Sŵn Festival 2021: Cardiff – live reviewSŵn Festival, Cardiff
15th-17th October 2021

Keith Goldhangers’ voyage of discovery continues in Cardiff at the annual Sŵn Festival. This is his third visit this month to a multi-venue event offering opportunities to catch one or two bands we may already know about as well as a few more bands we may not have had the pleasure of hearing yet.

After recent trips this month East (Ipswich) and West of London (Reading) chasing after new bands and catching up with a few that have been around for a few years that still need our undivided attention, we head further West to the Welsh capital for the annual Sŵn Festival, which this year may have been ‘scaled down’ but provided enough fabulous music and a few more new discoveries that we expect may keep some of us entertained for even more months ahead.

There are very good reasons why we come to Cardiff for The Sŵn Festival. This would be the sixth or seventh year that we’ve reported on this particular event, therefore it should go without saying that the reason we keep coming back is because we trust that what will be on offer will be to our liking. We arrive in the Welsh capital aware that there may only be only one or two names that we’ve already come across before. Yet we trust our instincts enough that with a bit of pre-planning we can probably find a few more unfamiliar names that will tempt us to seek out some more new sounds and get more info on what we’ve been missing out on via a quick Google search, or by grabbing the attention of the individuals responsible in the street during the weekend to find out who they are, where they’re from and when we can see them again.

Sŵn Festival 2021: Cardiff – live review
ALICE-LOW-courtesy of Bethan Miller

We haven’t even considered there’d be a couple of additions kept secret from everyone until they walk onto the stage. BUZZARD BUZZARD BUZZARD of course don’t literally walk onto any stage as our favourite small venue in the world (Clwb Ifor Bach – Lwr) doesn’t even offer such luxuries. Although the baby brother of the larger space upstairs, this small intimate room has played host to quite a number of fabulous shows that we’ve witnessed since we first started visiting Cardiff for Sŵn, and their show this weekend gets added to that list along with on or two others.

Sŵn 2021 may be smaller but it makes for an even better experience having all five venues just a few short steps away, and any pre-weekend anxieties regarding repeats of the one in one out situation that we saw a couple of years ago (when Squid and The Murder Capital played side by side on the Sunday afternoon at Clwb Ifor Bach) don’t materialise.

Friday night is simple. Just as one band ends downstairs at Clwb Ifor Bach another begins upstairs, therefore between 7.30 pm until just after midnight we have very little time to pause for breath.

Opening band PIGEON WIGS get the weekend started with their early ’70s rock and roll, and ANNA B SAVAGE (featuring William Doyle AKA East India Youth on keys and guitar) performs her intimate personal tunes to a glorious guitar/electronic sound track. BLEACH LAB play us their dreamy pop tunes and are victims of a wonderful comedy moment when someone gets a bit over enthusiastic with a smoke machine during the few minutes the band are playing their recent single Real Thing. The smoke is still clearing as the refrain ‘I really want to see you again’ is being sung.

Upstairs, and within a minute of the previous show downstairs ending, ALICE LOW pulls in a large crowd to perform one of the most energetically fucked up shows we’ve seen for a very long time. Alice, who identifies herself as trans woman is based in Cardiff and has obviously made an impression with the music loving public here. More than one or two in the crowd seem to be singing along to the tunes being performed that are very long uplifting songs played though what appears to be a large cassette deck alongside a guitarist/ backing vocalist, who is also an integral part of the show. We get what we think might be a country & western intro’ before the opening song merges into foot stomping segments of prog’, bouncy, heavy pop that flow into each other, chop and change and confuse the heck out of those of us unaccustomed with this person’s music. Part Iggy to look at, part Marilyn Manson but most importantly a huge part of this was Alice Low’s own thing. One to investigate further once we get home, especially on learning that debut release Ladydaddy is a quarter of an hour long. A fabulous energetic new discovery for those of us here to see something we may not have experienced before.

Sŵn Festival 2021: Cardiff – live reviewTop of our pops tonight for us on the opening night however, and one of many of this weekend’s highlights and bands we can see are already turning up at all the right places, are Yorkshire teenage four-piece THE LOUNGE SOCIETY who may be the youngest gang in town tonight but also the coolest. They give us the impression they’ve been going through these songs ten times a day since early 2020, and everything they do whilst performing simply doesn’t seem to be anything they need to think twice about. Every guitar change, in fact every song is slick, disciplined yet raucous and ready for the music-loving youth in 2021 to embrace. They sound at times like a faster version of Shame or a louder angrier Rapture and provide us with multiple vocals, manic guitars and fist in the air tunes that even on first listen make us realise this certainly won’t be the last we get to hear of this band.

Two acts that seem to be getting out and about as much as ourselves end the night; SINEAD OBRIEN and LYNKS complete a wonderful end to day one. Five hours, seven gigs, not a bad one amongst them and we didn’t even need to leave the building.

Saturdays opening act BLACKABY provide us with some well-written radio-friendly songs that we know we want to hear again a few more times, and ODD MORRIS seem to be struggling a bit with their Radiohead-sounding tunes, however the material they have available is certainly worth persevering with until we get another chance to hopefully see them again one day.

Sŵn Festival 2021: Cardiff – live review

BUZZARD BUZZARD BUZZARD tear the place apart and are the only band all weekend that have three or four songs we are already familiar with.
We thought they’d be either no one here today or we’d arrive to a room full of groans once you realise it us  states the local frontman who switches between piano and guitar and jumps around with a constant smile on his face as he belts out the songs. It’s a fabulous show, we get all the hits and it seems that the first big surprise of the day is a popular one with everyone in the room.

PANIC SHACK, another local band have packed out the upstairs venue at Clwb Ifor Bach and entertain us with their multi vocal punk rock tunes, whilst downstairs PLASTIC ESTATE have the equipment, the ideas and the songs to set them apart from many of the other local bands we catch a glimpse of as we try to take a punt in one or two of the other venues, before deciding to take a break in preparation for tackling a Saturday night back inside the largest venue available this weekend.

THE GOLDEN DREGS were definitely going to be worth a look as soon as we found their latest tune John. Nonchalant, deep voiced Cohen/Berringer vocals and gentle songs aplenty arriving one after the other that sound fabulous even after one listen tonight make this a band we may be coming back to.

Past shows from (Secret additions) AUDIO BOOKS have been frustrating affairs that usually end early for those without the patience to wait for the crowd-pleasing hits. Unfortunately, we feel short changed on the performance tonight (we didn’t get Bubble Bath) and the high hopes and expectations of seeing them one day entertain a huge crowd in a 2AM festival dance tent slot don’t feel as likely as we thought a couple of years ago. Audio Books have some fabulous tunes but we only seemed to get two or three tonight.

Sunday has always looked like a strong line up and we are certainly not disappointed. The final day is so full of ridiculously satisfying exciting incidents of noise we have to ask ourselves when the last time this was matched (and decided it was probably at this same festival two years ago).

Starting with the sublime DD DARILLO followed by the sweet and sublime SISTER LUCY, we enter The Fuel Bar for the first time this weekend where we planned to spend most of the day in between quick hops across the road or along the road during the changeovers.

Local band BLUE AMBER get the thumbs up. Spoken word vocals from man in a boiler suit with a strong local accent over a sound track of tunes that remind us of Lemon Jelly from a few years ago make this a very enjoyable show to witness. Welsh Girl, released earlier this year, arrives half way through the set and the nice laid-back beginning to the day continues.

Sŵn Festival 2021: Cardiff – live review
ENOLA GAY- courtesy of Nadine Ballantyne

With some preparation before leaving the house and a convenient schedule available to us, Sŵn 2021 then takes us on one of the most thrilling white knuckle rides we’ve been on for quite some time. Five bands that have all fueled our enthusiasm this week to ram these names and the music they are making down your throats (not for the first time in one or two cases) in the hope that you’ll take notice of if they are currently unknown to you. LADYBIRD at the Moon Club start the ball rolling as the volume of the guitars gets louder and the vocals more aggressive. ENOLA GAY from Belfast we’ve seen before and are equally as impressive today. As with LICE over the road immediately after. The skill in the use of the guitar pedals carefully placed on stage makes for waves of noise that complement the driving bass crashing percussions and intense vocals. Very much like Girlband and a very welcome period of noise.

DEADLETTER (top pic) have tunes available impressive enough for us to make sure we’d see them and they become our highlight of the whole weekend. Gang of Four rhythms, multi vocalists, a driving bass and a set of songs ready for us all to fall in love with and listen to on repeat leave those inside the tiny venue breathless and joyous that we’ve managed to be in the right place at the right time. This is the feeling we had when we first saw New Model Army back in the early ’80s. They’re exciting, sarcastic and angry with songs the listener will love after a first play. Fit For Work has already become a new favourite tune this week, however there appear to be many more like this available that we’ll investigate further and we recommend many of you do too. A mouth-watering tour with Dublin band Sprints is forthcoming, you’d be wise not to ignore this band.

CHEAP TEETH at Fuel are also worth noting for further examination one day; a cool as fuck four piece from Edinburgh with a bunch of tunes they could possibly one day sell on to The Fat White Family and retire gracefully on the proceeds. Definitely another band we want to see again, and one of many bands we fell for the moment we hit play on the morning of the event that made us decide that anything else on at the same time could immediately be discarded.

The weekend ends for us still inside Fuel where one or two members of bands we’ve been watching and hoping to find out more about are busy throwing themselves around in the mosh pit to WOOZE, a fabulous band whose only appearance here previously was at this festival in 2018 but made a big enough impression to draw a big raucous crowd on the final evening to close the Festival.

Sŵn Festival 2021: Cardiff – live review

Sŵn 2021 has been top notch again. We’ll come back and rant on more about some of these bands on this site for sure as the next few weeks pass by. We’ve seen 25 shows in three days (that’s about a third of what was available) and returned home with a long playlist of music we need to listen to and share with the uninitiated. We’ve been saying this for years, but the new music coming from every corner of the UK and Ireland at the moment is still as strong as ever. We found many gems amongst the vast list that Sŵn made available to us again this year (and no doubt missed a few as well), and we’ll continue to revert back to this list now that we have memories to share that will be with us for a long time.

Well done Cardiff, well done Sŵn – big respect to everyone who played a part in arranging this and allowing those of us who can’t get enough of these events to cram in so many quality acts yet again.

We’re still catching our breath after all that. Stay tuned, keep reading and once time allows us to we’ll be reporting on many of these bands even more as the next few months go by.

If you get the chance to visit Cardiff then this is always the best time to do it. See you again next year.

~

Words and photos by Keith Goldhanger except Enola Gay – courtesy of Nadine Ballantyne and Alice Low courtesy of Bethan Miller

More writing by Keith on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive. You can also find Keith on Facebook and Twitter (@HIDEOUSWHEELINV).

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Keith Goldhanger -- Spent the '90s as a frontman with London noise merchants HEADBUTT - spent the '80s in 'Peel favourites' BASTARD KESTREL. Spent a few years mashing up tunes and remixing bands as HIDEOUS WHEEL INVENTION. Is often out and about getting in the way of things and bumping his head on low ceilings - Will give your band the time of day but will dislike any band that balances full pints of alcohol on the top of guitar amps (Not keen on lead singers that wear hats either).

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