Swn Fest – What Happens When Huw Stephens Is In Charge

Take ‘In The City’, shrink it to a fifth of the size, let Huw Stephens pick the bill, add Scrabble and zines, and you’re going to have the best weekend in Cardiff it’s possible to have without contracting anything.

I was curious to find out what Huw thinks is a good line-up for a festival, so in advance of Swn Fest I went to the Swn night at ITC (ITC also have a night at Swn, in a cute wife-swap sort of way). I caught Envy and Islets in Manchester, and was terrified by both, particularly the latter who may have been having a seizure while we all just watched.

Getting to Cardiff, the first act I caught at Clwb Ifor Bach (took longer to tell the taxi driver where I was going than it took to get there) was Unicorn Kid, again, for the third time in a week – so far so good. Then came Drums Of Death, and the terror returned. Beyond that, though, was a steady flow of quirky and watchable stuff over a dozen venues, not the information overload of ITC but the laid-back discovery of new music tucked away in tiny rooms above bars and below street level, mainly along a narrow street near Cardiff Castle. The punters were almost entirely Welsh, so at the moment it seems Swn is still quite a local affair, but that’s part of its charm so I’m sort of loathe to encourage you to visit… but you absolutely definitely should.


Here are a few musical highlights from that YouTube, in the interests of not boring you to death, but if you’re in a self-harming mood there’ll be an extended holiday slideshow version on Tin Can.

Interestingly, rather than simply picking a few bands and soaking up the glory, Huw could regularly be seen hauling chairs around to prepare for the seminars, typing away in the festival’s makeshift office and going from venue to venue both working and watching. It surprised me, anyway, I expected his job at Swn to simply be ‘being Huw Stephens at people’.

The only real downside to Swn, this time at least, was that some huge drag rally was going on at the same time, which as far as I could tell involved cars doing handbrake turns over and over again, turning the Millennium Centre into a giant after-hours Asda car park, while lots of people stood around clapping and narrowly avoiding death. Whatever you’re into. But it did mean that almost every hotel was booked up, making it near impossible to visit from out of town.

Anyway, highlights, in no particular order:

Steve Lamacq’s seminar – ‘I know you must get hundreds of these but…’
Recreating his living room at 9am on any given morning, Mr Lamacq tackled a sack containing four days’ worth of unsolicited music, while we watched, listened, helped and were enlightened as to what bands should and shouldn’t put in the post. “I guarantee you we’ll open at least one that contains something edible” – he was right.


The only band Huw Stephens named as a tip to film when pressed – a bright and beautiful 20-piece all-female urban choir who made me want to be in a band for the first time since I found out how much hassle it is.

Street-dancing kids
Nothing to do with Swn, but taking a wrong turn under a bridge we found four Cardiff kids with a stereo practising some impressive sychronised moves to a bit of Euroshite, which we accidentally mistook for tecktonik. Apparently it’s not tecktonik, because ‘tecktonik looks gay’.

Three guitars, two violins, a drumkit and no vocals. Sounds shit on paper, is crazy-amazing in three dimensions.

Zine workshop
Looking for the loo in the Toucan Club, I found a room on the top floor where the big cheeses of the zine scene in Cardiff were busy working as one to make a Swn super edition. This probably happens at loads of festivals, but I’d never seen it before, so was unreasonably impressed. I still need a copy, if anyone wants to throw one at my face.