Sŵn Festival 2011, Cardiff

Tuesday 25 October 2011, 09:10

James Roberts James Roberts

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If Thursday's Sŵn-related larking possessed a wonderful sense of anticipation, then Friday night brought it all together.

Cardiff University's Solus in all its metallic gloom is hosting the hotly anticipated Joy Formidable, and the conclusion to their recent tour. Before this, however, Northern Ireland's So I Watch You From Afar bring their Battles-meets-Pelican instrumental metal. Wading through the fretboard noodling makes the noise worth the wait.

The Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable. Photo: Stereoboard

Next door, Man Without Country bang their synth barrage through a fog of dry ice before the main event of Joy Formidable. Ritzy, Rhydian and Matt are flanked by a nautical scene including a lighthouse and a huge gong. This scribe would like to thank Ritzy and co for shredding what was left of my hearing. They are very loud, confident and sounding like a spiral staircase falling down an escalator; soaring through austere and bombastic renditions of Whirring and Abacus - stunning songs form a stunning début album.

Winding from the uni and into Cardiff, the usual inhabitants of venues occupied by Sŵn find drunken salvation in the fun pubs of Greyfriars Road. Over at Womanby Street, the epicentre of Sŵn, it is brimming. Fresh and familiar faces alike mingle, and mainly queue. And the queues are it seems a necessary evil of success. I'm sure The Victorian English Gentlemens Club are great. The drums and shrieks can be heard from the pavement outside.

The same goes for Gallops. Word, literally, on the street is they smashed it. Resigned to mammoth queues, we slither towards any venue that isn't 10-deep at the bar and look forward to Saturday and Wales' premier surf rock purveyors Y Niwl.

The Dick Dale-influenced quartet kick things off on Saturday afternoon in Cardiff Arts Institute to a mixture of hungover types and a surprising number of actual children. From our point of view the mixture of strategic lager and amazingly authentic surf jangle is just the tonic. Then it's off to Buffalo Bar for Wrexham's Mowbird. The dark red hue and bunting in Buffalo is a giddy contrast to the autumn sun, and behind the bunting, Mowbird riffle through their wondrously shambolic Sebadoh-esque sleepy-eyed surf rock (yes, again). Great thing about the three boys and lady of Mowbird is they are never the same twice, and do check out their Bandcamp pages. This reviewer is a bit in love.

Anyway day turns to night, Sŵn hits its stride. Y Niwl play (yes, again) through a power cut in Dempseys, The Fall do their thing in the Great Hall at Cardiff University and Esben And The Witch affirm in Buffalo Bar that they are indeed ones to watch. Over in Chapter Arts Centre, meanwhile, The Roseville Band and Christopher Rees bring dexterous acousticness to Canton before it's back to the post-Soviet bread queues and, in lieu of seeing any music, we are now part of a crowd watching a barefoot lady smashing a stiletto heel through a Ford Ka windscreen. Nice.

Right Hand Left Hand

Right Hand Left Hand. Photo: Pollywaffle

Sŵn Sunday. As usual the whole weekend is a blur. Obviously, a sensible above-board blur. Right Hand Left Hand bring their Trans Am-laden hooks and bombast to Dempseys, ably followed by Kutosis and the grown up rock of Tiger Please.

A few streets away in O'Neill's, Truckers Of Husk offer their neo-prog, followed by the ever-popular Sweet Baboo. Upstairs at 10 Feet Tall we find Mackem folk type James McKay with a great voice and a ballsy set that belies his skinny bookish frame. Humble and eloquent (a 20-something singing about how Thatcher screwed over the North East is usually a recipe for a train wreck) his reversioning of a rap about the London riots is spellbinding.

Back upstairs in Dempseys an undoubted highlight is Saturday's Kids. It is as if we are transported back to Washington, DC, mid-1988. The collage of Sonic Youth and Fugazi is far from aping the past. It's cocksure and absolutely brilliant. Go see them supporting the ever-excellent Future Of The Left. A quick legger to Undertone sees the denim demons Strange News From Another Star, recently returned from touring the Ukraine, rip through their Hot Snakes embossed set.

Witches Drum

Witches Drum. Photo: Simon Boughton

Raging against the dying of the light. Terrified of Monday morning, The Witches Drum end things off in Dempseys. The frontman resplendent in green face paint and marigolds, like Alice Cooper as a 70s, Saturday afternoon wrestler. It makes no sense. It's the perfect end and all we are left with is the tinnitus, tiredness and sadness that one will have to wait another year for Sŵn to once again fight the good fight.

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