AfterDark’s Dean Hodge previews the 10th anniversary weekend of Swn Festival (Friday 21 – Sunday 23 October) and picks his 10 recommended artists.
Cardiff‘s own curtain-closer to the festival season Swn Festival returns once again to numerous venues around the Welsh capital for a whole weekend – showcasing the cream of upcoming artists that are sure to be the soundtrack of the years to come.
Like the one music-obsessive in your social group that continually claims bragging rights to knowing the best new artists before anyone else does, Swn prides itself on bringing future headliners and chart-hasslers directly into some of Cardiff’s petite venues. Artists like Temples, Alt-J, The Vaccines and Disclosure are just some of the acts to have graced the Welsh festival on the way to the ‘toppermost’.
Now in its 10th year, Swn shows no signs of going stale with its ear still finely attuned to the freshest sounds – and this year’s line up is sure to have something to please everyone whatever their aural tastes. AfterDark’s Dean Hodge handpicks his own ten artists to look out for this weekend.
Who are they? Part a full band and part the solo moniker of Dutch musician Annelotte de Graaf. Her debut album (released earlier this year) was recorded in New York – a setting perfectly suited for her songs which burn with as much noise, chaos and dreamy ambition as the city itself. With a full band behind her, Annelotte’s deft voice and daringly honest lyrics are given an anthemic bite by shimmering guitar riffs and muscular melodies.
Dean’s choice of first listen: Right Now – Annelotte’s low-key vocal simmers and soars over a razor-sharp hook that sounds midway between the glistening post-punk melodies of The Sundays and the crisper garage-pop of The Cardigans. SoundCloud | YouTube | Spotify
The venue: O’Neills – as part of the Make Noise stage
When they play: Sunday 23rd, 9:30pm – 10:15pm.
Who are they? Swn has a nifty track record of unearthing big voices within small surroundings, and it looks like Welsh chanteuse Betsy will provide one of this year’s standout moments. She possesses some impressive vocal pipes that are far too unique to be pigeonholed as being the next ‘Adele‘, topped off with the theatricality and flair of St Vincent. She even has the far-from-conventional back story to complete the package – she grew up on a goose farm in Wales and tasted life as a fashion designer in Paris before turning fully to music. If you want to claim bragging rights among your mates of seeing her ‘before she got big’, Swn is the place to be on Sunday evening.
Dean’s choice of first listen: Lost & Found – As far as breakthrough singles go, they don’t come more theatrical or more arena-ready then this. With cinematic strings and a roof-tearing vocal refrain, this is sure to provoke a unison of arms held aloft waving lit-up phones (the modern-age substitute for glowsticks at gigs) when this is performed.SoundCloud | YouTube | Spotify
The venue: Undertone – as part of the Young Promoters Network stage.
When they play: Sunday 23rd, 8:15pm – 9:00pm.
Who are they? Wales-born/London-based synth-pop songstress whose alluring ‘folk-tronica’ sound mixes ambitious electronic soundscapes with delicate folk melodies. Her haunting vocal soars like an almost otherworldly presence above this melodic cacophony and is guaranteed to raise the hairs on the back of your neck with just one blissfully sung note.
Dean’s choice of first listen: Lion – With a Pollock-esque approach to writing, CASI throws cascading strings, Balearic synth hooks, pounding piano chords and scintillating beats into the fray and brushes it all together with her bewitching voice. SoundCloud | YouTube | Spotify
The venue: Clwb Ifor Bach (downstairs) – as part of the GRLTLK stage.
When they play: Saturday 22nd, 8:45pm – 9:30pm.
Who are they? London garage-pop quartet that can be described as being a fuzzier-sounding version of The Smiths, a leaner clone of Lush, the poppier offspring of The Breeders, or Belle & Sebastian with more electric guitars and more chutzpah. Any of those comparisons could fit like a glove and their influences are worn firmly on their sleeve. Hidden inside it are intricate guitar-pop hooks that jangle and jab with equal velocity and vivaciousness.
Dean’s choice of first listen: Sweetness and Slight – One of the cuts from their self-titled album released last year. Bears a title sharing a little similarity to a Lush single, a foreboding central three-note riff and vocals so suave that Jarvis Cocker would approve. Spotify
The venue: The Moon Club – as part of the Wales Goes Pop! stage.
When they play: Sunday 23rd, 8:30pm – 9:15pm.
Who are they? An initiative – coordinated by BBC Wales and Arts Council of Wales – that shares a similar ethos with Swn of promoting and driving new artists from Wales. The Horizons crew will once again be curating their own stage and the line-up is sure to have something to suit everyone’s taste. Just some of what you can expect include hazy indie dream-pop courtesy of Ysgol Sul, the soothing folk of Danielle Lewis, soulful electronica by Roughion, and Britpop-lensed garage-rock revivalists Tibet.
The venue: O’Neills
When they play: Saturday 22nd, 2:00pm – Sunday 23rd, 2:00am.
The artists/times: Monico Blonde 2:00pm – 2:30pm | Upbeat Sneakers 3:00pm – 3:30pm | Fleur De Lys 4:00pm – 4:30pm | The Sandinistas 5:00pm – 5:30pm | Connah Evans 6:00pm – 6:30pm | Danielle Lewis 7:00pm – 7:30pm |Ysgol Sul 8:00pm -8:30pm | CaStLeS 9:00pm – 9:30pm | We’re No Heroes 10:00pm – 10:30pm | Tibet 11:00pm – 11:30pm | Sonny Double 1 11:45pm (Sat) – 12:00am (Sun) | Reuel Elijah 12:00am – 12:30am (Sun) | Roughion12:30am – 2:00am (Sun)
Who are they? Coventry-based folk/soul singer-songwriter who, upon first listen of his timeless acoustic-soul sound, would almost make you believe he has been cryogenically frozen from late-60’s/early 70’s and reborn in this decade. The autumnal beauty of his jazz-folk sound has echoes of Van Morrison and Nick Drake – with Astral Weeks and Bryter Layter likely go-to points in his back catalogue – as well as the modern flourish of Michael Kiwanukaand Lianne La Havas. His velvet-lined rasp of a vocal is in a class of its own though.
Dean’s choice of first listen: What Could Have Been – A lament to fleeting love adorned with gorgeous finger-plucked melodies that wash over you like rain, as Jordan’s syrupy-sweet vocal provides a reassuring shining light in the mist. SoundCloud | Spotify
The venue: O’Neills – as part of the Make Noise stage.
When they play: Sunday 23rd, 4:00pm – 4:30pm.
Who are they? London five-piece – named after the Icelandic explorer – whose dreamy indie-rock sound bridges elements of the jangly guitar hooks of The Stones Roses and pre-Screamadelica Primal Scream, the angular melodies of Joy Division and the shoegaze grooves of Ride. Within wide lyrical landscapes – of life, love, loss, lament and everything in between – the band churn out cathartic melodies like unearthed diamonds, and chisel at them with lean guitar riffs and polished vocals.
Dean’s choice of first listen: Looking For Signs – Either of their two singles released so far would be an adequate starting point. As their first offering and as my own introduction to the band, I opt for this one – with its pristine groove and intricate guitar hooks. The performance of this at the band’s previous appearance at DimSwn provided a lasting highlight, and is sure to repeat the trick on the closing day of Swn. YouTube | Spotify
The venue: Clwb Ifor Bach (upstairs) – as part of the Jack Rocks stage.
When they play: Sunday 23rd, 4:45pm – 5:30pm.
Who are they? South Wales singer-songwriter for whom trying to pin down to a single genre presents an impossible task. Switching between rock, blues, jazz and every shade in between with effortless ease, she has established herself as a true chameleon of the female singer-songwriter genre.
Dean’s choice of first listen: Remnants – With its slow-burning melodies and brittle guitar licks it bears more than a hint of the influence of the Jeff Buckley track Dream Brother, with a touch of PJ Harvey thrown in. A good showcase of Maddie’s vocal prowess too. SoundCloud | Spotify
The venue: Clwb Ifor Bach (downstairs) – as part of the Girl in a Band stage.
When they play: Sunday 22nd, 4:00pm – 4:45pm.
Who are they? The five-piece originate from London but their sound stems from numerous writing and rehearsal sessions spent in sweltering heat in a disused cinema in Italy. Their music blends elements of the best of both worlds – the bustling noisy metropolis of their hometown and the secluded, sun-kissed veneer of the latter. From this marriage of settings emerge slick synth-pop hooks and sharp indie-pop melodies, topped off with lead singerIsabel Munoz-Newsome‘s mesmerising vocals.
Dean’s choice of first listen: Priestess – The song’s subject is a simplistic paean to the desire to go out and dance into the early hours. But the band turn this subject into something much deeper and what unfolds is a towering seven-minute modern indie-disco epic – laced with sprawling Balearic dance-infused hooks, glistening guitar licks, and hypnotic saxaphones. SoundCloud | YouTube | Spotify
The venue: Tramshed – as part of the SwnRise opening party line-up.
When they play: Friday 21st, 8:00pm – 8:30pm.
Who are they? Liverpool psych-indie outfit who have been stirring a wave of momentum with their aural cocktail of simmering shoegaze-strewn grooves, Roses-esque guitar licks and chimingBritpop-infused melodies – all delivered with the right balance of swagger and suave to boot. Liverpool’s answer to the Flaming Lips or the modern-day clones of Ride.
Dean’s choice of first listen: Air – Most bands of a similar prog-rock disposition would be inclined to stretch out mediocre psych-jams to a length of seventeen minutes. These guys manage to take you to hedonistic bliss in the space of three-and-a-half minutes. A propulsive bass riff underpins this funk-infused track that attempts to blend Poets of Rhythm-inspired grooves with The Verve in their early-90’s faze. SoundCloud | Spotify
The venue: Clwb Ifor Bach (upstairs) – as part of the Jack Rocks stage.
When they play: Sunday 23rd, 6:00pm – 6:45pm.
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