Reviewer: David Anthony and Will Jones
For the next four days Cardiff is playing host to Swn’s yearly festival, a packed event involving 17 venues and countless acts representing every musical genre and some that seem to have been invented by the acts themselves.
Thursday at Swn is the happiest day of the entire festival. Unlike other festivals where finding a pitch and erecting a tent while a band you really wanted to see plays as if through a neighbour’s wall can put the dampeners on the first day of your average festival. But as Swn involves no such labour and with it being a ‘school night’, the biggest downside to the event – the queuing – has yet to manifest, Thursday shows the event in its best light with much to see and even more to miss.
The night kicked off downstairs at Clwb Ifor Bach with abrasive and energetic opening to the festival, with the aptly named Effluence. With their expletive titled songs, shrieks of feedback and merging of one song into the next, the young Lancastrian trio no mercy approach certainly startled the sonic palette and were certainly no aperitif. These angry young men had inevitably latched on to the Nirvana loud/quiet dynamic; vocal cord-shredding screeches accompanied cartoonish riffs and creeping bass lines, doing their best to mask the melodies which were apparent to keen ears. Effluence’s hunched over and standoffish approach got proceedings of to an angst-ridden start, but the audience were left by Effluence to take it or leave it.
Upstairs and The Experimental Tropic Blues Band gave you no such choice. Older, wiser and a hell of a lot happier with life, firmly kept the tempo at juggernaut, they brought smiles all round with their bombastic, inclusive blues. This gang from across the pond have learnt all the tricks and would play the same hyped set whether in the Motorpoint arena to an army of fans or, as here, a respectable showing of the curious. The lead singer looking like J Macis from Dinosaur Jr but sounding like Nick Cave in Grinderman mode, roamed the crowd singing into the faces of practically every member of the audience insisting that we all get involved to which the correct response is to enter into the spirit (as most did) rather than meekly try to avoid him, as this invariably leads to such a front man bothering you even more. This was a fun experience delivered by a band who know they’ll never top the charts, but will always deliver the goods live, thus making them a great addition to any musical festival.
Tonight O’Neill’s had the onerous task of hosting all Welsh language acts, where even the Swn website suggests smiles will cross faces of the Welsh speaking contingent during the Eilir Pierce set. (Leaving us non-welsh speakers…what?) As a non-welsh speaker I was offered the English sung ‘Carrot’ which was filthy, suggesting that the other songs may have been similarly obscene (making his sweet singer-songwriter warblings completely incongruous and causing this reviewer to wonder that one of the reasons one may choose to sing in Welsh is to be unbelievably salacious). Unfortunately, since many of these songs are very much lyrically driven, despite the tender way they’re sung, their import is lost in translation and could be very funny if they are as imagined above. The set closer saves it, however, as it’s the English Caterpilllar Queen which came with cue cards with the lyrics ‘Cata Coomb Coc oon Koo Koo Kance’, which is the kind of subtitling that would have been of more use earlier.
Trwbador are a duo with a lot of different sounds to make, and fortunately for them they have the gear in place to make it all. So loops, pedals and a quirky shower of petals made the folky beats come alive. Acoustic guitar picking, a Nico-esque vocal from Angharah Van Rijswijk alongside her accompanying xylophone, ‘Only Trust Your Heart’ is a subtle beginning of a set which is easy to warm into. Their Idiot Savant Piece De Resistance ‘Goggle it’ (go on, google it; the You Tube video to accompany the song is comic genius) was unfortunately missed due to the need to run across Cardiff City Centre to Cardiff University’s Solus bar for the night’s highlight, Django Django.
Their support, Egyptian Hip Hop, are a curious bunch. They don’t, as one might expect, choose to rap about the Arab Spring. This might have made them a lot more interesting, perhaps giving them a solid foundation allowing them to create a cohesive performance to enthral the audience. Unfortunately, they trade in tinny psychedelic rock and as the five piece spread out across the stage each one seemingly lost, as electronic bleeps threaten to make a band out of them. They jam, basically. And to little effect.
A band not taking lightly the idea of additional instrumentation is Django Django, enveloping the audience with a plethora of sonic invention, several of them straight from the novelty music rack that brought us cow bells and maracas. And as if to turn away the cynics immediately they take to the stage in matching white daubed denim shirts: this is art school music, do not be afraid. However, when this Team GB (two from Scotland, one from Ireland and one for Leeds – alas no Welsh representation) launched into the one-two punch opening of their self-titled debut album, ‘Introduction’ and ‘Hale Bop’, they introduced us to musical perfection for those of us with a love for the black and white psychedelia of pre-Dark side Pink Floyd. With two limited lead singers and all kinds of sonic explosions, this reviewer is reminded of the 20 minute side long epic Echoes. As the set continues we get more impersonation – the Beta Band, even – at one point Kraftwerk. Luckily they have a cohesive atmosphere of their own, so in the end they’ve fashioned themselves a unique sound redolent of many other bands, making each foray into another’s territory easy to pick out in a line up as a Django Django tune.
So a great end to an interesting evening. Let’s hope each night can live up to this one.