a girl. But, then again, other bands recently have been reminding me of Placebo, maybe it's because I haven't listened to any Placebo in a while and my brain thinks I need to and so thusly makes everything sound like Placebo? Anyway, they were good at the time, though I haven't really thought about them much since except when thinking about Placebo.
I got past the confused door security at Dempsey's into the Twisted By Design/Freakshow evening in time to catch the wonderful The Voluntary Butler Scheme. Usually a one man band tonight Mr. Scheme aka. Rob Jones was playing with band and the songs lacked the charm of a performance I saw earlier in the year at Tommy's Bar, but tracks like Trading Things In and the brilliantly titled and extremely short Dancing With Ted Danson are simply marvellous.
Gindrinker played a 'secretish' set as 'The Boys in the Back Room' (they were playing in a back room), and it was great to see them live again because I was too drunk to remember the first time and I've always enjoyed 'Hey, Greengrocer!'. It was a great little addition to the night right before the headliner.
Thomas Truax is amazing, his songs are smart and witty and though he is solo he is often accompanied by his inventions, which are Jules Verne-like in their junk shop, steam-punk brilliance and morph his excellent songs into something even more magical and curious. My personal highlight from his set was 'Is That Why Dogs Howl At the Moon?', which I think saw Truax sporting some of spinning backpack! Awesome.
I then saw Truckers of Husk in Kaz Bar, they weren't as good as they were on Monday so I didn't feel like jumping around.
I spent all of Sunday (Swnday?) in Clwb starting with The Lovely Eggs who were really great, their songs were funny and catchy and poptastic. I can't remember the funny things they were singing, I know one was about collecting stuff and the other was about falling off a bicycle, and I know I loved everything they played and I will be seeking them out again in both live and recorded formats.
They were followed by Little Eris who wasn't very good, but I felt sorry for her as it was the first time she had tried performing her experimental vocals over backing track stuff live and seemed to be having trouble with the computer. She sounded a lot like Ashtar Command and I think with time could become something interesting, she made very good backing tracks and had a nice voice that was somewhat muffled and I can only imagine debuting at a festival is a bit nerve-wracking.
Right Hand, Left Hand played a fantastic set of their near-instrumental Math-rock type stuff, that surprised me in how much I enjoyed it. I popped my head round the door downstairs for a bit of The School, but it's never really been my cup of tea.
I was brave and ventured outside of Clwb for a bit to watch Pulled Apart By Horses, I remember nothing of their music but they did lots of 'rock and roll' things like going into the crowd, lying on the floor to play the guitar and grinding their crotches towards things. I left.
Upstairs in Clwb a nice crowd had gathered for Future of the Left, I went to the front and - finally - jumped around (I think I looked like a complete idiot, but I had fun) to their big, brash, manly, witty and insanely catchy rawk. Really happy to have heard most of 'Curses' live in that atmosphere, leaping about and with a bit of upside down guitar playing from Kelson. A really great closing act.
In its second year Swn hasn't quite ironed out all the creases, but there will always be flaws to a festival that tries to arrange itself around a city. The range of acts on offer this year was of a high quality and every day of my weekend was a pretty good one.
Photo by Paul Gregory www.lenseyes.com