Swn Festival 2012 Reviews

To celebrate the diversity of Swn, we sent two very different reviewers along to the Festival.  What follows is a reflection of the wildly different perspectives that two people with similar tastes can take when looking at a modern festival.

In the first case, DAFYDD PRITCHARD takes a classic critical reviewers perspective while ADAM SMITH looks at the festival through several degrees of abstraction.

Just like the Festival, we hope you enjoy the variety!

From the pen of DAFYDD PRITCHARD

Walking into a room when Django Django are playing ‘Wor,’ one can feel like they’re strutting through the grand opening scenes of a film. The track’s soaring guitars create a stirring surf rock, with echoes of pre-psychedelic sounds and more contemporary peers such as Y Niwl.

Django Django’s self-titled album has been one of the highlights of the year, as demonstrated by its Mercury Prize nomination. Tracks such as ‘Hail Bop’ and ‘Waveforms’ show off the record’s wonderful electronically infused pop, while the jerky, energetic ‘Default’ has Cardiff University’s Solus in raptures. Switching between high-octane and mellow – yet always with an experimental thrust of broken beats and raw invention – their set gets the weekend off to a brilliant start.

There is a compelling contrast at work when the now near-veterans The Cribs entertain Cardiff University’s Great Hall on Friday. Their earlier, more recognisable tracks prompt a fanatic response, while there is disenchantment when they trudge through their newer, yet tired-sounding, offerings.

When the Wakefield act revert to type and thrash out their old hits, the crowd discovers its voice. For those whose teens were soundtracked by the wave of ‘The’ indie bands flooding the mid-noughties, tracks such as ‘Mirror Kissers’ and ‘Men’s Needs’ are exhilarating flashbacks. Ryan Jarman’s yelping vocals and his twin brother Gary’s riffs combine with a joyous coarseness.

Although the Great Hall audience wills The Cribs to unleash more of their frenetic old favourites, the later material is as flat and turgid as an undercooked suet pudding. ‘Nothing’ is particularly uninspiring, reducing the usually vigorous three-piece to a sub-grunge dirge. The screaming from a desolate Ryan is painful, the guitars meandering and the overall effect is a sense that this is a jaded band in need of a rest.

Happily, the awkward shuffling from the crowd seems to get the message across, and The Cribs rekindle their chirpy spirit with ‘Hey Scenesters’ – a triumphant reminder of this act’s undoubted strengths.

Chapter hosts a selection of bands as diverse as its range of guest ales on Saturday night. In the theatre, Echo Lake offer an inoffensive if not entirely memorable set of hazy, atmospheric shoegaze. Thom Hill’s guitar reverberates with an ethereal quality, while Linda Jarvis’ voice hints at echoes of Beach House to create a ghostliness in the performance.

Over at Chapter’s studio, there is an altogether more riotous affair where Islet crash around the stage. The Cardiff four-piece swap instruments, mingle with the crowd and rattle through their set with chaotic glee. There is a sense of psychedelia and hyperactivity about the offerings from latest album Illuminated People, while there are darker moments of warbling post-punk.

From the desk of ADAM SMITH

Chris Farley Lives On A rattling rush in my heart is telling me there’s no better weekend to be in Cardiff. No greater gag in this city’s gaudy arsenal, a tickling in my arm and my aorta is laughing. I tug at my wristband, loosen it, let it know there’s no point trying to hold back this blood. Blood which fizzes with anticipation and fear. Fear it’s all happening somewhere else. That it’s all going down at one of the 22 other venues while you’re watching Effluence’s frontman howl and hurl himself through a wrenching, retching set of splenetic pop songs, choking, broken, guitar barely holding him up through the jangling, strangling black hearted ballads…. And who dug up the bones of JJ72 and did they do it just to splinter them and bare the shards as daggers? And what’s more what is this all for?

Dizzee’s Oi Mark Greaney – is there anyone left alive who remembers him? Or am I embarrassing myself by mentioning his name? No time for dusty memories tonight, strapped onto the spokes of a spinning wheel. The New. Years measured out in the passing of fads and where are the Memphis Kids now?

It’s Better To Ben Doubt Than To Faye Dunaway not upstairs watching The Experimental Tropic Blues Band and I can see why. I’m inching my way to the door trying to escape the Mark Knopfler penis measuring competition but I keep tripping over tapping feet which are attached to nodding heads, all rocking in time to this plodding pug-wash punk… ‘They have toured Europe and North America relentlessly, earning quite a reputation for their wild stage antics along the way. The trio promise an expressive live performance, and with song titles such as ‘Burnin’ Hell’ and ‘The Best Burger,’ it’s not out of the question to expect an entertaining concoction of rock and roll, blues and all-out mayhem’.

Pareidolia I’m yawning so hard my head might split in half but let me pick up my jaw so I can drop it again because, what’s got me aghast, is that even now when YouTube has eaten all our myths and illegal downloading has strip-mined all the magic from the earth the spell of rock and rock apparently remains, still uttered, still sending 2D clowns stumbling across the planet in a storm of pleather, pulling out spontaneity on queue for half crowds of smucks, drawn to the display by the promise of penny drop debauchery… Take a bow Messrs. Dirty Coq, Boogie Snake and Devil D’Inferno. Our appetite for plod is fiercer than even the Quo could have known.

Things To Do In Cardiff When You’re Dead upstairs in Clwb there are dark graffitied scenes of beer fountains and ruined suits and Petula Clark and asking “who are your heroes?” and who indeed? and more so, who cares? So then there’s Cardiff Arts Institute where I got viciously dumped by the girl with one eye. A trendy wine bar now. Oh and Buffalo Bar where if I close my eyes I see a tuxedo out of focus before the florescent four letter word and he’s clutching an Espresso Martini and a Black Keys record. All of life spread out within the city’s modest radials but who am I and where do I fit in among all this majesty and music and no I don’t want to see Charlotte Church.

You Can’t Quit You’re Fired I’d rather see A Girl Called Ruth, because of all the songs on the BBC Radio Wales playlist I’m less sick of You I See than I am of Say It’s True. And Ruth, if that is your real name, I love the way you walk around the room after your set asking everyone if they enjoyed it OK and handing out business cards and telling me to send you a Tweet and talking about how you listen to the aforementioned radio station and heard all about dogs with high cholesterol.

Deconstructed Wardrobe upstairs at the student union and past a battalion of freshmen in full camouflage, thinking that I’m glad the Long Blondes were right, and inside with the inescapable stink of hot dogs, and up to the security guard who asks ‘are you here for Jingle Jangle’. Indeed.

Efexor but I always knew I’d end up in Glam with cavemen singing along to songs written when they were 10, rubbing shoulders with guys who think personality and bravado is one and the same and girls who mistake arrogance for charm and a line from a Martha Wainwright song is going through my head over and over and over and…

Hits From The Camera ‘small cities, yeah yeah, easy to get around, small cities, yeah yeah…’ Kutosis’s stunted robot rock is as much of Cardiff as Clark’s Pies and Ninja and What It Is Is this is the best I’ve seen the flannelled three – band T-shirts are beyond passe hadn’t you heard? – and I can’t wait to see they take things with their next record because they’ve got that triptych glory, that stripped down, focused thrust which is near impossible to stop. 

Sigmund and the Family Freud Liars of course come from the ultimate big city and their ideas rise as wild skyscrapers with seemingly limitless cash to prop them up. And so none of the instruments sound like they’re suppose to, and they’re all the better for it, and most of the vocals sound less like voices but rather fleshy wails from within a finely tuned machine. They even have a backing video, yeah a backing video, a Brechtian one capturing the band in the rehearsal room, setting up and then playing and then packing up after, taking it all down, stripping away the glamorous facade and showing that behind all great music there’s a lot of lugging stuff about. Which I guess is a test of your nerve. And is it important that it’s all shot from the perspective of the keyboard? was it just a nice angle or is it meant to signify the centrality of that instrument to their sound. And now the camera is sticking, the flickering form of Angus Andrews leaping through the air and I’m thinking maybe this video is preposterous and contrived and uh, uh, inauthentic and they play Plaster Casts of Everything and nothing much matters anymore.

You Make Me Question Truth a mexican wave goes up and around the Reardon Smith Theatre shortly before John Grant takes to the stage and maybe the contrast between our futile group gesticulations and his awe-inspiring individual expression says something about where he is as an artist compared to the average person, or maybe it doesn’t it, it’s just while we’re wooing and flapping our arms up in the air he’s singing songs which are so stunningly sincere and nakedly emotional that I feel like a fraud even trying to put the beauty of them into words. Because synesthetic wordplay can only cary you so far until you come up against something so inarticulately special that hanging a few cheap lines off of it only makes you feel inferior and you’re left clinging onto strangers howling,  ‘I can’t write about music anymore’. I Was A Cinnamon Tycoon


So hang me up in radio wires.

Watch me dance across the stars.

Wavering steps receding now.

Out of view and nearly.