And here’s Keith’s version of the weekend. You’ll notice the photography is much better than mine. Enjoy.
Three Trapped Tigers (Y Fuwch Goch)
Unnecessary Hyperbole Hour, part one; the first of two turns who despite all best efforts inspire some pretty lofty comparisons. I gave Three Trapped Tigers a hearty recommendation, setting myself up for a fall; I shouldn’t have worried, they absolutely smash it. Technical, mathy and accessible at the same time, with hints of Battles’ power and Squarepusher’s proficient noodling, the lush, sunny early 90s synths are also pleasingly reminiscent of Orbital. Best of all, it’s damned loud and delivered without artifice or pretence, just three nerdy lads making quietly awesome music and looking surprised at the reaction.
Gold Panda (Clwb Ifor Bach)
Part two. Here, a similar magpie approach to distinct electronic strands is found; bathed in Swn-brand pink lighting he builds on warm, crackling Fennesz-style drone, adding delicate, echoey drum patterns that could be lifted straight off Burial’s first album. This builds gradually into what would in a later slot be a fine hands-aloft apex worthy of Fuck Buttons, as our man dons his ceremonial panda headwear before deciding it’s much too hot for that and discarding it, comically fanning his face. Put him on before Daedelus and Clwb would have been in raptures; as it is, he’s greeted by polite applause. Shame.
Zun Zun Egui (Dempseys)
Improvisation, experimentation and sheer nutso heads-back yelling at the ceiling; there’s been a winning theme to Dempseys on day one. Shape Records’ ethos is upheld in their choice of headliners, too. ZZU are the beast’s lung-bursting heart, soaring vocal exhortations springing from a dense mass of rumbling, proggy intensity and highly danceable, near-uncategorisable rock. Whether those still packing out the room are tiring or just bemused, it takes a while for things to get suitably freaky; when people “realise they’re allowed to dance”, as Mark from Shape later notes, there’s finally an atmosphere that the band can interact with and the closing 15-minute jam goes stratospheric.
Barefoot Dance Of The Sea (Chapter)
A year ago I wouldn’t have credited it, but here goes; Barefoot Dance Of The Sea, name and all, might just be my favourite new Cardiff band this year. Now, from a starting point of a set once heavy on covers – albeit beautifully sung and from a deceptively broad palette of country, bluegrass, chanson and music hall – this might sound strange. But it’s the original songs that are so startling and most rewarding; three distinct styles and voices, each subtly backed by the others, and a visible confidence and comfort with the new material that bodes very well. Gorgeous stuff.
Girls (Y Fuwch Goch)
There’s more wistfulness to be found later in the day, but once you beat the queues you need to battle the braying idiots too busy celebrating getting into y Fuwch Goch to see Girls to actually, y’know, listen to them. Well done, chumps. Get within three rows and it’s actually a bit of a treat, natural centrepiece “Hellhole Ratrace” all dewy longing, wracked harmonies and dreams of summers (and girls) gone by. Some nice garagey powerpop too, reminiscent of Lilys and even Brian Jonestown Massacre. Maybe hard to see why they and not their forebears are so lauded, but it’s worth the effort.
Pulled Apart By Horses (Clwb)
Elsewhere though, Friday night ratchets up the crazy and excitable, and two bands in particular steal the show from more heavyweight competition elsewhere. Pulled Apart By Horses get an initially more cautious reception than a few months back, but a few crowd invasions, some shirtlessness and a small amount of vomit later they win the room over. At times the music is incidental to the chaotic good-times atmosphere – as vocalist and guitarist launch, sweat-drenched into the crowd the tangled riffs and jerky tempos slip and slide all over – but as with Strange News later they’re no mere gimmick band. As they rip into old single ‘I Punched A Lion In The Throat’ and close with guitars hung on crowd members and effusive praise for Swn, it’s clear they’ve become a must-see live turn.
Strange News From Another Star (Model Inn)
One-in, one-out lockouts and a queue blocking traffic access to Quay St. For a local band yet to release a single? Suspicious in any rational circumstances perhaps, but this is the Strange News live experience – possibly the most sweaty fun you can have in a cramped pub venue in Cardiff – and in the face of these denim-clad behemoths, rational goes out the window. Press-ups, posing, genuinely hilarious banter, a carrier bag stretched over a head, invocations to a mysterious Dennis and a choreographed 60-second “charity mosh” encore ending in a mass of twisted bodies are all gleefully dished out to a soundtrack of preposterously tight world cup drumming, hysterical vocals and bluesy riffage, before the band are replaced in the blink of an eye by two of Right Hand Left Hand and one of Black Cesar as chaos descends. Magnificent, and that within minutes this writer finds himself down the road, swept along by Daedelus’ pummelling, accessible rave genius somehow makes perfect sense and speaks volumes for a festival that when it gets it right, does so brilliantly. Top drawer.
Munch Munch (The Gate)
This Bristol-based foursome seem to have been purposely low-key since their last Cardiff appearance, but have retained a winning blend of restless, naïve creativity and a sure-footed percussive touch that stops their set from sagging. Two drummers, two keyboardists, enthusiastic warbling and a lot of instrument swapping make for a sound perhaps light on tunes what you can hum but certainly in the spirit of several of Thursday night’s best and brightest, a number of whom can be found nodding appreciatively in the Gate’s downstairs bar. Their sure-footed dexterity and tempo-switching pop rushes bring to mind Deerhoof or Man Man. More please.
Dananananaykroyd (The Gate)
Missed these in Barfly a year ago, due to chronic overunning; tonight, second-headlining, is tirelessly effervescent, hugely enjoyable proof of how far they’ve come in a year. The dual vocalists coil miles of cabling around everything in sight, dashing into the crowd, crashing into bandmates, conducting mock interviews with friends in other bands and trading sung/screamed lines in tandem over a fizzing, life-affirming blend of hardcore wallop and pop frothiness. The by now anticipated ‘wall of cuddles’ is still enacted, but with the whooping, celebratory exuberance of “Infinity Milk” and “Black Wax” it’s barely needed. And don’t the kids just love it? Some of the best straight-up bloody good fun all weekend.
Broken Family Band (Chapter)
The last band I catch at Swn proper are its most fitting farewell. Their penultimate gig, and any fear that a festival slot would be anticlimactic are allayed by the travelling fans prepared to scrum down for a place near the front. It’s a bittersweet set, with both a clear love for their back catalogue (evinced in some leftfield rarities getting an airing) and a tinge of disappointment that they never truly got what they deserved. Bookending the set with “It’s All Over” and ending on “Don’t Change Your Mind” is a cute nod to their fate, and Steven Adams’ cheeky, cutting humour spills out in shared inter-band jokes, tales of naked ex-members of Thin Lizzy and sweet putdowns of bellowed requests. “Cinema vs. House” and “Borrowed Time” are propulsive, purposeful reminders that their latter albums are just as vital as the old stuff, “John Belushi” and “Living In Sin” are lump-in-throat singalongs. Adams’ uncanny knack of writing songs that stop on a dime just in time to deliver a delicious lyrical payoff endures throughout. It may not have the emotional weight of the rapturously received End of the Road set, or indeed their hometown swansong, but we loved it, and you sense they knew it.