SWN Festival

SWN Festival

Various Venues, Cardiff, October 19 – October 21

You may have stored away your tent, hosed off the wellies, given thanks for the unspeakable beauty of sleeping in an actual bed and sworn never to indulge in breakfast Jägerbombs ever again. But for those still searching for the festival party come autumn, there’s Cardiff’s annual new music celebration, SWN.

Topping the pile are Wakefield’s finest (only?) musical sons, The Cribs at Cardiff Uni. Having incessantly toured recent LP ‘In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull’, you could perhaps expect the same, tired set list, phoned in for a paycheck. Not so the Jarmans. “Earlier today I was diagnosed as being severely asthmatic,” drawls Ryan. “But we’re gonna play the longest set we’ve ever played anyway.” Connoisseurs of doing the opposite of what anyone expects, tonight proves the trio are getting more exciting with time. Tonight we get classics (‘Mirror Kissers’, ‘Another Number’) and current favourites (‘Anna’, ‘Back To The Bolthole’), but it’s the surprises that glue it all together. Old single ‘Our Bovine Public’ gets its first airing in a long time, while B-side ‘To Jackson’ sounds melancholically huge. And then there’s the ending. Segueing their riotous old set-closer ‘The Wrong Way To Be’ (not seen for many a year) into ‘ITBOTBB’ closer ‘Arena Rock Encore With Full Cast’ it makes for a neat summary of the evening: nostalgic, surprising, utterly vital and genuinely world-class.

But SWN is primarily about the newer kids on the block. Frankie & The Heartstrings’ Uni set is drawn primarily from their as-yet-unreleased second LP, and they play as though they need to prove themselves all over again. Although the venue is unfortunately empty, the Mackem boys’ boundless energy and jauntiness is still hard to resist. The new material may not be as grabbing as their previous offerings (save for one track that repeatedly mentions something going “howay”), but there’s still plenty to love. Later that night at Dempsey’s, Japanese noiseniks Bo Ningen turn out to be the weekend’s surprise draw. The venue is rammed to uncomfortable proportions, and their set far more melodic than we expect.

The following morning at Clwb Ifor Bach, newcomers Childhood strike out. Ben Romans-Hopcraft makes for a startlingly intense frontman – his cold, fixed stare belying the relative positivity of the band’s output. ‘Haltija’ is all dreamy nostalgia, while new single ‘Blue Velvet’ takes the sweetness of Spectrals and adds some darker clout. And the set closes on a number that sounds like Toy if they were really into The Byrds instead of Neu!, which is excellent. But the night and perhaps the whole weekend belongs to Palma Violets. We knew they were good live – heck, one of the reasons they graced our cover after just one single is because of their ridiculous gigging prowess – but tonight is INSANE. Midway through their first full headline tour it’s unbelievable how much the quartet are improving on a daily basis. From the feral rumbles and howls of ‘Tom The Drum’ to the familiar anthemics of ‘Best Of Friends’, from ‘Last Of The Summer Wine’’s organ-ridden sermon to set-closer ‘Fourteen’, the onstage energy is so visceral it feels as though something’s got to give. It might be the best live set we’ve seen all year.

To Sunday, and newest of newcomers Night Engine at Undertone provide early thrills. They’ve probably built an actual shrine back home, such is their debt to Bowie. But their music has so much bass-driven strut it’s easy to let them off. At the Buffalo Bar Splashh also come up trumps, although their usually anarchic set is reined in somewhat because: a) it’s 3pm and b) the crowd doesn’t care. But the likes of ‘All I Wanna Do’ and current, glorious single ‘Vacation’ shine through as scuzzily sweet diamonds in the rough that they are. Toy take to the stage in slightly grim Irish chain pub O’Neills (yep, it is a bit weird) and it’s left to B-town babes Peace to close the show at Clwb Ifor Bach. ‘California Daze’ is one of the singles of the year, and even without the extended loops of EP highlight ‘1998’, their set is a masterclass.

Lisa Wright