Minifest Month: Gwdihw Allstars Present

Tomorrow is one of Plastik’s most keenly anticipated days of the micro festivals that are coming up over the next month. Gwdihw is one of Cardiff’s best venues at putting together a soulfully, finely tuned curated afternoon of music, and this Sunday’s Allstars is getting us very excited. Following on from several hazy afternoons, including a Huw Stephens curated minifest last year, anyone who has previous Bank Holiday visitation to the ‘Hw will know its stellar history for memorable, unique one-dayers.

With the brilliant Ty headlining, amongst a ridiculously strong all day line up, we thought it remiss to not ask some of the artists as well as Gwdihw’s finest spin-smiths to contribute what they thought are Classic bank holiday tunes. Enjoy a carefully curated Bank Holiday Playlist, as put together and described by some of Gwdihw’s finest.

Nakisha Esnard’s Picks

Jon Norris – Jump
Tune from an English guy living in France, This song gets me in the mood to dance, perfect for the kick back attitudes of a bank holiday. I can see this track on in the background creating the finishing touches to a bank holiday BBQ in the garden. His voice is great – melts me every time I hear it. This funky number just gets me bouncing.

Michael Sylvester a.k.a Apple Juice – Heal Me

This track is just simply beautiful. The message in the song, the sounds he creates all compliment each other and then there is his voice, wow! What a beautiful message to send to people and delivered in such a powerful way. Love this song for any occasion but on a bank holiday weekend even more so.

Afrocluster’s Tunes

Orgone – Open Season

We at Afro Cluster are massive fans of this Los Angeles based Soul/Funk outfit. This track features a lot in our journeys to gigs, and especially goes down well when Bank Holiday Weekend arrives.

Roy Ayers – Everybody Needs the Sunshine

It can’t get any better than this for a bank holiday?  Seminal record by a legendary artist.

Afrocluster – Power Moves

This one we actually get to play this weekend! It’s our latest release and it has been going down really well on the dance floor and we are especially excited to play this, at our favourite venue Gwdihw!

The May Duo

Jackie Moore – This Time Baby

Jackie Moore is amazing. This is just such a perfect tune for happy chilled times in the sunshine.

Fat City

Pharoah Sanders – Love is Everywhere

What more to say – Mr Sanders is the Jazzfather.

Bill Withers - Harlem 

Minifest Month: Plastik Picks

Continuing our Minifest Month, we got Lloyd Griffiths & Emily Bater to compile some of the acts they’re most excited to catch over the next few weeks across Cardiff’s upcoming mini fests, including this weekend’s Wales Goes Pop, Sunday’s Gwdihw Allstars and the upcoming Holy Boredom, Juxtaposed/Jealous Lovers Microfestival plus Swansea’s Gwyl Pili Pala.

Seazoo, Wales Goes Pop

Kicking off Wales Goes Pop, Seazoo return to Cardiff after a stellar performance at Swn last year. Their brand of American-tinged pop punk won’t fail to get The Gates’ punters’ feet tapping along.

Oliver Wilde, Holy Boredom

This hotly-tipped Bristol-based producer and singer has gotten airplay on BBC 6Music with his complex, ambling pop – ignore the slightly laughable biography on his website and judge Wilde by his debut album – one of the most loved of last year.

Ty, Gwdihw Allstars Microfest

Yet another brilliant addition to the languidly evolving sound of Tru Thoughts records’ Soul, Hip Hop and Jazz, Ben Chijioke aka Ty is bringing his soulful yet immediately engaging hip hop to Gwdihw. Around since 2001 and nominated for the Mercury Music prize for seminal LP Upwards, he has been eschewing and sideswiping hip hop orthodoxy with charming and intelligent lyrics mixed with chopped beats that manage to be direct and angry about rap’s follies – yet stirringly engaging and immediately danceable.


Her Parents, Jealous Lovers Club & Juxtaposed Microfestival

Including members of Internet Forever, Stairs to Korea and Dananananaykroyd, Her Parents are bringing their raucously fun punk to Gwdihw’s Microfestival on 4 May, organised by the guys behind Jealous Lovers Club and Juxtaposed.

Rhodri Brooks, Gwyl Pili Pala

Cardiff based acoustic songwriter, who impressed with several sets at 2013′s Swn Festival with a pleasantly honest yet defiantly subtle musical catalogue – releasing several albums and LPs in the last year recorded in his own kitchen. His recordings are a mix of lo-fi, country and Americana and household objects noises (recalling his humourous photographic output of oddly transfixing balancing of quotidian objects) but all used without any forced DIY eccentricity but instead adding to the fullness of his sound – now added to live with 60s style backing vocals. His Matt Berninger-esque drawl adds another captivating presence to his already finely drawn output.

Radstewart, Wales Goes Pop

Cardiff band Radstewart have been peddling their pun-tastic wares about town for a while now and we’re not showing any signs of getting sick of them yet. Influenced by 90s lo-fi Indie heritage acts like Weezer and Pavement, this foursome’s catchy set will be finely tuned by the time of their appearance at this year’s Green Man.

Cleft, Jealous Lovers Club & Juxtaposed Microfestival

A two-piece instrumental offering, Cleft are another Manchester band set to knock the owl off its perch in Gwdihw – careering between ear-splitting guitar and atmospheric drums, this pair will burrow into the space in your skull and stay there for a long while.

Threatmantics, Holy Boredom

Listen to Threatmatics and you’d be forgiven for mistaking their lyrical and vocal style with that of Sweet Baboo. Make it a bit heavier, a lot less winsome and throw in a soaring backing and violin and what you’re left with is a band “somewhere between aaargh and aaah”, as they’ve described themselves. They’ve had a few lessons in the school of heart-broken song writing and are more than ready to break a few themselves. Cardiff-based, they are hitmakers in waiting.

Laetitia Sadier, Wales Goes Pop

Stereolab’s Sadier brings Wales Goes Pop to a close on Sunday night, and we can’t wait to hear her Nico-by-way-of-France vocal in the flesh. Not unlike another Welsh songstress who has long drawn comparisons to the Velvet Underground ingenue, Sadier’s songs are all at once poppy and disturbing, atmospheric and enveloping.

https://myspace.com/laetitiasadier

Minifest Month: The Rise and Rise of Cardiff’s Mini Musical Festivals

Kicking off our month of coverage of Cardiff’s burgeoning roster of mini festivals,  Emily Bater chats to some of it’s best promoters to find out why there’s a enjoyable glut of curated micro festivals happening across the Capital, as well as previewing some of the most exciting acts performing.

Boutique, intimate and a little bit secret, micro music festivals have been filling up Cardiff’s cultural calendar for a while now, and the return of Wales Goes Pop for a second year heralds the beginning of another spate of busy weekends.

A bridge between one-off gigs and larger-scale offerings, micro festivals – from an extended afternoon to a couple of days, one venue, multiple acts – have found welcoming homes in Cardiff venues like Gwdihw, Clwb Ifor Bach and The Gate, where Wales Goes Pop returns today.

Pulled Apart By Horses @ Clwb Ifor Bach, Photo: Owain Thomas, http://owainthomasphotography.co.uk/

Pulled Apart By Horses @ Clwb Ifor Bach, Photo: Owain Thomas, http://owainthomasphotography.co.uk/

In the past year Cardiff has played host to Canton Crawl, Hub and From Now On. The former turned Canton’s Printhaus into a music venue for the first time, featuring Cate Le Bon and H Hawkline. While From Now On, organised by Shape Records, brought two days of experimental music to Chapter Arts Centre.

The variety and diversity of Cardiff’s music scene is reflected in the line-ups and taste of each weekend, but one thing they do have in common is their low price points. Wales Goes Pop is in the more expensive bracket at £40, while Holy Boredom, being held at Clwb Ifor Bach on May Bank Holiday, offers two days of music for a bargain £18.

Organised by Balderdash’s Adam Williams, Holy Boredom is the most recent mini festival that Womanby Street’s legendary venue has hosted – something that’s proving a great boon for both promoters and venues.

Adam is keen to point out that the experimental lineup he’s been able to put together at Clwb – including the warped noise of local favourites Fist of the First Man and Threatmantics, alongside treats from afar such as Zun Zun Egui’s percussive psychedelica – is a labor of love that could seldom happen elsewhere.

“It’s easy to forget and take for granted if you’re a Cardiff regular, just how much variety there is here, especially on Womanby Street on any given night”

Whilst it can seem that Cardiff misses out on larger alternative, headline acts to Bristol because of location and that magical missing mid-sized venue, Adam sees it as part of the reason so many promoters and smaller festivals are flourishing.

“Lack of venues has made promoters, bands and venue managers work harder to produce quality, innovative events. As much as minifests are a great chance to bring together personal, particular line up, it’s also a great way to show off how engaging and supportive our venues are, in this case Clwb ifor Bach.”

But if it wasn’t for another Cardiff festival, these events probably wouldn’t exist.

“In some ways, Swn was a bit of a catalyst,” says founder and head of the Welsh Music Foundation (WMF) John Rostron.

“Swn paved the way locally for there to be multi-venue festivals in Cardiff. People got used to them locally, got used to having a wristband, moving about.”

Rhodri Brooks @ Swn Festival 2013, Photo: Laura Nott @LCNPhotography Rhodri Brooks @ Swn Festival 2013, Photo: Laura Nott @LCNPhotography Continue reading

Review: Wild Beasts, O2 Academy, Bristol

For those in the audience more intimately acquainted with Wild Beasts’ unique synthesis of infectiously lyrical guitar tunes and the raw, enclosed intensity so mesmerically developed on last LP Smother, one could understand mild bemusement at the sight at Bristol’s O2 Academy of impressively orchestrated lasers, beaming across the audience seven songs into their set. Held back to the shuddering electronic breakdown of ‘Daughters’, they gleam and criss-cross the crowd with a deliberative precision fans are perhaps more accustomed to hearing on record rather than in outward stagecraft.

Maybe they’re there to help fixate the crowd after a double-false start, after they come on to rapturous applause – only for the band’s newly prominent synth-heavy setup to stutter on their first song. “Maybe we should just stick to guitars,” Hayden Thorpe jokes, but the music thereafter is anything but coy about its electronic leanings, which works with a confidence matching the glimmering histrionics.

Whilst on their last tour, the extended smouldering of ‘Burning’ and its moaning, flickering keys were the lengthened preface as the band entered the stage, this time there’s no need to settle amongst the aural scenery. ‘Mecca’ is an apposite introduction, the glacial beauty of Thorpe’s falsetto soon re-emerging amidst electronic flourishes that pulse and oscillate to dynamic drumming with bold colour.

Settling into their new material superbly, the pleasing aspect of their set is that in spite of electronic instrumentation coloured by producers who’ve worked with such stadium-rock luminaries such as Arcade Fire and The Killers, new album Present Tense is anything but an overreach. ‘Sweet Spot’s synths grab attention as they puncture the verse mid-song, but the drama they lend is as usual given depth by the dualised vocal twists of Thorpe and Tom Fleming. Nonetheless, there is a directness and assurance to this and many other tracks’ construction, with ‘A Simple Beautiful Truth’ in particular standing out – it’s simplistic synth-pop a permeable 2 minute frame the singers give graceful vocal contours around.

At moments, some album tracks are stripped of their context, ‘Pregnant Pause’ feeling too stripped down and its plaintive strengths struggle to hold up live and when not following the harsh, elementary ‘Daughters’. This can hardly be said for many though, as most tracks are greeted and treated with aplomb, ‘Wanderlust’ careering into the start of the four-song encore with poise and impudence.

Whilst most seem to engage positively with the enjoyably direct tone syncopated classics such as ‘Hooting & Howling’ and ‘Fun Powder Plot’ are given in the presence of their new material, personally there were some songs which didn’t feel of the piece. Put it down to nostalgia if you like, but either way, it’s a credit to Wild Beasts insistent, subtle honing and recrafting of their sound that each of their albums feel so compellingly singular. Equally, it’s a testament to the quality of Present Tense that this gig feels like a brighteningly new show in every sense.

Whilst the content has developed steadily since their brash early sound, their lyrics now are full of the emotional drama that lay at the edge of their carnal tales previously. Lines such as, “Between the hurt and the tender song/Between the flash and the thunder’s drum/There is a godly state, where the real and the dream may consummate,” may have been previously sideswiped by non-converts as affected but taut and direct, they strike beautifully, with no need for melodrama.

All of which tells you why their continued distilling of their sound, with added electronic help, feels such a daring step forward; and puts into context their lasered theatrics – a bold framing of Present Tense live, a setting out of their stall Thorpe confidently spoke of whilst referring to usual British Indie diffidence- “No, f**k it, stand up. Be prepared to be judged.” On this evidence, they have no need to worry.

WOW Review: Nairobi Half Life

Nairobi Half Life won Kenya its first selection for the 2013 Best Foreign Language Film Oscars, and although it did not make the final short list, it’s easy to see why this well-acted, charming and passionate production was rewarded for the confidence invested in it by debutant director Daniel “Tosh” Gitonga.

The story follows the journey of Mwas (Joseph Wairimu) an aspiring young actor from rural Kenya who ventures to Nairobi to fulfill his dream of becoming Africa’s answer to Robert De Niro. Arriving with little money or contacts, he’s robbed, mistaken for a criminal and ends up in prison within 24 hours. His experience of the chaotic yet blasé nature of crime doesn’t seem to shake him too much though, and upon his release he gravitates towards the cities slums and the world of criminality which controls and keeps this part of the city in order.

He quickly becomes an integral part of a local gang’s plots to exploit what and whoever they can for financial gain – using his acting skills to negotiate his companions out of some tricky situations and as such embodying the friendship and optimism of the group of friends and their ‘take every day as it comes’ attitude.

Lacking in the grit and despair of the Brazilian slum films such as City of God, the plot does suffer from being rather simplistic and doesn’t deviate much from a predictable storyline. And although the many characters we meet are acted fantastically well by the supporting cast, other than Mwas, we never really get beneath the skin of what makes the other characters tick.

Despite this, the film poses interesting questions. The stark contrast between his city and rural life reminds us of the increasing urbanity of the world where now around 75% of the worlds’ population live in cities. The film does make us wonder whether this can develop without the corruption and organised crime which keeps the characters’ lives in the shanty towns in some kind of order.

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As he becomes more embroiled in the life of the slums, he continues to pursue his acting career and rehearses in a local theatre production in which he plays the part of a criminal. Initially he manages to float between the two lives comfortably, mixing with friends from different backgrounds, however, as the activities of the gang become more intense and frequent, Mwas finds it more difficult to balance this double life as the film builds towards a frantic and final performance.

What’s interesting is that this dichotomy between rich and poor is easy to see but it isn’t dwelled on. This helps us understand the banality of poverty in poorer countries and how the rhythms of everyday life continue with the laughter, perseverance, love, and human habits we all share no matter the backdrop.

This is emphasised by how easily Mwas not only accepts the everyday criminality of slum life but enthusiastically takes part in it without any major moral dilemmas. Early on when one of his companions steals a mobile phone from a passerby, Mwas quickly decides not return it to her when he has the opportunity. While we’re surprised by how little remorse he feels, we warm to him, not as an anti-hero, but because we accept that this is his situation and we want him to succeed despite of the society he is a part of. This edges the movie away from being too much of a moral, preaching tale and its far better for it.

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This compassion felt for Mwas has much to do with the acting of Joseph Wairimu He brings a charm and enthusiasm to the role, as we hang on his every word to see how he will dictate his lines using his whole body, captivating gaze and cheeky smile. Backed by fairly impressive cinematography which uses pseudo-documentary type shooting with real life backdrops and people, the visuals of the film effectively remind us of the dense close quarters of slum life, making us feel almost intrusive for watching.

Although far from able to deliver the punch of City of God, it’s certainly a refreshing directorial debut which makes the viewer intrigued to see what next he may possibly produce, and also what more Kenya can offer to the world of cinema.

Nairobi Half Life continues at WOW festival, at Theatr Mwldan on Sunday 30th March at 6pm. Hit the link for more details.

Images: Trigon Film

WOW Review: Winter Nomads

Winter Nomads is a documentary feature following two shepherds on a ‘transhumance’ in Switzerland, directed by newcomer Manuel von Sturler. Personally I had never heard of a ‘transhumance’ but von Sturler is aware that this would be the case for most people so helpfully included a similarly clueless person asking! We’re told it comprises a journey around the countryside during the winter to fatten up the sheep, transferring them between different grazing grounds.

The shepherds we follow are Carole and Pascal. Pascal is an older man, in his fifties, who has completed over twenty of the journeys; having chosen the profession (although having watched this film you will come to understand it as more of a vocation) as a young man. He is an enthralling character to watch, a true real life movie star. There seems to be something of the old movie actors about him, his gait and gestures looking like a chic French Humphrey Bogart when the camera catches his expression in unaware moments. Carole is in her late twenties and describes how she lived a normal life in the city only to meet Pascal and change her life completely.

There is strong sense of destiny through the film in the conversations the shepherds have with the people they meet. Carole describes meeting Pascal and just knowing that this life was for her. There is something very attractive about the life that’s presented, even though it looks harder than anything any normal person could possibly imagine. It involves sleeping outside, all day walking with the sheep (at the beginning of the film they have 800 to look after), no amenities whatsoever unless a farmer looks kindly upon you – yet there is a pervasive sense of freedom that is so calming. I think the idea of leaving everything to live a simpler life holds attractions for everyone.

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What did surprise me about the film was the amount of humour in it. I had seen all the awards it had won and seen the bleak snowy landscape in the trailer and had wrongly assumed it would be beautiful and ‘worthy’ – i.e a bit dry. However, I was proved completely wrong in the second part of this preconception. It’s the interaction between the shepherds and the animals that causes most of the humour. The three donkeys are particularly funny, always trying to steal food or going off course. Their several dogs also provide ‘cute relief’ but the sheep in themselves prove to be unlikely comedians; due partly to fantastic camera work that seems to just catch their facial expressions at their funniest but also from the fact they do feel empathetic.

Winter Nomads is the story of a journey that takes you along with it. The sounds of crunching snow and the pace of the film truly take you there. The soundtrack meshes perfectly with the footage, so much so that you don’t really notice it until the credits roll with Olivia Pedroli’s ‘The Only One’. I can’t stress enough how much I enjoyed this film and encourage you to go and see it if you can find it.

Winter Nomads continues at WOW Festival, at Theatr Clywd on Wed 26th March and Taliesin on Tuesday April 8th. Hit the link for more details.

WOW Review: The Moon Man

An eccentric and offbeat animation, Stephan Schesch’s The Moon Man is the heartwarmingly simple yet original tale of the eponymous Moon Man’s adventure to and from earth, where he finds a pleasingly-cartoonish power hungry President of Earth as foe but most of all the meaning of friendship amongst its playfully drawn inhabitants.

The film begins in a starrily lit drive-in movie , as a girl and father happily promise to come re-see the ‘incredible’ picture that’s just closed. As their car ambles off into the distance, the horizon perspectivally alters against the shining infinite stars above them, leaving the seemingly bored and put-upon Moon Man awkwardly curled up and lonely in his lunar bubble.

Grabbing the tails of a meteor, he crashes into Earth, confusedly and naively wandering, a stranger to the physical wonders of the world and its people – and his sweet sense of discovery is only increased by his moony-white complexion and clothing being set against innocent yet intricate and colourful animated backdrops, very much taken from the 1967 children’s book by Tomi Ungerer. The Moon Man’s voice can only have been an affectionate reference to E.T and similar to the Spielberg classic, it is the children of the film who see him for who he is, teaching him the happiness his presence in the night-sky brings them.

The sense of awe is further painted across the whimsical world of the film as we meet brilliantly odd characters, including ‘inventor of everything’ Bunsen van der Dunkel, who fell asleep for hundreds of years as he was ‘bored’, whose clinking inventions are mechanically playful and reminiscient of Miyasaki’s fantastical machines of Howl’s Moving Castle.

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The animated style is visually pleasing for children and adults alike, with one scene as the world President declares all the lands of Earth conquered particularly funny – his lust for empire embodied in his flag symbol sitting on his shoulders like an army general imagined by Hasbro, complemented by a decadent pack of society yes-men and women, drawn in a grotesque manner that is strangely similar to the flatness of George Grosz and other 1920′s German art.

The President’s vainglorious attempts to annex a heavenly body make for pleasantly light satire but the heart of the film is in the unassuming kindness the Moon Man finds on Earth, and which the film draws with an energy and ardor that makes it’s fresh appropriation of Lunar lore a brighteningly affecting tale for young and old.