Sŵn Festival, Tramshed, Cardiff, Wed 17 Oct
Since 2007, Sŵn Festival has been bringing established acts to Cardiff as well as providing an invaluable platform for new talent to shine. This year’s edition, now under the stewardship of Clwb Ifor Bach, is no different – as its opening night testifies.
Paris’ Halo Maud [bottom] underpin dream pop with fantastic basslines, like Beach House with a groove; at other times, when creating busier, more experimental songs, they bring to mind Braids. There is, however, a certain je ne sais quoi about them that is all their own, and that makes them worthy of further investigation.
Equally hard to pin down are Carmarthen trio Adwaith [above]: their name translates as ‘reaction’, which is what their debut LP Melyn has been getting – the vast majority of it enthusiastic. Old favourite Lipstick Coch is rather thrown away at the start of the set, a measure of their confidence in the strength of the newer material. The Slits are a touchstone throughout, though Y Diweddaraf shifts into garage rock gear and Gartref benefits from some My Bloody Valentine-esque pitch-bending. James Dean Bradfield, who has remixed the latter track, watches on approvingly.
Gwenno [top] is headlining the inaugural gig of Sŵn 2018 in her home city, shortly after her second album Le Kov was nominated for the Welsh Music Prize – her first, Y Dydd Olaf, scooped the award in 2015. Le Kov (meaning “the place of memory”) is notable for its lyrics being in Kernewek – Gwenno’s heartfelt tribute to and celebration of her heritage, as the trilingual daughter of Cornish-speaking poet Tim Saunders. Minority languages, she knows, are something to be fought for in the face of cultural imperialism. “The man who has lost his tongue has lost his land”, she declares, paraphrasing an old Cornish saying, by way of introducing Den Heb Tawes – a song that, while relatively subdued on record, becomes furious and electrifying live.
What is also more apparent when witnessing Gwenno in the flesh – particularly with tracks like Chwyldro – is that, together with Jane Weaver and Josefin Öhrn, she is drawing on a palette that includes Stereolab and Broadcast to create a retrofuturist, synth-heavy form of psych, distinct from both nostalgic Strawberry Fields Forever-type daydreams and the sort made by bearded metallers who’ve recently discovered acid. Not that she ever loses touch with pop, though, as Fratolish Hiang Perpeshki underlines. Neither does she take herself too seriously: the main set ends with Eus Keus?, which finds her reeling off a list of Cornish placenames before asking if there’s any cheese.
The lights go up, but soon they’re down again, as Gwenno and her band return for a rendition of Amser, the last track on Y Dydd Olaf, with lyrics written by her dad. The words might be someone else’s, but she’s in complete command of them, just as she has been of the stage and the audience all night.
words BEN WOOLHEAD photos TIM ALBAN