Laura Fedeli journeyed up to Wrexham, and the return of the town’s regular music industry weekender FOCUS Wales, to do some ‘proper work’ but with the ulterior intention of supporting the south Wales hip-hop-and-more contingent. And that’s just what she did!
Over 15,000 creatives and music industry experts were welcomed into Wrexham to celebrate the annual FOCUS Wales Festival. It was set to be an extra special year as we travelled from all over the globe to connect with each other and celebrate the festival’s 10th anniversary. Planned with meticulous attention to detail, there was a business style conference event, plus showcase performances scheduled which took place in multiple venues across the north Wales town.
During the day I worked as part of the conference team where a specially selected panel of experts offered valuable knowledge to the audience. We expanded our minds together whilst discussing important topics such as “PRS & PPL – get played get paid”, “The future of grassroots music venues” and “The importance of mental resilience within the music industry”. These lasted a hour each and included a Q&A session at the end of discussion so to open up the conversation to the audience.
Lots of interesting perspectives were provided and a key point I took away from the seminars was how much Wales’ music culture relies upon grassroots venues. Without them we wouldn’t have anywhere for artists to develop, particularly in rural towns. The industry may have been shut down until recently, due to COVID restrictions, but our panel proudly explained they fought tooth and nail to protect every single grassroots music venue in Wales, which shows how much potential the music industry has to be successful now more than ever. Finally, speed networking sessions were also offered and artists relished in the opportunity to strengthen themselves as a professional and gather motivation and hope for the future.
An international showcase of over 250 performers also took place across the four days. We took over 12 of Wrexham’s finest venues and enjoyed bouncing around the town enjoying a fusion of all types of music including punk, soul, grime, folk, rock, r’n’b and much more. I was in my element switching between venues and loved the versatility and unique atmosphere each space provided. I thought the settings were really well thought-out, too, with some being close to each other and others widespread. There was something for everyone and on my second to last day I was utterly captivated by the freedom and choice this festival had to offer.
One moment I was skanking in back street club Penny Black, to cutting edge grime artist Mace The Great (whose set highlight was Brave – I thought the dancefloor was going to shatter when he reloaded this banger), then found myself running around the corner to St Giles Parish Church to clap along to folk band The Trials Of Cato. The church was lit up beautifully and I felt so relaxed watching them perform; not usually a fan of folk music, I enjoyed the variance in mood and loved how comfortable everyone in the audience felt. Many members were called to dance by the band and soon the aisles were full of people of all ages.
There are so many other sick artists that are worth a mention, including Aleighcia Scott: Cardiff’s queen of reggae, who has a fresh EP out next spring and who shared her good vibes and soulful melodies with us whilst Boomtown Fair’s Kaptin DJed. My new discovery was Culture Vultures – a cheeky, lively punk meets hip-hop collective – and Canadian sensation Mauvey. For me he was the standout artist of the whole festival, leaving me in awe of his creativity and sass. A true showman, he was utterly mesmerising and put 110% effort into taking his audience on an emotional journey through music and love.
Other artists to include? How about the perfectly punky Minas, whose set I caight on the first night in intimate gin bar The Parish? I was blown away by his attitude and confidence to let loose on the stage; Payday was a banger and would be the perfect introduction to his music if you’ve not yet checked him out. I also spotted him DJ’ing for many MCs throughout the weekend, as well as the speed networking sessions, proving to me that he’s the hardest working artist in Cardiff right now.
Fellow Cardiff act Dirty Alex smashed their set: I’ve seen them perform many times and am always excited by their unique sound and tenacious attitude. A lush mix of jazz and hip-hop, I was reminded what a sweaty sensation their music was and loved seeing first-timers loose themselves in the funk.
A weekend packed full of exciting new music, old friends and plenty of drinks, FOCUS Wales was overwhelming at times – I didn’t want to miss a single moment, making this a difficult review to write. I was so impressed, though, that every individual was catered for throughout the event, and I loved every minute. Collectively, COVID restricted us for so long that it was lush to be able to come together, celebrate Welsh talent and connect with fellow creatives on a global scale. Homage ought be paid to FOCUS head Andy’s hard work in getting the festival back up and running in the way that he has. Next year’s instalment has just been announced, so grab a ticket or apply to perform.
Various venues, Wrexham, Thurs 7-Sat 9 Oct
words LAURA FEDELI
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