Safe Hands: Cardiff's Sŵn Festival Starts Over With An Exciting Bill

Tuesday, 16 October 2018 Written by Helen Payne

Cardiff mainstay Sŵn Festival is back, so get ready to flex your musical muscles during four riotous days of gigs across various venues in the Welsh capital.

Started by BBC Radio 1’s Huw Stephens and John Rostron way back in that sepia-toned era called 2007, Sŵn took its first steps when Foo Fighters were still releasing bangers like the Pretender, Arctic Monkeys had just dropped Fluorescent Adolescent, and Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse’s cover of Valerie was on every radio station in the country. What a time to be alive. Over in Cardiff, Beirut, the Cribs, Black Lips and Annie Mac were helping to see the festival on its way.

With every year that passes, Sŵn presents the best in both emerging and established bands, showcasing local talent and artists from all over the globe. But with over a decade’s worth of experience under its belt, it was decided that a shake-up was in order. Enter the good people at Clwb Ifor Bach, a legendary group of promoters and an even legendary-er three storey venue in the heart of the city’s Womanby Street, who have masterminded this year’s staging.

“It just made sense,” Sŵn booker Adam Williams says. “John approached us back in April. The thought was a little daunting at first, to take on such a big event during Clwb's busiest month of the year, but we quickly came to the conclusion it was an opportunity we couldn't pass on.”

It’s pretty much a whole new team, with a few who have been involved in some shape or form over the years providing experience and tactical knowhow. “We’re not going in completely blind,” Williams notes. “We’ve witnessed Sŵn from the inside and the out, which has certainly helped us put together our initial idea of where we want to take it over the next five years.”

Clwb have plans to give the festival the love it deserves, and are kicking off the inaugural year of their tenure by booking eye catching venues and bands. Drenge, Gaz Coombes, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Gwenno and Dream Wife, for example, are dotted around the top of the bill, which gets underway on October 17.

If you’ve got your trainers on, it’s also worth a headless chicken run around town to catch the Go! Team at Tramshed, the Orielles at the Great Hall, plus Bo Ningen, Estrons and more at local watering holes Gwdihw, Fuel, the Moon, Tiny Rebel, or wherever else the night might take you. Additionally, if you’ve got this far, chances are you’re bound to have heard of lovable Cardiff lads Boy Azooga. If not? Get to Tramshed early on Friday for a space at the front.

Also on Williams’ radar is Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard’s late night slot at O’Neills, along with a glistening Canadian indie group called Boniface, and some mysterious special guests at Clwb on Saturday night. “Of course, I'm hoping the whole festival will be a four day long ‘I was there’ moment,” Williams jokes. He can’t wait, and neither can we, so let’s take a closer look at a handful of the bands you should be taking note of. Pens at the ready. See you there.


Mellt - Friday, O’Neill’s, 22.30 and Saturday, the Moon, 18.30

Their name translates to ‘lightning’ in Welsh, and Mellt are a thunderous presence to reckon with. The post-punks hail from Aberystwyth and won Welsh Language Album of the Year at the 2018 Eisteddfod for ‘Mae’n Hawdd Pan Ti’n Ifanc’, which has also recently been nominated for the Welsh Music Prize alongside releases from national treasures like the Manics, Gwenno and Gruff Rhys. They deal in new-wave guitar hooks and sing-along choruses, while Paul Simonon of the Clash is known to be a fan. That’s a pretty solid recommendation, too.


HMS Morris - Saturday, Tiny Rebel, 21.30

These guys WILL be your new favourite band. Heledd Watkins and Sam Roberts sing in both their first language of Welsh, and English, investigating domestic spheres, ever-present battles with body image and the questions of parenthood over wild, ambitious psychedelic pop. Their second album ‘Inspirational Talks’ dropped at the end of September, so expect to be rattled with bone-crunching distortion, warm, fuzzy synths and some mind-blowing vocals.


Cosmo Sheldrake - Saturday, Clwb Ifor Bach, 18.45

This guy is an interesting one. Inspired by the natural world and the various instruments he plays, Sheldrake truly is something else. “Where on earth are those samples from?” you cry. Well, orchestral flutes are audible, as well as bass clarinets and a delightful banjo. But there are also cuts of snoring animals and squelching raw meat behind his sing-song, nursery rhyme style, as though Dr Seuss has started an experimental-jazz-hip-hop project. Genius or just plain odd? You’ll have to find out when he plays on Saturday. His track Wriggle has been given the remix treatment by former Bombay Bicycle Club frontman Jack Steadman as Mr Jukes, so you already know this set will definitely be worth your time.


Adwaith - Wednesday, Tramshed, 20.45

Another Welsh language indie-pop band to get excited about. This Carmarthen trio are rapidly making a name for themselves and have lately been touring with Gwenno, toting around a James Dean Bradfield remix of their single Gartref, and hitting up a packed out Rising Stage at Green Man this summer. Fusing alt-folk with a punky edge, their debut album ‘Melyn’ (‘yellow’ in Welsh) saw a release in October, with the colour conveying the youthful joy they get from making music. With warm basslines and vibrant synths, it all works perfectly.


Cousin Kula - Saturday, Big Top, 19.30

A cross between the California chill of Jungle, the smoothness of ‘70s R&B and funk, the indie aesthetic of Gengahr, with a brass section chucked in for good measure. Cousin Kula are a groovy, fun psychedelic pop sextet from Bristol, who say they’re looking forward to seeing acts like the lush Tamu Massif and explosive dream-poppers Wasuremono at the festival.


Keen for more? Head here to listen to the Sŵn playlist.

Sŵn Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed October 17 2018 - CARDIFF Tramshed (Gwenno)
Thu October 18 2018 - CARDIFF Great Hall (Drenge)
Fri October 19 2018 - CARDIFF Various Venues
Sat October 20 2018 - CARDIFF Various Venues

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