Pyramid Scheme and the Cardiff literary scene

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Recently, the literary scene in Cardiff has undergone something of a renaissance.

Traditionally Cardiff is a boring place for writing: most of the names you could list under the title of young writing are well past the proper age bracket. Many of the institutions you would be forced to label as avant garde are strictly apres garde these days.

So it’s pretty refreshing to see that there’s new blossom on a rugged old tree.

Take for example, Parthian books who are proving to be a formidable talent finding force. With the appointment of Susie Wild as an editor at the firm a little while ago, the company seems to have found its feet again.

Most notably, the publication of Dan Tyte’s Half Plus Seven earlier this year and their encouraging level of support for new literary voices such as Richard Owain Roberts (a Plastik contributor) whose debut collection All The Places We Lived will be published by Parthian early next year.

Perhaps more exciting are the quality grassroots events that are happening in the city for the first time in years. Take as an example Pyramid Scheme which takes place at Kings Road Studios this week organised by Tyte and Roberts.

“We wanted to put together something that felt relevant and spoke to us as writers and citizens of Cardiff, but was outward looking too. Pyramid Scheme seems essential, a great product,” the pair said. “It’s a fresh take on the usual warm wine and stale conversation of most literary nights. The Kings Road Artist Studios will add an air of creativity a cut above the normal reading spaces of chain bookstores.”

Joined by a host of new authors and also some new writers, Pyramid Scheme will demonstrate that a page has truly been turned in Cardiff literary life.

Also reading:

  • Joao Morais

  • Guillaume Morissette (New Tab, Vehicule Press) live from Montreal, Quebec

  • with music by Summer Ghost

  • Pyramid Scheme, 19h August 28 2014, Kings Road Artist Studios, Pontcanna CF11 9DF

    Green Man Gallery

    In the first bit of our look back on a stunning Green Man weekend – one full of  a stellar lineup reflecting the pagan poise and childlike joy the festival has come to represent, we present our favourite snaps of a weekend littered with photographic memories. Be sure to come back on Monday for a full festival review, including extended reviews of Neutral Milk Hotel & East India Youth and a look back at the Last Laugh stage.

    For now, enjoy these – click on a photo for the large slideshow.

    Green Man Interview: John Mouse

    John Mouse Album

    Q: It’s been quite a few years since the last album, how have things changed for you as an artist since then, and has having a lot of time affected the new record a lot and what you wrote about?

    Its been four years since we released the last record, but not all that time was spent writing music. I have a F/T job, I’ve been studying for a PGCE, I am a husband and a father of 2 kids. I like to play football and cricket so it doesn’t really give much time to do music. But saying that lots of things happen in four years. A lot of the album is about being a parent, which is probably the biggest change in my life while writing the album.

    Q: On the kickstarter page for the album, you said you wrote a lot of songs – more than 150 to get to the point where crocfingers and you thought it was good to go. Were you writing specifically for a certain idea you had of what the album would be or did the themes develop gradually?

    I was just desperate to release another record after humber dogger forties, and just kept sending them every idea for a song that I had to the point of alienation. The large majority really were crap. Crocfingers kept telling me this, and telling me that I needed to write an album that was cohesive. It’s still musically diverse but I think it works as a whole.

    Q: How has releasing it thanks to Kickstarter varied from other releases – Do you think the tight knit music scene in Cardiff helped that?

    Well it means we don’t loose as much money as we do on other releases. We still loose money, but not as much. We sell about 200 copies. What kickstarter did was get people to buy advance copies, which was great. It meant we could pay for a plugger, leading to lots of airplay for our single. We really appreciate everyone who pledged, it means that we could see who was supporting us. As regards to the scene you mention. I would say around a 1/3 of the pledgers I know socially. I have always intentionality steered clear of a “music scene”. I don’t want to mix my social network with the music I do. My last band were London based, and my new band are from the valleys.

    Q: There’s a really great melancholy and nostalgia on the 1st single not often done that well about Sport or Football in particular – what are your early memories of Football, and also has being a kid growing up in a smaller town influenced your writing a lot?

    That song mentions my early memories. It was about going down the park whatever the weather, and playing football. Trees were goalposts and defenders, you had to play around them. You would get moved around the park so you didn’t ruin the grass too much. Sometimes you played on “pitches” that didn’t have any tree defenders. I played football the most though at a very early age, like from 4 about 9 with a guy called Stuart Smith, and he would just shoot at me all the time, and I would just dive around saving everything. I loved being a goalkeeper, and then did that until I realised I was never going to be tall enough. I played for boysclubs and stuff but nothing better than those early games of FA knockout with 5 kids or 20 players on each team. The parks were the best places to play, but it didn’t matter if you couldn’t play there. School yards, old tip sites anywhere. A lot of the album is about looking back at being a kid since having my own. The song was inspired by bumping into Stuart in the park we would play football and we were both pushing our young babies. I don’t live there, so I was on a nostalgia trip at that time, and him being there just made it even more nostalgic. It’s hard not to look back when you are a new parent.

    Q: I Was a Goalkeeper is a kind of a microcosm of the whole album thematically, so how come the LP’s title ending up changing from that to what it is?

    Three reasons. For internet purposes. Having the lead single and the album with the same name seemed like a bad idea. Cause we wanted to get away from IWAGK being a “World Cup song” which it isn’t. It’s not really about football or the World Cup. and Cause The Death of John MOuse sounds good.

    Q: I’ve tried to connect the dots but I just can’t – where did the title Robbie Savage come from?

    It’s a misheard line. Crocfingers thought that the line “Macho Man Randy Savage” was “Macho Man Robbie Savage” So it was called Robbie Savage.

    Q: You get compared to a lot more bands and artists than most (The Strokes baffled me a bit!), were there stand out influences that informed this LP in particular?

    Yeah, that always happens. Well it was wrote over a long period of time. So these are the artists I was listening too the most over this period. Malcolm Middleton, Aiden Moffat, Jonny Cash, Bill Callaghan, Tindersticks, Prince Edward Island, Nick Cave, Silver Jews, The Smiths & The Vaccines.

    Q: When I’ve seen you live it’s always been a pretty upbeat, funny and naked-ish affair, how will the more downbeat and sombre songs fit into you playing live?

    It’s still upbeat but the sombre number, it’s only Robbie Savage, will cut through the middle of the set and give people a break from the loud noise. I have a new band and they are pretty loud!

    Q: As a whole the album really reminds me of the Bills Wells & Aidan Moffat Everything’s Getting Older with the melancholic and nostalgic tone but there’s also some shifts in pace and more upbeat stuff which give colour to the overall feel in a really nice way and feel true to life, were there albums or even books that informed that?

    Kind of like the earlier question. I don’t really listen to much music. I don’t have that much time. It’s mostly in the car on the way to and back from work, and cause I can’t be arsed to change the cd’s I tend to listen to things over and over and over. I think I listed to the Bill Callaghan “Sometimes I wish I were an eagle” for about a year non stop. Then yes that Bill Wells/Moffat album was on loop for some time too. I like music with words. Words are the most important thing to me, and the delivery of them. Prince Edward Island are a huge influence too. I write with Phil from the band. He pretty much does all the music. I send him songs, and he makes them happen. So you would probably have to speak to him about what influences him The books I was reading probably influenced the way I write them too. Bukowski & Vonnegut are great fun.

    Green Man Interview: East India Youth

    East India Youth Headline the Walled Garden Stage at Green Man 2014, Saturday night.

    Ever since I saw East India Youth, or William Doyle as his Mum calls him, support Wild Beasts in Bristol’s 02 Academy earlier this year, the inclination to interview him was fortified very sturdily in my head. Having seen the hype about his album Total Strife Forever in gushing reviews on respected fountains of musical knowledge such as Drowned in Sound & The Quietus, I’d listened to some of his work, notably the cathartic house influenced euphoria of ‘Heaven, Too Long’ without ever fully throwing myself into experiencing the album. More fool me, because witnessing it live committed the breadth and ambition of TSF to my mind and I’ve been utterly hooked ever since. In just a 30 minute set, the density of musical ideas was almost baffling. It is really rare to have so many moments of musical revelation, of exhiliration at such well thought out creative brilliance unfolding – on what is ostensibly a debut. Despite being packed with a variety of genres, emotional tones and working at several paces, there are thematic arcs which emerge.

    Amongst the droney, almost industrial electronic sounds, neo-classicist motifs build the album into more than the sum of its parts, locating the human amongst the digital noise. It’s what makes the standout moments so transcendent – when Doyle sings “find new love, dripping down your soul” in the harmonic chorus of ‘Dripping Down’, it is so vital as the albums moments of lyrical and musical clarity are beautiful momentary – set against extended, almost overwhelming musical motifs. Aiming to work out what brought about such a brilliant record, I asked Will for his thoughts on the records influences, his approach to playing it live and what’s next.

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    Q: Just for anyone who doesn’t know, could you say about the circumstances that led to you making Total Strife Forever and how it fed into the feel of the album?
    My life was at a crossroads. I’d decided it was the end of my previous band that I’d spent 3 years being involved with and I had a massive backlog of more electronic inclined stuff that I felt more emotionally invested in. Everything was in a huge state of flux around me at this time, both positively and negatively, and the music I was making was a definite reaction to this. Bringing what I had on my hard drive together, stuff I’d been recording for 2 years, and realising that I nearly had a whole album already was a huge revelation and brought with it a great sense of achievement. TOTAL STRIFE FOREVER, to me, feels like it explores both the anguish of the time it was made in but also the feeling of freedom and empowerment of having made it.

    Q: For people going to Green Man who’ve maybe not heard the whole album, can you explain the influences and sound behind the more ‘neo-classical/electro’ stuff that forms much of it?
    It’s quite a stylistically scatty album. It doesn’t sit in one place for too long. I suppose because it took about 3 years to make that it ended up being that way. There are more instrumental tracks than there are vocals which might be a jarring mix for some people. The album moves through minimalist and neo-classical, to techno, krautrock, synth-pop.

    Q: Even though there’s a lot of ideas and genres on TSF, they do seem to tie together somehow – Aside from the Total Strife Forever songs, was there any overall theme or idea that emerged as you were making the album?
    I don’t really know if there was. There’s a certain atmosphere in my mind when I look back on the album, but I think that’s all been retrospectively formed. I guess there’s certain emotions that come through on the whole thing, a feeling of isolation, but also euphoria crops up quite a bit too. It wasn’t my intention to make a concept album or anything, but there was a certain degree of work put into the sequencing of the tracks to make sure there was some thread to hang onto in light of all the erratic shifts going on over the course of it.

    Q: I was really pleased when I saw you reference Age of Adz as one of your favourite albums – is there something similar in the full-on almost overwhelming nature of the music and emotion on that record that you wanted to invest in TSF in your own way?
    Absolutely. It was a huge influence on the album. It’s one of the most intensely emotional albums I’ve heard in recent years. I loved the almost ridiculous grandiosity of the arrangements. I definitely wanted that to be something that came across in the sound of my album. The way I always thought about it was that sometimes your emotions are these imperceptibly massive things to you, but really, in the grand scheme of everything and everyone around you, you and and your emotions are so small. That dichotomy is something I feel like is explored on Age of Adz, and a few other albums like it. This little voice versus this huge feeling.

    Q: What did you mean when you said you had to work against your instinct whilst making the album – was that to get yourself in the right songwriting headspace to get down ideas?
    I’d just been so used to being ‘a songwriter’ for a few years leading up to this that I’d started to develop conventions that I would rest upon and that I would use to take lazy routes out of creative problems. One of the main examples of working against my instinct was the removal of vocals or the need to sing over every shred of music made. That simple subtraction created entirely more emotional results both in the lack of singing but also the carefully selected moments where it was necessary.

    Q: Was it similar when you started to perform it live – did it seem like a natural thing to perform it for you?
    Christ, no. I had to rethink everything I knew about performing. It’s been a really interesting challenge developing the live show and my approach to performing this. I think I’ve worked out how to play TOTAL STRIFE FOREVER live now. It’s going to be time to move on and redesign the entire thing again next year. I’m happy with the almost austere look of everything on stage at the moment, but I’m starting to feel shackled by my table I play on. Standing behind it was a defence mechanism when I started EIY, but I’m longing to be free of it now that my confidence has grown.

    Q: Has playing more headline sets and festival sets to bigger crowds allowed you to develop the show as you wanted – in terms of sound and visuals?

    You learn what makes people tick I suppose. But actually it’s been the support slots that have allowed me to really know how it works. Playing to someone else’s audience is always harder and if you manage to make a connection with someone who has never heard or seen you before then it is those moments that you should analyse. What draws the stranger or the neutral person in? What turns them away

    Q:It was interesting when you said you may just turn your keyboard off and wander over to see Mercury Rev at Green Man, because TSF and Deserter Songs are two albums I’d love to see performed in full. I was listening to Deserter Songs Instrumental versions and it actually made me think instrumental and especially electronic albums often work better when bands play albums in full, which I guess is closer to what you do live. Is showing the album as a whole important when you play live and were there any moments seeing people play live that influenced how you chose to?

    If you see your album as a whole body of work in itself and not just a collection of songs that make up a whole, then I think it’s important that you preserve that the best you can. I play my album in a different order live because I’m aware that the dynamics of a live show are wildly different to listening at home with your headphones on. Having said that, I’ve seen very few, if any ‘play your album through’ shows that I’ve been impressed with. The Flaming Lips playing ‘The Soft Bulletin’ was something I was really looking forward to, but it was a massive disappointment. They should have played it start to finish without much talking in between. Wayne Coyne jabbering on in between each song is not how I listen to that album and it ruined the flow of something that I think is near perfect. So in a weird way, I suppose that show influenced me in a strange way. I try to shut the fuck up and get on with it. There’s plenty of time to talk and reflect afterwards but while the show is going on, I want to create an atmosphere and space that I will try to keep unbroken for the duration. It’s a shame I’m going to miss Mercury Rev as they’re playing at the same time as me. I’d be really interested to see how they handle that one. It’s a beautiful album.

    Q: How is new stuff coming together – has it been harder to get in a singular mindset as I imagine you might’ve been when making TSF?
    I’ve had less accumulative time to make the next album but weirdly I’m nearly finished with it. I think after I’d finished the mastering of TSF and it was a sealed deal, a finished packaged, then the flood gates opened and I was straight into sifting through my massive bank of ideas that I’d been making since I finished the initial tracking and mixing of TSF. I won’t say too much about what I’m working on now but I’m very excited for it. If it all goes to plan it’s going to provide another great year for me.

    Q: It’s a generic question I know, but been as there’s a particularly strong lineup at Green Man this year, is there anyone you’re looking forward to seeing (Mercury Rev sadness aside)?
    I Break Horses. I really love their last album that came out this year and I don’t think it got the due attention it deserved. Would love to see how they play it live. Caribou. I only saw Caribou for the first time this year, after years of being  a fan. It was absolutely mind blowing so there’s no way I’m going to miss that. I might try to watch The War on Drugs if I’m not needed backstage before my set. ‘Under The Pressure’ is one of my favourite songs of the year so it’d be nice to see that in the setting of Green Man. That’s all off the top of my head but I’m really excited for the whole experience generally. It’s one of only two festivals I’m camping at this year (Beacons was the other. 10/10 for that one) so I’m going to make sure I see as much as possible.

    Plastik Picks Green Man – Saturday

    Follow and Listen to Plastik’s Green Man Playlist

    It would be a rather recalcitrant way to introduce you to the middle day of Green Man’s music, but an equally appropriate preview for the stunning Saturday lineup as the soundclouds and words we’ve submitted below, would be a picture of a list of the 9 bands just on the Mountain stage that day joined by a picture of an upwardly pointing thumb. The list of bands speak for themselves.

    Green Man has seen some particularly strong runs of bands in the past – The National followed local legends Super Furry Animals in 2008 springs to mind most obviously, but probably none as so comprehensively, engagingly awesome as Saturday’s. Even the supposedly ‘under-the-radar’ Georgia Ruth (according to the405), who opens the days proceedings, won last years Welsh Music Prize and a sense of well earned artistic intrigue flows through the lineup like a vein; from the flickering, daydreaming electricity of Angel Olsen’s Indie-folk, The War on Drugs’ stunning and profound layered folk-rock and atop it all Mercury Rev, performing the beautiful Deserter Songs in full.

    Not that we recommend perching your rear in front of the main arena all day (you’ll need those dead legs for dancing to Luke Abbott & The Field later on) – there’s remarkable gems all around the site. For one, you should probably begin playing a three way rock-paper-scissors to decide which headliner to see.  Slint versus Mercury Rev versus East India Youth. Best to put down an each way bet, wait for the full timings to get announced and try and catch 2 of the 3 if you still have them legs. Here’s what we are definitely readying our limbs to run, dance and sway to.

    Saturday

    H. Hawkline – I Used To Get Around – Walled Garden

    H. Hawkline is the pseudonym of Huw Evans, one of the more talented collaborators who enjoy several guises in several Cardiff bands, (in the past he’s played with Islet and Sweet Baboo), as well as one of the few celebrated Welsh-Indie acts who has had some level of recognition beyond that scenes sometimes perceived backslapping insularity. It’s for good reason too –  his songs are most often catchily insistent, with psychedelic and folk influences always happily adjoined by a ‘-pop’ coda and certified top quality co-workers like Cate le Bon. ‘I Used To Get Around’ is of the more stomping, garage end of his wide range and all the better for it.

    East India Youth – Heaven How Long – Walled Garden

    In an effort to convince you that you should see William Doyle’s East India Youth over the majesterial talents of Mercury Rev or Slint, both who play the same headline slot across Green Man’s 3 stages as he, we have managed to interview the man himself. As much as that sounds a little bit sarcastic, it’s not actually far from the truth – that anyone who’s come into contact with his debut LP Total Strife Forever will be desperate to convert you. By turns droney, house inspired, soaring, neo-classicist and more, it is easily the most ambitious electronic album of 2014 for me and ‘Heaven, How Long’ is its central pole, a transcendent song that hones on Doyle’s thinly spread but beautifully effective vocals, which match the gradual euphoric assemblage of the song to melancholic euphoria.

    Check back on Plastik over this weekend for more previews, plus next week for interviews with, amongst others – John Mouse and East India Youth

    Plastik Picks Green Man – Friday

    Follow and Listen to Plastik’s Green Man Playlist

    It’s suffice to say that I could barely believe my eyes when double and triple checking the gig calendar to confirm that one of my favourite weekends of the year, Green Man, has careered so quickly into view. August 2013 was 12 months ago, I’ll accept – but somehow it doesn’t feel time yet, even though I am exceedingly happy it is.

    Reviving memories of last years balmy August weekend moves the mind into a fast state of imagistic recall, as the sublime (the electro-drone euphoria of F__k Buttons) and the ridiculous (feeling frustratingly alone amid the electro-drone euphoria, idiotically unaware of my friend standing next to me) re-assert themselves in my head’s event horizon. Yet despite how strong those recollections are, Green Man always seems to spring into the calendar rather than pre-emptively impose itself upon my mind.

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    As odd as it sounds – considering this will be the 7th Green Man in a row I’ve been to, half the reason for the above is because I don’t feel like a ‘regular’, at least not in the pub sense of the word and that is part of why I am now, as always, so excited to go back to Glanusk park with probably the best ever line up awaiting crowds. There is a genuinely brilliant mix of music on offer – just looking at the almost perversely good Saturday night headlining trio of Slint, Mercury Rev and the majestic East India Youth (check back next week for an interview with him) gives an indication of the incredible quality that comes with the diversity on offer.

    Because of the authentically varied lineup, there never feels like there is one sort of festival-goer or coterie who can claim cultural ownership about what the festival exclusively is – hence why I always feel like this isn’t ‘my’ festival, it’s just a damn good one. Like a mystical, backstreet local that you invariably end up spending countless accidental, un-diarizable nights at, Green Man still feels a wonderfully communal, fringe concern. It’s a fine reminder that you shouldn’t go to a festival and feel like the organisers have, like a jaded barman with whom you only share mutual cultural ennui, already served you your predictably inoffensive lager. The usual? Same again? No thanks.

    And if you’ll excuse the extensive beveraged metaphors, here’s the musical tipples we are looking forward to enjoying in a weeks time. Come back tomorrow for our preview of the best from Saturday at Green Man.

    Friday

    John MOuse – I Was a Goalkeeper – Walled Garden

    Kicking off Friday’s festivities in earnest is John MOuse and we feel slightly guilty being able to only recommend one track from his excellent LP The Death of John Mouse, which skips from genre to genre and across emotional tones with impressive ease. Much of it is heartbreaking and the solemn ‘Robbie Savage’ is delicate whilst retaining the dark humour present throughout the album. This 1st single from it however, feels like a bright, bounding way to begin Green Man, with it’s nostalgic ‘trees-as-goalposts’ lyrics rollicked through with catchy impudence, not entirely dissimilar from guest vocalist Gareth Campesinos! ‘home’ team.

    Caribou – Jamelia (Gold Panda Remix) – Far Out

    Dan Snaith returns to Green Man for the first time since 2008, when he was riding on the back of winning the Polaris Prize for the psychedelic, brilliant electronic work Andorra. Single ‘Can’t Do Without You’ was released to huge excitement earlier in the year ahead of an autumn LP release, putting a house twist on his breakthrough Swim album, which is doubly brilliant for it’s long list of remixes, which give you a better idea of the kaleidoscopic intensity of his live performance, which will be even more key to catch as preparation before the Swedish intense Electronic act The Field take over with Far Out ‘After Dark’ duties.

    Adult Jazz – Springful – Walled Garden

    Adult Jazz debut album, Gist Is, seems to have many critics offering florid admiration, but often stopping short of outright love for it’s progressive, jazz take on something like experimental indie. That gets almost nowhere near describing where the band take their songs however, and indeed it’s an album that not only rewards multiple listens but also sounds like its aural nooks and crannies will unfold all the more melodically and satisfyingly live. ‘Springful’ is one of the most immediate tracks on Gist Is, sounding like a colourful, lilting TV on the Radio – with offbeat percussion and a depth of instrumentation which flits around the melodic vocals without being pointlessly playful.


    Check back on Plastik over this weekend for Saturday & Sunday’s previews, plus next week for interviews with, amongst others – John Mouse and East India Youth.

    Photo: Green Man/Press