Sŵn festival review – weirdness and wonder in Cardiff's alt-pop paradise

Various venues, Cardiff
Based everywhere from an Irish chain pub to an antiques centre, this slickly organised festival shows how varied and vibrant today’s indie scene is

Prowling the stage at Clwb Ifor Bach, the Murder Capital’s James McGovern sums up the mood at Cardiff’s Sŵn festival: “There’s only one thing we want: more.” The crowd responds, stoking the Dublin post-punks’ fires as they charge from coiled menace towards frenzied collapse.

Smouldering among the dying embers of the weekend their set is the ideal capper to the event, which sprawls across a number of venues in the Welsh capital. Foregrounding new music and a sense of adventure, the bill must satisfy both planners and gamblers, and does so adeptly. Twelve years on from its first staging, Sŵn is a slick machine defined by rapid turnarounds and minimal clashes.

Attendees keep moving from venue to venue lest they miss one of those fabled festival moments, whether that’s stumbling across Liz Lawrence’s fabulous indie-pop at Clwb, or local trio Papur Wal’s scratchy bilingual punk drawing a bumper crowd to the cafe at Jacob’s Market – a repurposed antiques centre – on Saturday afternoon.

Welsh music’s weird uncle ... Gruff Rhys.
Welsh music’s weird uncle ... Gruff Rhys. Photograph: Mike Lewis Photography/Redferns

The foundations are laid on Friday night at Tramshed, Sŵn’s largest room. Charlotte Adigéry thrills with off-kilter pop songs and vintage synths before the baton is handed to Nilüfer Yanya, whose incisive alt-pop reaches its peak with In Your Head, where sinuous guitar lines wrap around a hook of drawled cool. Gruff Rhys closes the show by losing himself in esoteric psychedelia, luxuriating in his status as the Welsh music scene’s endearingly weird uncle.

Twenty four hours later, Self Esteem light up Saturday night’s dance card. Rebecca Lucy Taylor’s post-Slow Club project dives into the mechanics of pop, including celebratory choreography, and songs such as Girl Crush and Wrestling are clear-eyed killers – fiendishly clever and unfailingly melodic.

Her Clwb set follows one from Black Country, New Road that registers as a triumph for entirely different reasons. Much like the Canadian electro band Holy Fuck, who bend the chain pub O’Neill’s to their will while football flickers on TV, their performance is a bona fide happening: pretentious, uncompromising and exhilarating. They meld spidery art-rock, jazz and Black Sabbath chug into a febrile cocktail that encapsulates three days spent uncovering gems at this excellent festival.


Huw Baines

The GuardianTramp

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