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Swn Festival 2012 - Cardiff - 18th-21st October 2012 (Festival Review)

Tuesday, 23 October 2012 Written by David Ball
Swn Festival 2012 - Cardiff - 18th-21st September 2012 (Festival Review)

Quickly building itself a reputation as the premier urban city festival in the UK, Cardiff's Sŵn festival is over for another year with more satisfied punters than ever going away with four days of memories and a list as long as their arm of new favourite bands.

ImageFor me and a few hundred others, Sŵn actually started a day early this year with the Welsh Music Prize show at Clŵb Ifor Bach on the eve of the festival showcasing eight of the twelve shortlisted bands live with videos from the remaining four. As you’d expect the quality was consistently high, giving a teaser of what was to come from Sŵn with a wide variety of styles ranging from Exit International’s metal riffs to Bright Light Bright Light’s addictive pop and Jodie Marie’s subtly beautiful acoustic loveliness. An hour or so before the first Sŵn band hit the stage on Thursday, it’s announced Future Of The Left are deserved winners with their third album ‘The Plot Against Common Sense’.

While my Stereoboard colleague Owen will give a more detailed run down on some of the bands who played at this year’s event (review coming soon!), this review will instead focus more on what makes Sŵn so special outside of introducing great new bands year on year.

As mentioned in my preview for the event, this sixth anniversary for Sŵn was the biggest yet with more than 200 bands playing across 16 city venues, most of which are comfortably within walking distance of each other but despite continuing to expand it has lost none of the charm and intimacy which has become its hallmark. Each of the venues seems to have had their shows carefully thought about by the organisers and the variety of line-up encourages you to move about and see as many as possible.

Musically, outside of the scheduled shows there are pop-up events at The Hayes bandstand where a handful of bands perform on Saturday morning, Spillers Records host several in stores and Cut Ribbons even perform in Hubbard’s Cupboard, a small boutique store in one of Cardiff’s arcades. In fact, anywhere you went in the city it was difficult not to be drawn by the instantly recognisable pink Sŵn branding that seemed to take over the city.

Sŵn Spotting was a popular past-time for many with a treasure hunt style list sending people photographing everything from the easy to find ‘a DJ’ or ‘Cardiff Castle’ to the slightly more obscure ‘excellent knitwear’ or ‘an owl with antlers’ as well as the inside of each venue. Whoever spotted and tweeted or e-mailed the most won a pair of tickets for next year’s event.

Chapter Arts Centre provided not only some fabulous sets but also was the venue for a Welsh Indie Label Market, a variety of music based film screenings and, on Saturday the première of the excellent Manic Street Preachers documentary ‘Culture, Alienation, Boredom and Despair’ while those who weren't too hungover to face it attended a Friday Fry Up in Truffles. For art lovers, local artist Carl Chapple had his work showcased throughout various venues and the Sŵn Sessions, giving talks on how to make it in the music industry again proved popular.

Once the bands finished each evening it was far from the end of the night with DJ’s again scattered across the city. Steve Lamacq’s indie disco was a brilliant end to Friday night, Cardiff University hosted a Saturday night silent disco which was typically brilliant while the truly hardcore were still going to the bitter end at 4am Sunday night/Monday morning at Clŵb Ifor Bach’s ‘Dim Sŵn’ closing party.

The event programme’s first page dedicates the 2012 edition of Sŵn to the late James McLaren, a local music writer who loved discovering and promoting the best up and coming Welsh bands, many of whom dedicated songs and performances to him across the weekend. There’s no question he’d have been immensely proud to see so many of the bands he loved performing to packed out venues.

Finally, a word on the organisers who did a fabulous job of booking an exceptional line-up of both local and non-local bands, many of whom I’m sure will become the next Vaccines, Field Music or Alt-J who have all played in recent years and especially the volunteers who were always visible, always friendly and forever helpful to the people who weren’t familiar with Cardiff and where venues were. Events like this cannot happen without a massive amount of behind the scenes work and the dedication of the Sŵn team and volunteers is a demonstration of what can be achieved with hard work and a positive attitude.

After four days I’m tired, aching all over and possibly a little deafer than I was this time last week but I loved every minute of it and am already looking forward to next year.

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