The big one: Swn Festival 2009

United Kingdom United Kingdom | by Kai Jones | 21 October 2009

What is it?

The brainchild of Radio 1’s Huw Stephens Swn (‘sound’ in Welsh) is an inner-city festival in the image of Camden Crawl and Great Escape, with a bias towards the finest emerging new music – the packed three-day schedule has over 150 acts playing across 12 different venues.

Huw started Swn in 2007 to give the Welsh capital its own version of Austin’s SXSW. Over the packed three-day schedule you can catch music industry seminars, play communal Scrabble, dance at Wales’ biggest ever silent disco and watch the best new music from Wales to New York. Cardiff hosts the world’s oldest record shop, the amazing Spillers, and has given birth to fine musical exports from Super Furry Animals and Los Campesinos to new kids Islet – Swn is the perfect opportunity to get dirty in Welsh culture while exposing yourself to some incredible new music. Acts playing this weekend include Girls, Wild Beasts, Gaggle, the Twilight Sad, Fanfarlo, Tubelord, Los Campesinos, the Pipettes, Cate le Bon, Pulled Apart by Horses and Dananananackroyd.

When and where?

The three day event runs from 22-24 October and takes in most of Cardiff’s venues – from the legendary Clwb Ifor Bach (the ‘Welsh Club’) to the Gate, an idyllic converted church. Swn centres around the cobbles of Womanby Street (where you’ll find Clwb, Dempseys, the Toucan, Model Inn, City Arms and Y Fuwch Goch) while Cardiff’s compact size allows for a short walk between most venues. Two venues – the Gate and Chapter Arts Centre are just a short bus or taxi ride away. Things kick off in the National Museum Cardiff on Thursday at 3.30pm with a performance from the delicious Victorian English Gentlemen's Club.

Six to watch

(Dempseys, Thursday)?
Frenetic, multi-drummer explosion of skewed guitars, structured dissonance and compelling unpredictability, Islet are less than a handful of gigs old but have already landed an impressive NME Radar feature – even though they shun all manner of web promotion (at last, the anti Artic Monkeys!). Musically they’re like the Bordeoms inviting Steve Reich, Fugazi, Kurt Weill and John Zorn for dinner. Then eating them.

The Drums
(Dempseys, Saturday)
Dreamy, intoxicating surf-pop and Factory Records urban basslines: never the twain shall meet? Only in Brooklyn’s contagious awesome foursome - the Drums have hooks to hang your coat on and the potential for Swn-stealing glory. Check out the awesome whistling/bass-led surf-pop of ‘I Wanna Go Surfing’ for proof.

Marina and the Diamonds
(Chapter Arts Centre, Thursday)
Nicely side-stepping the 80s-girl revival that has seen Pip, Boots and Roux parcelled-up into one comfortably-marketed package for journalists’ pigeon holes, Marina and the Diamonds’ eclectic hymns draw more on the new wave vibrancy of Lena Lovich and Kate Bush. Marina herself puts her roots down to Brody Dalle, Britney, Dolly Parton and a birthplace in “ancient Greece” via Wales. The Joni Mitchell-flavoured ”I’m Not A Robot” and aching, lifting ”Obsessions” show a rich songwriting and storytelling ability that should soon have ‘Marina and the Diamonds’ roll off the tongue with the same eminence as Bat for Lashes.

Taxi Taxi! (Y Fuwch Goch, Saturday)
From Stockholm and brought to us by excellent Danish label Rumraket – which has already delivered Efterklang, Cacoy and Kama Aina – Taxi Taxi! are Swedish twin sisters Miriam and Johanna Berhan. Hearing their minimalist compositions - all stirring vocal harmonies and delicate, finger-picked guitars - leaves your nervous system confused; melting your heart while delivering ice-cold shivers down your spine.

Son Capson
(Chapter Arts Centre, Thursday)
Like a marching band of gurning elves bulldozing the entire contents of an Aberystwyth drugstore down their gobs, Son Capson throw-up a relentless mix of early Gorky’s Zygotic Mynchi, the contents of Tom Waits’ garage and Magical Trevor’s indelible pop sorcery.

Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs
(Clwb Ifor Bach, Thursday)?
Granite-heavy basslines, messed-up, prehistoric dubplates and a sense of style not seen since Fred Flinstone’s pet Dino got stuck in Wilma’s closet, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs straddle filthy, scraping analogue and wonky beats and go “RAAAARRRRR!!!”

Playing a rare festival date

Devil Man
(Model Inn, Thursday)
Devil Man is DJ Scotch Egg’s side project with Gorgonn from Dokkebi Q. Getting the doom-gabba-chiptune legend Egg and electro-dub-punk producer Gorgonn together in the Model Inn’s tiny upstairs bar is an incredibly salacious treat from Lesson No#1, one of Cardiff’s finest promoters; expect Scotch to bring the 8-bit Brighton glare and Gorgonn to slide-up with the infectious Dalston sleaze.

Insider tips

Cardiff University hosts Wales’ largest ever Silent Disco on Saturday evening, with Radio 1 Evening Session legend Steve Lamacq the star attraction. Silent discos are a genius amount of fun. There isn’t a PA  - you just receive a set of wireless headphones so you can go crazy to the music, then take them off and laugh at hundreds of people throwing ridiculous shapes in the dense quietness.

St Mary St – avoid it. On Friday and Saturday nights Cardiff’s main thoroughfare turns into a Jason Statham movie; without the irony.

Worst clash

3.30pm Thursday until 4.00am Sunday morning! There’s no avoiding it, with so much great new music and so much happening Swn is one massive clash-a-roo - it’s like Huw Stephens has put the programme together purely for the opportunity to watch Swn-sters pull themselves into contorted dilemmas while choosing between a dozen must-see events. For the best solution see ‘Festival Tactics’ below.

Be at Swn if you like

Running from bar to bar, catching 20 minutes of sparklingly-genius new music, downing a pint then scampering to the next. Swn is a riot of gigs so if your idea of bliss is 72 hours of being blasted by cutting-edge leftfield noise, soothed by nu-folk and scared by intense dubstep then you’ll be in gig heaven.

Avoid if you like

Red Dragon Radio, fighting in Yate’s Wine Lodges and watching your ‘favourite new band’ Keane support U2 at the Millennium Stadium at the seventh concert of your life; then buying the fifty quid t-shirt and telling the geeky-kid in your office that listens to weird music on the morning after how you “went to a proper concert last night”. You can stay at home and watch Heartbeat.

Festival tactics

Get to the Toucan Club on Womaby St early on Thursday, pick up your wristband and devour the programme. Highlight everything you must see in red, everything you might see in green. Then throw the programme away, get drunk on Brains and stagger from venue to venue meeting amazing Welsh kids and falling in love with bands that will change your life, before moving to Cardiff and starting a band yourself.

Fashionista or folky?

Fashionista. It’s not Shoreditch yet, but Cardiff has a little-known portal that whizzes fashion and music between the two. Asymmetrical haircuts, neon dressage and sullen pouts will be out in force, but you can laugh at them as your wristband guarantees you entry while they sell their souls and haggle their way onto the guest list.

Alcohol of choice

Being Cardiff it’s got to be the infamous local brew, Brains bitter. There’s an S.A. version (strong alcohol) for the brave, which most Cardiffians refer to as skull attack.

Take your mum score - 4/10

Sadly, Tom Jones is in LA, Charlotte Church is in Hello and Stereophonics are in the middle of the road. Swn is partly about showing that Welsh culture is less daffodils and boyo’s and more DIY gigs and innovative music. There’s poetry at the Vulcan Pub and rapturous, chilling folk from Beth Jeans Houghton but unless your mam caves in to the post-rock noise of The Death Of Her Money, it’s best to leave her at home with the X Factor.

Can I still get tickets?

Yes. three day (£45) and one day wristbands (£17) are on sale from Spillers Records, Cardiff (029) 20224905, Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff (029) 20311050, Diverse Records, Newport (01633) 259661 and Ticketline (029) 20230130. Most gigs have a walk-up ticket cost but it’s way cheaper to get hold of a weekend wristband - and as some of the bigger gigs like Wild Beats and Marina and the Diamonds are likely to be busy, your wristband will guarantee you entry.

More information and a full-line-up is available at www.swnfest.co.uk

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Send to my phone!Photographer: Michael Gregory

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