Sŵn – Translation: Sound; sensation perceived by the ear.
Every year, a celebration of music roots itself into the heart of the Welsh Capital. Sprawling over dozens of music venues and genres, Sŵn Festival never fails to bring a vibrancy to the city that combines festival atmosphere with intimate venues and fantastic music. From old favourites to bands waiting to be discovered, everyone can find something to love in this celebration of sound.
Opening night kicked things off with a celebration of Welsh-language music. Following the eclectic mixes of seasoned DJ Patblygu and the fresh sound of up-and-coming talent Adwaith, the crowd were suitably psyched for the night’s headline act, Gwenno.
Often cited as the Welsh Kate Bush, Gwenno has built up a fantastic following, largely due to her revitalisation of both Cymraeg and Kernowek (the Welsh and Cornish languages) through albums recorded solely in her native tongues. Floating onto stage, her combination of psychedelic riffs and haunting vocals enraptured the crowd. Perfectly summarising the fact that music transcends language, Gwenno brought the first evening of this festival to a magnificent end.
Thursday saw a more rock-orientated set, hosted in the larger venue of the Cardiff University Great Hall. The dream-pop of The Orielles suitably excited the crowd, before Rolling Blackwaters Costal Fever delivered their signature sun-soaked acoustic indie. However, the stand out act of the night were Drenge. The Sheffield-based three piece burst onto stage with an electrifying vigour. Their uniquely grunge-infused sound combined with witty comments aimed at the audience, the boys had the crowd eating from the palm of their hand.
Kicking off the firsts day of the multi-venue aspect to the festival, Friday was eagerly anticipated by all. With so many acts and locations to chose from, the main struggle of the event was deciding who to see! Legendary ex-Supergrass frontman Gaz Coombes wowed the crowds with his polished Brit-pop, before the fresh-faced rockers Boy Azooga took to the stage, a contrast in age but not in stage presence, their energy mirroring that of a much more well-established band.
O’Neil’s Irish bar was the surprising location of one of the best line-ups in modern punk. Glasgow’s own Heavy Rapids bounded onto the stage with a raw rage that permeated into every element of their set. It is hard to believe that such a performance came from a band that were only formed a year ago. Above the stage hangs the phrase ‘Where language ends, music begins’, and Cymraeg alt-rockers Mellt most definitely reinforced this idea. Despite most of the onlookers being unable to speak the language, everyone was fully immersed in their heart-pounding beats and intricate riffs.
Following this, The Blinders brought their visceral post-punk to the heart of Wales with a stunningly raucous performance almost reminiscent of punk royalty Dead Kennedys. One of the better-known acts of the night, their distinctively passionate melodies attracted a huge crowd, almost feral in its desire to lose themselves entirely in the passion and grit of their anthemic punk rock.
Saturday saw the introduction of even more independent venues throughout the city. Tucked away on the outskirts of the centre, the underground location of Jacob’s Market played host to Bandicoot, a soft-rock band with an uncanny ability to cast a spell over their audience. The combination of their charismatic frontman, talented musicians, and interesting lyrics, their sound was perfectly in keeping with the venue.
From the indie underground space, the next venue of the night was Buffalo Bar, a grassroots venue famed for its local bands and R&B themed nights. Merthyr’s own Al Moses burst onto stage, with a sound reminiscent of early ‘90s Britpop. The South Welsh Valleys have always produced a plethora of talent, and Al Moses are clearly a band on the rise. With heart-stopping riffs and anthemic choruses, new single ‘I Want More’ has rightly been attracting the attention of Radio X and BBC Introducing, indicating that this is not the last we will have heard of this group.
The most hotly anticipated act of the night was Estrons, who were taking to the stage above a local pub. A small venue, rapidly at capacity, the tension and anticipation in the air was tangible, and the roof nearly gave way under the pounding of feet and vibrations of bass lines. Front woman Kali Källström’s stunning performance invoked images of Deborah Harry’s punk-rock sister.
Finally, Cardiff’s own Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard brought Sŵn Festival 2018 to a glorious conclusion, their addictive indie rock electrifying the room. From crowd-surfing, to stage invasions, the band crafted an infectiously raucous energy that perfectly celebrated the city that nurtured their sound. An incredible weekend celebrating the beauty of music, the only thing that remains to be said is bring on Sŵn Festival 2019.
Photo Credits – Hannah Tottle, Cai Morgan, Sŵn Festival 2018.