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Sŵn Festival 2013
17th - 20th October 2013, Cardiff

It's Sŵn time again and we were looking forward to another bumper year discovering some great new bands and getting our first chance to catch some of the folk we've already been raving about. One thing that is immediately noticeable just from scanning through the weekend's line up is that there are a lot of bands around at the moment with some terrible names! We won’t name and shame but seriously have a read through.

First up for us this year is Trampoline in Four Bars, who come bounding on stage with exuberant energy treating the crowd to some fuzzy rock stuff with plenty of noisy feedback. The set drops off a little in the middle with some more pop-tinged tracks, but they soon get back to their frantic best. Unfortunately, with all of the energy exerted into the set, Jack, the guitarist/singer, collapses and everyone quickly scatters for water and fans. He eventually gets back up, looks a little shaken, but finishes the set nevertheless.

It’s time for AMP to split up for what will turn out to be the first of many times over the weekend to ensure we catch two of the most eagerly anticipated bands.

Upstairs in Clwb the place is packed for Gulp and, as the band take to the stage, you can feel the excitement in the air for this unique band. Gulp's set is perfect from start to finish, the music this wonderful band create certainly transcends to the live arena, you only have to turn around to see the entire audience smiling and drifting away with the beautiful, dreamy melodies.

Meanwhile back over in Four Bars, the place is also at capacity for Catfish and the Bottlemen. The sweaty masses clamber for space to catch a glimpse of what can only be referred to as rising stars, especially with all their recent 6 Music air play. For a small venue they are bringing a big sound and the crowd love it, with people at the front going particularly mental during live favourite ‘Sidewinder’ and their first single proper ‘Homesick’.

Following Gulp upstairs in Clwb Frankie and The Heartstrings provide one of the live moments of the year, how anyone could not get caught up in the infectious pop songs this band play is a mystery to me. Tonight's set is full of energy and excitement from a band who clearly love performing with lead singer Frankie Francis commanding the stage in a very Jarvis Cocker fashion. The band build up a good relationship with the audience throughout the set telling stories of their journey to Wales, which sadly resulted in the death of a pheasant.

Sky Larkin close things in Clwb with a set of indie gems that are full of hooks and melodies that we all dream of (well I certainly do). They prove what an adorable band they are throughout their set, expressing their gratitude for being on the fantastic Wichita label. This is a band who clearly could have written a mainstream pop song just to please record label bosses but, by staying with Wichita, they have been able to continue to do things their way and tonight's set proves how god damn great their songs are.

Downstairs it’s heaving for Radstewart, a band that we immediately fall in love with. Think a more frantic Pavement as a rather undeserved quick summary.

Back across at Four Bars it’s the ever amazing Cut Ribbons, who are everything you could possibly want from an indie band. They are instantly loveable, their songs have great sky reaching hooks and the entire feel of their set is simply euphoric. The singles really shine and, when it eventually appears, the album will be amazing. In fact their set is so rousing that the couple in front of me grab each other and start making out like the war had just been won all over again.

Finally it’s over to The Angel Hotel for Ghostpoet who takes to the stage with his band plunged into complete darkness. The live band add some bones to the minimal production of the album but unfortunately the room just doesn't suit the style and the music feels a bit lost, when what you really expect is the bass to shake your glass like the t-rex in Jurassic Park. Aside from that, being plunged into darkness avoids giving anyone on stage any presence and unfortunately it all feels a little lacking. A somewhat disappointing end to an otherwise incredible evening.

The first three bands we watch on Friday night really sum up what is great about Sŵn, and that is variety. Aled Rheon, Totem Terrors and Pawws start our evening, each act being totally different and completely brilliant. Sŵn brings so many great acts to the city of Cardiff every year and, for music fans like us, we should be extremely grateful for having this festival on our doorstep.

Walking into The Angel Hotel for Aled Rheon we are instantly stunned by the beautiful sounds this man creates, a voice and guitar that would silence any crowd. The audience this evening are in complete reverence, giving the respect that these timeless songs deserve. The final song, described by Aled as being a murder ballad, proves to be one of the best songs I have heard all year. Aled Rheon is a name that I have taken from this weekend and put a big 'must hear more' mark next to.

Totem Terrors, provide one of those Sŵn moments; seeing a band for the first time in a small venue and thinking this band are going to be huge one day. Downstairs in Clwb is full for this exciting two piece and everything about this band has cool-indie stamped all over it.

We head straight upstairs for Pawws, another discovery of the weekend, a three piece who perform irresistible pop music. When it is done right pop music is the greatest thing in the world, seriously if you ever find yourself in a debate with anyone trying to tell you that pop music is only what's in the charts or what dominates crap radio stations, then direct them to Pawws. This band perform uplifting pop music that will make the entire world smile.

As word starts spreading that Friday is now officially a sell out and Clwb is already operating a one-in one-out policy, you get the feeling it’s going to be a busy night and military style planning will be required to catch everything you want to see. Saying that, it’s not worth getting too hung up over bands you have to see over Sŵn weekend as there is so much great music throughout the city that you are bound to have a great time wherever you go. Instead, we brave the elements as the heavens open and dash over to O'Neills for a Britpop-tastic night of Third Party, Broken Vinyl Club and Keys.

Third Party give us a pleasant enough set of Ska tinged songs as we try to shake the rain off. Broken Vinyl Club work their way through a set which could only have been written by a band who believe in great British music. Tonight, for me, was always going to be about Keys. This is a band who I have loved since Murry The Hump days and, as always, their set tonight is full of passion; every sound made with belief that music really is the greatest thing on planet Earth. The band whip the crowd into a complete frenzy with one great song after another and in the process make me start questioning the entire music industry. As great as it is to have this band entertaining us in small venues, they really should be playing arenas, these songs deserve more than the upstairs of a pub.

With heads a little fluffy shall we say we opt for Hail The Planes to provide the opening for our Saturday at Sŵn, a collective of talented musicians whose sound has been created with a great deal of thought. Fuel provides the perfect intimate venue for these songs, allowing every sound to captivate this very attentive audience.

Next to The Moon Club which is getting very full for Annie Eve, a young singer songwriter from North London who is sure to feature on many 'ones to watch' lists for 2014. During Annie's set you really could hear a pin drop, she has the entire audience focusing on every sound. Yes, comparisons to Laura Marling are inevitable and yet there is also something very unique about Annie Eve, she has such an intensity and raw, fragile talent about her.

Checking back through my notes made on Saturday night, I come across one sentence that really says it all about Camera and that is 'Camera - the ones that got away'. Camera are one of those bands who have always had great anthemic guitar songs that for one reason or another never got the full recognition they deserved. Tonight's set is further evidence that the music industry can be a very strange place indeed. The band are incredibly tight as they work their way through a set of guitar anthems that seem destined for a big arena. Seven years have passed since the release of their debut album 'Ashes and Dim Light' on the much missed My Kung Fu record label and to have this band playing in O'Neills really makes me sad that Camera are a band that slipped through the net of so many.

Back in The Moon Club and it's rammed for Little Arrow who at first, I have to be honest, I am very apprehensive about. They start off with harmonies and the sort of gentle strumming that has all the hallmarks of "another Mumford band", and what is with the singers trousers? Luckily, instead of going all banjos and foot stomping, it gets loud and cinematic, erupting with epic post rock scope. The bassist gurns his way though each song with a grin and each song just keeps getting better, somehow maintaining a tenderness whilst getting ever louder.

Sticking around for the act it just wouldn't be Sŵn without, the ever great Sweet Baboo. Taking to the stage by himself he explains that no band would be joining him, but it doesn't seem to phase anyone. Playing a set that has as many new songs as it does old and each one proving that he really is a prolific songwriter. At the rate he has songs coming out at the moment he will have to release his own streaming service just to keep them all in. Regardless of whether anyone has heard the songs before, everyone is completely captivated with each note and as ever Sweet Baboo is at his tender and humorous best.

Finally over to catch a personal highlight from last year, Kutosis in O'Neills. The unfortunate thing about the venue is the sound feels a little lost. Maybe a pub band would sound great but anything else feels a little lacking. This is a problem for Kutosis but fortunately for them they have an arsenal of fantastic songs which would even sound good in your dad's shed. The new tracks are sounding great and we can only eagerly anticipate the new album.

Sunday arrives far too quickly and to be honest we struggled to shake off the previous three night’s festivities. It takes a hearty breakfast and a group hug before we are ready to head to Four Bars, who have a day of acts put on by Adam Walton’s Crackling Vinyl project.

Elly Sinnett eases us into the day with a set of beautifully tender songs that are guaranteed to warm the coldest of hearts and dispel the harshest of hangovers. Once again the crowd are captivated and, as they’ve been all weekend, silent and attentive.

One of this year’s surprise highlights, Baby Queens are up next, showing what Super Furry Animal Cian Ciaran had already seen before he decided to manage them. With this being their third gig of the weekend, you can’t knock their work ethic, and their music is pretty good too; four-way soul-tinged harmonies with stripped back instruments. Their single ‘Red Light’ has ‘hit’ written all over it.

 

Over in The Angel Hotel Swearin’ are delighting with their lo-fi 90s grunge flown in all the way from NYC. Their fantastic set helps our energy levels and lends us well and truly to the night again as we saunter our way back to Womanby Street and in to Clwb to catch a band that we have been championing for well over twelve months, The Adelines.

Hailing from Swansea, the four piece never disappoint. Their charming guitar indie/pop sound bringing some much-missed sunshine to the weekend with the irresistible ‘Little Games’ sounding better than ever. These are certainly a band to keep an eye on.

There was only one place to be to end the festival as far as we were concerned, and that was back in The Angel Hotel for Waxahatchee. Lead vocalist, Katie Crutchfield is at her raw, soothing and compelling best as she works her way through a set largely made up of tracks from the latest album ‘Cerulean Salt’. A captivated audience gaze on in wonder as the weekend is brought to a close.

Sŵn Festival in 2013 has managed to surpass the six years before it and is pioneering the growing trend for ‘urban festivals’. With a giddy mixture of talent, passion and community, Sŵn is unique in its offering. As Mr Adam Walton tweeted during the festival ‘Sŵn is Welsh for sound & universal for friends’.

See you next year.

AMP Magazine

Sŵn Festival 2011

Coal Exchange, Cardiff
20th-23rd Oct 2011
Sŵn Festival 2012

Coal Exchange, Cardiff
20th-23rd Oct 2011
Catfish and the Bottlemen

Gwdihŵ, Cardiff
15th Apr 2012
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