Sŵn Festival 2012

Various Venues, Cardiff
Date: 18th - 21st October 2012

Sŵn takes over Cardiff for its sixth year and is still continuing to grow, boasting its fullest line up so far and, considering how busy we've been in previous years, we had a pretty packed schedule.

First to the wristband exchange where it's a real hive of activity as everyone meets up and swaps tips for the weekend ahead. Then it's straight across the road downstairs into Clwb Ifor Bach where Effluence are kicking off proceedings. Arriving well into their set, we were treated to a grunge racket which had all the crowd enthralled, and the place was packed. Final song 'Pigs in Blankets' was a particular treat.

Then came the slog of a walk out to Globe to catch Gallows' set, arriving with only two songs left of support act Feed the Rhino. One thing is immediately clear, they are heavy as Hell and giving it both barrels as the singer bounds from stage to floor, the crowd are equally repaying the insanity. If there's anyone who can follow that it can only be Gallows who, no sooner have they taken to the stage, have relocated to the floor to be encircled by the crowd who are clearly foaming at the mouth with anticipation. Launching through their set with venom, showing why they are one of the best modern hardcore bands on the scene, showing off how great the tracks on the new album are but also that Wade is capable of delivering the old stuff too. It's hard to find a place on the floor where the crowd aren't going nuts, and I'm guilty of joining them!

Our final stop of the night sees us making double time over to Django Django in the University Solus. With the racket of the Globe still ringing in our heads the Django's were just what we needed with their colourful upbeat indie pop/surf rock stylings bringing the opening day to a close. Opening with 'Hail bop' it's easy to see why so many people have fallen in love with these quirky oddballs, with everyone singing along and going crazy for 'Default', before rounding off a perfect set with 'WOR'

With 3 days still to go and this sort of quality on display it would be easy to peak too early, but hey we're professionals and we take off into the Cardiff night like Batman and Robin.

Tender from the night before we felt compelled to ease ourselves into the day with a little bit of bingo, we even won the star prize which was a can of Strongbow, a box of Maltesers and a bag of Fruit Pastilles.

After such a good haul it was time for some bands, kicking off with the simply hypnotic Gala Drop over at The Moon Club. Completely in their own worlds, laying down some percussively amazing groove-laden funk. Becoming totally immersed in their world, it's hard to tear away from their psychedelic freak outs.

But we manage it as we cross the street to Clwb to catch Welsh music prize nominees Kutosis. Double drumming ensures that they are fantastically loud and highlights just how deserved their nomination was. Grungy but catchy in equal measure, I immediately fell in love with them.

A quick pop downstairs to see some of The Invisible's set and we find them mid-funk, with vocalist Dave Okumu's soulful delivery perfectly backed up by fellow member Tom Herbert and Leo Taylor's percussion and keys. It's rhythmically masterful but it's time to split up for The Cribs and Liars. Upstairs at Liars they take to the stage to the backdrop of their own rehearsal room but it's hard to focus on that, especially when they take to the stage and Angus Andrews' looming frame comes out. Showcasing mainly the new album, the venue is perfect for them as it manages to give the same dense atmospheres that their albums contain. Blasting through their set with little banter it's a real spectacle culminating in a rip-roaring rendition of 'Plastercasts of everything' as the video behind sees them load out the rehearsal room, they bring the house down.

Around the corner at Dempsey's, people are queueing down the street to get in to catch Cut Ribbons, and when we get in it's clear to see why. Their boy-girl fuzzy indie-pop is the perfect soundtrack for a blessed out Friday night, they are definitely ones to watch out for.

Meanwhile over in The Great Hall, The Cribs are treating a frenzied audience to a genuine festival highlight with "the longest set they've ever played". Combining debut album classics with latter day shout-a-long anthems like 'Hey Scenster', latest album tracks and even a cheeky b-side (To Jackson) there really was something for everyone. With the ever so charasmatic Ryan Jarman announcing toward the end he's recently been diagnosed with asthma, the length and undying energy of the spectacle shouldn't be underestimated.

It's hard to know where to start with Saturday's action, so we opt for Gnarwolves whose interests the programme described as "drinking lager and skateboarding", which sounds like the perfect way to kick off the day. So upstairs in The Moon Club, we are treated to some straight up punk rock played loud and fierce, occasionally getting into a slightly more Melvins-esque grunge area. The energy is great but some of the banter seems lost on people this early in the day and, despite a few technical hiccups, they tear through their set with aplomb.

Next over to O'Neill's to catch folk trio Quiet Marauder who will definitely be hailed as the most fun band of the whole weekend. As far as I could possibly see, there wasn't one person without a full on grin as they watched them stamp their feet and play the pots and pans whilst singing songs about kidnapping Bono and the benefits of having a moustache. Amazing!

Then over to 10ft Tall to catch only the final two songs of Fred Jones's set, where we were treated to some beautiful acoustic folk. It was clear from the people who were already there that it was captivating.

Just enough time to get a bite to eat before heading downstairs in Clwb Ifor Bach to catch the evening festivities. First up is Leeds five piece Black Moth, who come packed with big chunky Sabbath riffs and the sexy imposing figure of front woman Harriet Hyde, who takes to the stage in a leather jacket and biker hat. The band are tight and so are the riffs, there is something just perfectly unique about them. But there isn't long to catch your breath before Holy Mountain take to the stage with what feels like the intention to make everyones skull cave in. It's so heavy but also with great musicianship, like a pumped up less droney version of stoner rock legends Sleep. Maximum credit to each member as they wield their instrument with ferocity and skill, but you can't help but focus on the drummer who is a blur of flailing limbs and hair, Animal from the muppets may have to reclaim his reputation from this guy!

And, like the previous two hadn't already been loud enough, it was time for Turbowolf who launch right into their set at full velocity. After what the night had already been through I couldn't help but feeling like the whole venue was going to collapse and the Palma Violets, who are playing upstairs, may end up on top of us at any second. But that was not to be, and the crowd go crazy for a mind dissolving riff heavy set, complete with an amazing cover of Lightning Bolts' ' Captain Caveman'. The final song rings out and everyone goes batshit - the whole floor area is a sea of sweaty slamming bodies, we get outside unsure of how we're all still alive.

The other half of AMP Magazine were enjoying a rather quieter but equally as enjoyable time that began in O'Neill's with a Tomos Lewis set full of dreamy songs and a vocal delivery that sits comfortably next to Ryan Adams and Damien Rice.

This was followed by Cardiff's finest Sweet Baboo who was playing in Undertone. Sweet Baboo has been a permanent fixture on the Cardiff scene for the last decade, he is fast becoming a national treasure. His set today was different from the full band experience we had at Green Man in August. This afternoon was a stripped back acoustic performance that made the packed out Undertone crowd fall to a complete silence.

One of the great things about Sŵn is no matter how obsessed you are with music you can guarantee that you will come away from the weekend with a long list of artists you want to hear more from. Marc O'Reilly was one of these. Marc brought O'Neill's to life with an energetic set of acoustic blues songs with vocals that, at times, draw comparisons to Bon Iver. This set was perfect in this intimate venue.

The next few hours was spent jetting between the two O'Neill's venues to catch Cardiff based three piece The Knox play a set full of 60's inspired pop songs, with melodies and harmonies that whipped this Cardiff crowd into a frenzy. Then the incredibly talented Denuo who, once again, delivered a flawless performance. 'Blood Red Sun' is becoming one of my songs of the year. As an added bonus Denuo were joined on stage by another of Cardiff’s finest, Greta Isaac.

One of the highlights of Sŵn 2011 was Sam Airey, an exceptionally talented singer songwriter who the entire world needs to hear. Due to my love of Sam, it was a disappointment to see O’Neill's half empty, although I will put that down to the strong line up throughout the city. Nevertheless by bringing a band with him shows that Sam is, without a doubt, an incredibly talented musician who one day will be playing to larger crowds.

The final must see act for this half of the leg was Palma Violets. Every year Sŵn manages to book a band who you know you have to see in a small venue as they will soon be playing big arenas. Those ‘I Was There' moments which regular gig goers live for. As soon as they took to that stage, all that excitement that had been building up just exploded, it felt like the roof of Clwb was going to be blown off. The band worked their way through an energetic set full of passion and belief, this is a guitar band who we can firmly believe in. There appeared to be that bond between the fans and the band that no group has managed to have since the glory days of The Libertines. The crowd were jumping around punching their arms in the air and basically having the time of their lives. ‘Best Friends’ is sure to become a modern day anthem, this was a moment that I will be reliving in my head for a very long time to come.

After the intensity of the night before my head feels like it's in a vice and feedback is still ringing in my ears, so the day has to start with a quiet word with myself.

It's not long before we're ready for the off and we start again in The Moon Club with Chain of Flowers. Having only been playing live since May they are already a fantastic show with their blend of fuzzy grunge and Cure-esque shimmering rhythms. The set's energetic and the singer throws in the kind of frenetic energy that falls somewhere perfectly between Ian Curtis and Rik Mayall, it's hard to take your eyes away. Definitely another group to keep your eyes on.

Next Dempsey's are putting on a trio of acts throughout the day from ace new local label Popty-Ping. Unfortunately we're only able to catch Mowbird who rattle through an ace collection of chugging fuzzy organ blasting pop tunes with a punk edge. The place is packed and it's hard to get anywhere near the stage, but luckily when we get back it's cleared out enough to move in to get a better view of the next act, Bright Young People, who have the most fantastic looking old school amps. But it's not all looks and no pay off as they churn out a nice selection of no nonsense rock'n'roll.

It's then a toss up between Shy and the Fight and Islet, the latter winning after missing out on seeing them the night before all the way over in Chapter. Announced just earlier on in the day, Islet are a late addition to the tiny Full Moon club after two acts unfortunately dropped out. The stage is rammed with instruments as they pack in tightly and kick off with the fantastic opening track 'The Lion's Share' from their album 'Illuminated People'. Getting through the best part of the album, the set is a certain highlight with their frantic instrument swapping and their unique brand of psych-pop, they are a real joy to watch. There is so much going on constantly on stage it's hard to avert your attention.

Finally it's over to the most distant venue of the whole festival, Chapter, and into its' theatre section for Dry The River. There probably couldn't have been a better way to finish with their truly stunning collection of songs. Epic, but in a gentle way, perfect to ease any of the pains from the last four days. Harmonising beautifully, the kind of thing that would shame Fleet Foxes, and when they bring the whole thing into the middle of the crowd for an acoustic encore you could hear a pin drop…it's simply magic.

Same time next year?

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