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Review: Sŵn Festival Pull Off the Perfect Autumn Festival

Shwmae Pawb! Whilst an autumnal festival can sometimes be difficult to pull off, Cardiff’s Sŵn Festival 2023 rose to the challenge, promoting the prime produce of Wales’ rich music scene, and beyond. Across a handful of venues in the Welsh capital – each as unique as the last – a myriad of acts would perform over the weekend, I was spoilt for choice.

Cardiff locals, Slate. Photo by Jamie Chapman.

After the Megabus journey from hell, Rosie Alena kicked off the revelry with a confident set at Clwb Ifor Bach (the infamously exclusive welsh speaking club, or so it was in the noughties). Vivid imagery snaked between angelic cello and a strong rhythms section, as Alena performed highlights ‘Mixed Messages’ and ‘The Light’ with an Aldous Harding-esque intensity.

Following this was Babymorocco at Fuel Rock Club, who’s vest-ripping, techno-spinning, speaker-humping showmanship matched their weighty beats. From the Frost Children produced 2-Step banger ‘SXC’ to the side-chained electro flex of ‘Everyone’, Babymorocco blitzed through a horny set and still found time to drench himself in lager. Leaning into the lyrics, there’s a flirtatious and frank humour behind the vocalisations and Swedish House Mafia subtlety; ‘I wanna get you all up in my bedroom/Or in the backseat, we don’t need the legroom.’ With high energy (especially for an early set), it was hard to know where to go from here.

Consulting the program remedied my comedown. Back across the road to Clwb, where Skinny Pelembe was performing to a packed out room. ‘Same Eye Colour’s poetic assertion on emigration was the worlds best opener, and the akimbo synths on ‘Who by Fire’ were cool as fuck. Whilst the trip-hop of 2019’s ‘Dreaming is Dead Now’ ran through the veins of the set, Skinny Pelembe’s latest album ‘Hardly the Same Snake’ alludes to the wider, blissed out sounds of indie and soul. Either way, it was apparent that sprechgesang and deep groves (see the synth bass of ‘Oh, Silly George’) are but two in his extensive sonic arsenal.

The Family Battenberg. Photo by Nadine Ballantyne

Where to next? Up the strip where hen parties and street performers mixed, and to Jacobs Antiques. This multi-storey furniture shop had been transformed for the weekend, and The Family Battenberg’s basement bash could no doubt be heard from the rooftop bar. The Cardiff band’s refreshing take on garage/classic rock was exhilarating to watch, playing hits such as the bluesy ‘Fuzzy Features’ and as yet unreleased ‘Rocket Dustbin’, which crawls through sludgy distortion three feet high, to arrive at the blistering speeds of alien courtship. It was one hell of a trip, man.

Sunday brought us back to the stickiest of floors at Fuel Rock Club, where Ziyad Al-Samman and his sequinned collars were swaying to good time music. Whilst the slower tempo of ‘Hard To Say’ gave Al-Samman a chance to show off some melodramatic crooning, his brand of echo soaked indie-disco was where he shone brightest. Leaving early to get a good spot for Divorce’s set, it quickly became apparent that everyone else had had the same idea. With a crowd extending out the venue door, it seemed like the Nottingham band had solidified themselves as ones to watch. Old favourites ‘Services’ and ‘That Hill’ were given new life through alternative arrangements, and ‘Birds’ off of their upcoming record felt all the more emotional live.

Divorce. Photo by Jamie Chapman.

The home straight required some sustenance in the form of La Pantera’s great scran. The self proclaimed purveyors of ‘Unauthentic Mexican food’ on Quay Street were great; with their friendly staff and delectable Mexican dhal nachos, I’ll definitely be returning next time I’m in ‘Diff. With decent prices and speedy service, it was the perfect place for a Sŵn Fest pitstop. Last and by no means least, the beautiful Cornerstone Church would be the host of Heavenly’s new signees Tapir! Below a pastel pink balloon arch, the sextet took us through the highs and lows of their lovable lore; ’Swallow’s usually quaint percussion was heavier, and The Nether (Face to Face) was as breezy as ever. Throughout their performance, Tapir! proved that a good band can mold their material over many gigs, and still sound like themselves. It was a gorgeous end to a wonderful weekend.

Tapir!

With so many special acts, (Adjua, and Pigs x7 to name a few more honourable mentions) I would urge you to listen to the Sŵn Festival 2023 playlist, as I can guarantee you there will be something new, for you. A well organised and friendly festival, Sŵn can rest assured it holds a long and successful future ahead, thanks to its staff, venues, and of course the acts. 

Header photo: Divorce by Jamie Chapman

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