Sŵn Festival Opening Night & Gig @ The Abacus
Sŵn Festival is a "New Music" festival that is curated by BBC Radio 1 DJ Huw Stephens and is held annually in the capital during one weekend in November across various venues and, to many in Cardiff and the surrounding area, the festival becomes almost a pilgrimage. The holy relic, if you can call it that, is the prospect of seeing the best new and exciting artists from around the UK and indeed from around the world perform in intimate and varied venues across Cardiff. It's kind of like the British equivalent to SXWS (South By South West - a week long "New Music" and arts festival held in Austin Texas).
On Friday night, my friend and I had the privilege of going to the opening party and gig of this amazing festival. Although we were the youngest guests, we both really enjoyed the evening and liked the vibe and excitement that was definitely present at the event. Performing live on the night were Dan Bettridge, Amber Arcades, MyNameIsIan, Wylderness and Houdini Dax. Sadly, we were not able to see Dan Bettridge (a soul singer) perform as we arrived a little too late to see him and we could not see Houdini Dax (a band from Cardiff) perform as parents got in the way of us staying out till midnight - sensible really, considering we both have our maths exams in a few days' time. Luckily, we were able to see Amber Arcades, MyNameIsIan and Wylderness live.
"A mild case of fangirling"
Amber Arcades are a four-piece from Holland fronted by Annelotte De Graaf, with two of the members from Amsterdam and two from just outside of Amsterdam - Utrecht to be precise. They make grungey psychedelic rock music; think Wolf Alice, but softer. Annelotte had a great connection with the audience and she often chatted between songs to us. According to her, they had just been in London performing some gigs and so were "glad to be out of the big city". Many of the songs performed on the night came from their new album due for release next year and, if this performance is anything to go by, it certainly is an album to look out for. They have also just released a new EP called Patiently, which is available on their Bandcamp page. Throughout the evening, the band wandered around through the crowd and were once sat on the table next to us prompting a mild case of fangirling from my friend.
We also saw Wylderness perform. Wylderness are a recently-formed band from South Wales, so it was a good to see a new local live act perform. The majority of songs performed had a kind of loud garage/college rock feel to them and, sadly, I often didn't quite catch the lyrics of the songs. It was clear that all members of the band were exceptionally talented, in particular, the drummer, who played a highly energetic rolling set without appearing to break a sweat. By rolling, I mean that when one song finished, another began, so there was not much interaction between band and audience. For me, I felt this was a bit of a problem at some points in their set as the band felt quite distant from the audience, almost as if they were performing just for themselves.
"Extremely funny and weird music"
The final band we saw were the exact opposite. Before seeing them live, I assumed that MyNameIsIan would be a solo artist - a man and a guitar type of thing. How wrong I was. MyNameIsIan are a wacky power pop band who, as previously stated, make extremely funny and weird music. How can songs with the titles The First Bomb Dropped in WW2 Killed An Elephant and Birthday Cake For Everyone not make you smile? The band and lead singer Gary, in particular, worked the crowd and certainly got the best audience reaction of the night. For me, Gary was incredibly funny, for example, "We know we're the headliners here tonight what with our 220 views on YouTube". If all else fails, Gary could successfully have a career in stand-up comedy. The chemistry between the band was clear, with Gary and the bassist often collapsing into fits of giggles and Gary stopping the set to see if the drummer was okay because he had had a couple of ciders. They also have a new album out, which was handed around in a bag but we were warned not to go for the one at the bottom for a mysterious reason.
Overall, the night was a huge success for me and my friend, with both of us agreeing that the venue was great - being both intimate and cosy, and yet great for events like this. We both also thought that the music was amazing. I cannot wait until next year for this wonderful festival to come around again.
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