Millennium Centre, Cardiff
25th April 2015
On Saturday the inaugural edition of CAM ’15 Festival took place in the Millennium Centre, Cardiff. A day of avant-garde experimentalism whose focal point was the first gig in twenty years by Peel (and Louder Than War) favourites Datbygu, it turned out to be an utter triumph. Louder Than War’s Simon Tucker (right, playing musical bananas – it was that kind of day) reports back. With thanks to Dai Eastwood for photos.
So here we are then. We’re in the heart of Cardiff’s Millennium Centre for what promises to be one of the events of the year, the inaugural CAM event which is a one day festival celebrating experimental and alternative culture which not only draws from rich pool of artists that the country has within its hills, but also artists and authors from Europe who share a kinship with their Cymraeg cousins. The day was set out in two parts with the early afternoon being concerned with the talks and some experimental music (more of which later) and the evening/night taking the crowds onto (literally) the main stage of the vast building for music that was joyous, ambient, poppy, beat-driven, and subversive.
There were many things to see so this is how the day unfolded.
First up for myself was the talk between Polish journalist Agata Pyzik and musician, poet, and short fiction writer Ann Matthews who many of you will know via her work with the post-punk band Fflaps and pop group Ectogram. The talk was centred around Agata’s book ‘Poor But Sexy: Culture Clashes in Europe East and West’ (after hearing this talk I seriously recommend you source a copy) and focused on the impact of Socialist rule in Europe and how that in turn affected the underground art movements of the time.
What was really fascinating about this talk was how its focus started on the aforementioned topic, but it soon morphed into something else entirely with subjects such as music commerce, other musical movements (such as Riot Grrrl) and how gender can be used as a political statement (with artists such as Polly Harvey, Courtney Love, and Kathleen Hanna) all being drawn in to illustrate how different examples of the female gender have been used in the arts world.
Chaired excellently by CAM ’15’s curator Gwenno Saunders, Matthews and Pyzik talked with passion and intelligence with each other, quite obviously not agreeing on some of the other person’s views but never degenerating into argument or confrontation. Interesting parallels were drawn up between Welsh and European culture and movements with certain industries used to illustrate this point. This was the first sign that CAM ’15 would be a very interesting event indeed.
Following this talk was Ian Watson performing a sound installation and this was where the audience were fully thrown into the world of experimentation. Stood behind a myriad of cables, desk lamps (yes really) and reel-to-reel tape, Watson delivered an utterly absorbing thirty minutes of Basinski ambient-drone and Radiophonic sci-fi soundscapes. Perfectly judged, paced, and executed, Ian Watson’s set was an instant sit-up=and-take-notice moment and one that gathered him a few more fans. The fact this all took place in the main section of the Millennium Centre with tourists, and regular visitors strolling past also added to his, and the festivals, impact and highlighted its delightfully subversive nature.
After catching the opening few tunes of legend (I can use this word here without fear of reprisal) Rhys Mwyn‘s DJ set, which actually opened with some deep D&B … at 5pm … in the main part of the venue, I ventured upstairs for the first time to witness something that will live with me for a the rest of my life.
Entitled, ‘Fish Music’ (see photo above, obviously!) I was about to embark on one of the most beautiful and serene musical journeys that I have ever been on. The brainchild of author and musician Sam Richards the concept is as follows: draw a large musical stave across a large aquarium, assign a small group of musicians (8 in this case, including Richards himself, who played strings, piano, and other various instruments) who have never played with Sam before a fish (bear with me) to follow and a key, then let them just play the notes that the fish dictates on its journey around the tank. Still with me? Good.
Obviously, due to the venue, they couldn’t just install an aquarium so instead we get a giant screen projecting a recording of the fish that I believe was recorded during a performance of the piece at the National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth. The musicians themselves had smaller monitors in front of them so they could see the film.
Whilst this all may sound a bit to “arty” for some it was actually one of the most consistently brilliant pieces of music I have actually seen. The audience, many of whom were sat or lying down, were completely engrossed and soon stopped trying to work out who was playing what and instead opened themselves up to the sheer beauty of nature and the music that it was helping to create. Fish Music has the same energy and serenity as the evermore popular modern-classical movement led by Nils Frahm and A Winged (Finned) Victory For The Sullen.
A quick trip downstairs for a brief blast from the record boxes of Llwybr Llaethog who are playing some SERIOUS dub before a hasty trip back to the main stage for what is to many here, the reason they’ve come tonight. The live return of Datblygu (see photo below).
There really is no need to go into how influential this band ARE (there will be no past-tense used in this review for reasons that will become clearer as you read on) and how much love we at Louder Than War have for them as that has also been well documented. All you need to know is that we were about to witness the duo of David R Edwards and Patricia Morgan do their first gig in twenty years.
Photo above David R Edwards of Datblygu.
The crowd swelled with a great mixture of original and young fans of the band, chattering excitedly and full of questions about what the set-list would be, would they still be relevant, will the gap between shows be obvious. Well, the music over the PA stopped and there they were… Datblygu …and within thirty seconds all of these questions were answered. This was INSTANTLY a magical moment as the duo refused to bend to the nostalgia vultures and instead launched into two brand new as-yet unreleased songs, Llawenydd Diweithdra and Y Llun Mawr. From what Pat said afterwards these two songs are to be featured on a brand new Datblygu album. The two songs represented a deeper, more high-fi sound without losing any of that raw energy that the band are more well known for, with Pat playing various synth notes and David adding musical flourishes when not spitting his direct lyrics.
The band then dive into their back catalogue with Mynd, originally from the Datblygu 1985-1995 compilation which has just been reissued by Ankst Records, but the duo refuse to just play the song note for note, like many of those that play together after a while apart, and inside give the song a relevance and current pulse twisting it into the 21st Century with aplomb. The twisted-drill of Nid Chwigi Pwdin Gwaed and the hymnal Slebog Bywydeg follow with the latter really showing that David’s voice has lost none of its power and punch, hitting emotional points in the audience. It is this moment where the set goes from great to otherworldly. Truly magical. Proving that they still have a delight in messing with the audience, the band then throw us into a techno-noise jam in the form of Gwenu Dan Bysiau 2015 which sees them take the original and devour it in rapid drum machine fire and stop start lyrical bursts. Just as it seems the song is collapsing in on itself like a modernist punk black-hole the band depart with a polite Diolch, a smile and wave.
The audience instantly start cheering for an encore and stamping their feet but it soon becomes obvious that the visceral last 30 minutes are all we are getting and rightly so. The lack of an encore is not due to any ‘artiste’ airs and graces just the fact that that was all the band had rehearsed. Keep ’em always wanting more…
Chatting to a few of the audience afterwards you really got a sense of what we have just witnessed meant to them with people traveling all the way from Northampton, Bristol, and Gloucester for this moment. A lot of love for this extraordinary pair of musicians flowed through the room and there were certainly a few tears of happiness within the slowly exiting crowd.
Another brief break in proceedings to digest what has just happened and to catch a bit of Mark (Islet, Shape Records, From Now On) spinning some records (timed this perfectly as we got there just in time to hear him drop Caribou’s brilliant Sun) before R. Seiliog takes to the stage augmented by his brother on drums. I’ve witnessed the R. Seiliog show before in Tangled Parrot Records, Carmarthen and have been itching to see a full, high-volume, performance for a long time now and the wait was so worth it as the motorik lysergic thrum of Seiliog’s music pulsed through the room demanding you moved to its rhythm. Various guitar riffs slash and burn, roll and ride as the drums pounded and seduced. A masterful example of texture and nuance, R. Seiliog delivered a great set and I won’t wait so long to catch another.
Deep breathe, we’ve been here a long time now but things are about to get even more interesting as upstairs I venture in to catch Ela Orleans (see photo above). Now I have to admit here that I’ve not heard anything by Ela before but was informed very reliably by Louder Than War’s editor Guy Manchester that we should be definitely make a point of seeing her perform. Boy was he right. Ela performed a set of songs all culled from her album dropping tomorrow (27th April) which were tar-black pop. An addictive brew of Nico, Le Tigre, and Miss Kittin, Ela Orleans has created a brew of avante-pop that is gothic in nature with lightness of touch lying underneath occasionally breaking out which creates possibly the darkest dance music I’ve heard since Chris and Cosey. A mesmerising performance and one which resonated deeply, if you ever get a chance I beg, ‘um, no, DEMAND you go catch her. You will not be disappointed.
And now, the end is near…
Finishing off CAM ’15 we have gonzo-pop performer Y Pencadlys (photo above). Blasting onto the stage glugging a Lucozade, and storming around the space in a flurry of arms and headbang, Y Pencadlys is certainly entertaining but musically it felt that after the first two numbers the set seemed to drag on a bit and not have enough contrast or changes in style. Maybe it was the ghost of Euro-House that seemed to be swirling through the speakers, but after what had proceeded it this seemed a bit of a step into the conventional (musically at least). I am in no doubt that this an extreme talent, and the music was definitely connecting with a lot of people in the crowd, but tonight, after the first fifteen minutes the set seemed to drift into similarity and you got a sense that a few technical errors were made. An obvious talent, Y Pencadlys did have some interesting moments and was a very engaging performer and is most certainly worth going to see, but tonight it felt slightly out of step with the rest of the bill.
And that then was that. CAM ’15 and what a fantastic festival it was. Everyone involved should be applauded, including the venue’s staff and management as it took quite a bit of courage to stage such an event in such a place. Every aspect of it was run to perfection and with the inclusion of things like record and book stalls it really did exude charm where those just out for a night of fun and those out for a thirst for the new could mingle happily, surrounded by artists and thinkers who all just share a love of the different.
Diolch Gwenno, Diolch Peski … see you in ’16.
All photos courtesy of Dai Eastwood.