Sŵn festival review – celebration of new music back at full strength

Various venues, Cardiff
There’s something for everyone as hundreds of bands play across the city in this charming festival: the only problem is deciding who to watch

To spend a weekend at Sŵn is to experience the tyranny of choice. When the rain comes on Saturday evening, hammering down from a previously benign sky, it’s possible to become soaked to the skin by the time you’ve decided which of Womanby Street’s venues will provide the best balance of shelter and tunes. Following a scaled-down, pandemic-conscious reintroduction last autumn, the festival of new music is back at full strength, with hundreds of bands playing throughout the Welsh capital in a headliner-free splurge of potential.

The only time the fun seems even vaguely curated is during Friday’s opening party at Tramshed, where Panic Shack are the standouts on a four-band bill. Familiar faces in the Cardiff scene, they stage a deliriously enjoyable 30-minute freakout that fuses thrashy early LA-style punk with choreography that owes something to the Go-Go’s and Iron Maiden all at once.

The back room at Jacobs Market – an antiques centre that has become one of Sŵn’s most versatile venues, with performances held over multiple floors – feels, and smells, subterranean. At lunchtime on Saturday, Talk Show are doused in red light while pushing their confrontational brand of punk-funk skronk. They lock into grooves that demand movement, but the aggro energy of vocalist Harrison Swann makes it feel as if you’re trapped on a dancefloor with people who hate you. It’s thrilling stuff that’s neatly answered by a more sedate, but equally brilliant, set from Aberystwyth’s Mellt, one of those shaggy, almost-arsed indie-rock bands who can’t hide the love and care in their melodies.

CVC, or Church Village Collective, a reference to their home town about 10 miles north of the city, are fabulous at O’Neill’s. The sextet are fun in a way that spills beyond genre considerations – part Gerry Rafferty and part pub-rock shoutalong, their performance also contains a delightfully transgressive mash-up of Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt and Backstreet Boys’ Everybody. Ditz, meanwhile, have an entirely different idea of how to spend a Saturday night. Back at Jacobs, the Brighton band play a grinding, horrible blend of post-hardcore and shoegaze that is as mesmerising as a slow-motion car crash.

On Sunday, Newport rapper Lemfreck provides what’s tantamount to a public service by clearing out the weekend’s cobwebs at O’Neill’s, but it’s taking it out of him. “I’m fucked, Jesus Christ …” Backed by an expressive band, he twists sharp social commentary into high-octane ragers. Soon after at Jacobs, Peaness keep things moving with some of the finest pop songs heard all weekend – they are all fizz and earnest emotion.

Amid the surprises, such as New York art-punks Bodega turning up for an unannounced set of unreleased material alongside their advertised appearance, there is time to celebrate returning heroes. Upstairs at Clwb Ifor Bach, Sweet Baboo plays plenty of new songs that are every bit as hooky and funny as his old songs, underlining his status as one of Wales’s finest modern songwriters. His music is a little like Sŵn as a whole: charming, a little slept on and flecked with magic.


Huw Baines

The GuardianTramp

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