Don’t Look Now – SWN Festival Swoons to new heights! In two parts…

SWN meaning noise in Welsh, and pronounced soon, is the perfect description of what we have in store for this weekend, immediate and raucous. Started 12 years ago by Huw Stephens, it is the perfect festival for venue surfing and unearthing the latest new talent. SWN is the perfect festival for jumping between venues, discovering new artists and dipping in and out of live shows.

An extravaganza of treats, beats and crunching, colliding guitars to pure, elegant and soulful song-writing at its best. The weekend features the some really incredible established artists such as Gruff Rhys and Flamingods to Comet Is Coming and buzz bands like Squid or Scalping. There is also a whirlwind of artists to choose from including the likes of:  Holy Fuck, Rosehip Teahouse, Jockstrap, Free Love, Jerskin Fendrix, Zooni to name a few with a million other new artists to discover. Here are a few of the favourites that stood out over the weekend.

Don’t Look Now - SWN Festival Swoons to new heights! In two parts...

Black Country New Road were one of our first encounters, offering a kind of lopsided rock, with carefully constructed compositions. It was almost scatty experimental rock, operatic and dramatic. A deep brooding vocal lures you in, while slow morphic movements of tribal drumming and snaking sounds weave around the room. Skating Polly ups-the-ante, as a thrilling DIY frenzy of guitars spill, through the doors of The Moon, in a riot grrrl mash-up. Kelli Mayo tries to make sense of everything in a Babes in Toyland meets Kate Nash style way.

While we rush from one venue to the next, we hear the exquisite sounds of Skinny Pelembe over at O’Neils – soulful, jazz, electronic and afrobeats infuse the room. He excavates sparkling jewels in the sand, with tracks from recent album ‘Dreaming Is Dead Now’, exploring ideas and contradictions around post-recession Britain.  Born in Johannesburg and now living in Doncaster, Skinny’s soulful vocals are urgent and humbling all at once. Sprinkled with kind of xylophone gems amongst radiant sunsets of sounds and beats. Audience and artists eyes alike are closed, as we listen intently to the sounds. 

Back at Kongs, crazy dancing, party beats and flying streamers of sound in the set from HMLTD. Decadent and lustrous as ever, soaring synths and guitars fly across the room. Henry Spychalski’s performance is extravagant and dazzling, complete with make-up, wardrobe and theatrics all fused together via synths, electronics and guitars. HMLTD pump-out this huge sound, a disco pop rock orchestra, shot through with a glam fashion appeal. Glamourous and emotive at once – the crowd go wild, moving to the groove – upbeat and emotive, as Henry closes his eyes to evoke the feeling in his vocals.

Big Joannie met through a love of The Raincoats at a black feminist consciousness raising event in London, they bring a rawness to their indie-punk sound, stripped-back and honest. It feels like Slits meets Polystyrene, thoughtful and grounding. They play tracks from their new album Sistah’s, in a raw stripped back, trail blaze of drumming and percussion. 

Pigsx7, from Newcastle, bring clattering a bag of metal, punk and pure chaos. Matt Batty meticulously sorts out his mic cable, wrapped around the pedals. He turns, with the mic stand, pirouette style figurine, he connects, gets into the zone – eyes closed, he meditates on what is to come. As if he has to build-up all the tension, angst, passion inside ready to transform it into a bucket full of kryptonite. The band deliver a magnificent bombast of sound – guitars kick-in and the room starts jumping wildly, breaking into a mosh pit. Two people go flying at the front. Matt stops the set. ‘Its hot in here, if anyone sees anyone on the floor for longer than two seconds, then please help them up,’  the crowd cheers. Back to this splendid mosh-pit party.

What an incredible end to the first part of the festival, more tomorrow!!

Sam Chamberlaine

Sam Chamberlaine