DimSwn day – a day long urban festival from the crew behind Swn festival, a festival which has brought some of the absolute best up and coming acts to Cardiff, and filled a single street of venues with some top-quality songs. Back in 2010, The Vaccines played their fifth ever show at this festival. A year later, Alt-J packed out a set to around a hundred lucky buggers a full six months before they dropped ‘An Awesome Wave’ on all our gracious ears. Then came Palma Violets in 2012. Last year, Pretty Vicious packed out a stage on their homecoming show, after what was probably their first stint ever away from home. To play here is to be picked as one of the young live bands in the country. To be recognised in both potential and it’s ever actualising disposition.
Anyway, you get the idea – headlining this streamlined version we have Estrons and the Big Moon, (both of them absolutely killed their sets, by the way)- but Swn is in no way about the headliners alone. So first, let’s bring some of the slightly more unheard of bands to light. Of all the good music on offer, these two blew us away, and it would be no surprise if in five years one of them is being used to tout the festivals ability to find new talent.
So here we go.
The Bay Rays
I’ll make a quick admission here. I’d never heard of these guys beforehand. I walked in mainly because I liked their name, a strategy that’s worked pretty well in the past but also one embarrassingly blasé for an aspiring music journalist. Looking them up afterwards, I can see why I missed them in the upstart. The Kentish three piece have been actively gigging for less than a year, and bar the Facebook page and a one track Soundcloud have pretty much zero web presence. Check back in a few months for what I expect to be a very different scene. Recently signed to super-agency 13 artists, backed by BBC introducing, and killing shows at 3pm, there’s no way they don’t pick up some serious coverage over the summers festival season.
The secret to this is pretty simple. Catchy, garage, rock. Just listen to that track. Thrashing four chord masterpieces, the like of which gave The Fratellis their success. Maxwell Oakley’s (a more Kentish name is yet to be found) drums keep the whole thing in check, banging on between songs, keeping the crowd taught, moving, and growing. By the end of the third song, the crowd has tripled in size. Any reservations I might have had are quickly disappearing as frontman Harry Nicoll brings them forward, closing gaps, and even by some miracle getting a small pocket dancing (the first time this has ever happened at this venue circa 3-30pm). Songs get stronger and faster, energy building in a way that seems sure to climax and still dragging people in. But unlike so many new bands who stick their music to us through raw power alone, this aggression is in no way used to hide a lack of invention. Harry’s vocals have a distinctly Californian twang and yelp, while he seems able to spread the range to a near Matt Helders height. The guitar and basslines are potently simple, anything more intricate would steal from the drum and vocal tracks. In half an hours set they’ve packed at least as much energy as a Kaiser Chiefs arena tour. Importantly, it looks like they’ve dragged in pretty much the entire DimSwn contingent for their set – pretty impressive considering what I walked in to.
Down the street is one of Cardiff’s more intimate venues, another attic (it’s hard to find a venue that isn’t an attic or a basement here), known for its acoustic and folk performances. Pretty much the ideal venue for a girl who’s been bringing intimate performances to Cardiff since she was a kid. Sarah Howells is a singer songwriter best known as one half of Paper Aeroplanes – check them out if dreamy alt. folk is your thing – and her solo project gives us another manifestation of her ethereal vocal ability, coupled only with her guitar. So many artists would struggle with this, but Sarah’s vocals have the ability to intoxicate, to drag you in and under with her, and to give the songs a relevance to yourself.
For saying this, there is something of a tension in the music she makes as Bryde. While slower songs such as ‘Wait’ feel as if they could have been directly lifted from the Paper Aeroplanes back catalogue, she uses a select few songs to give us an idea of a new direction. “There’s nothing in between in these songs, they’re always either really sad or really angry” she tells us after a particularly intense guitar solo. ‘Help yourself’ is another moment, where she ramps up a touch of distortion but somehow keeps that intoxicating nature in her voice, and uses it to take you somewhere entirely different. A place of hurt still, but a place where this hurt is manifested outward, a place where its treated as a learning experience and character building, and a place where it begins to make more sense. These, for me, were the ‘Bryde’ defining moments. The moments that gave Bryde not only a truly unique identity, but also the moments that set her up to far surpass Paper Aeroplanes in their achievements. While we’ll have to wait to see just which direction her solo project will grow down, (and there’s no reason the two personae can’t live side by side onstage), the more aggressive, PJ Harvey circa ‘This is Love’ type songs left a lot of people talking about her show.