Words by Jonathan Fisher & Laura Snapes. Photographs by Jonathan Fisher.
We’re on the train back from Swn. Travelling backwards, feeling a little bit sick. But mostly REALLY SAD that Swn is over until next year; I want it to go on forever. Although yesterday was Saturday, really it was like a festival Sunday as we’d been in Cardiff since Thursday, which is me trying to make excuses for why we didn’t see that many bands – the 5am vodka and juice and Jen’s house meant that we sat in the Buffalo Bar for most of the afternoon, eating, and trying to muscle up the courage to ruffle the hair of the dog. We muscled. And went on another Jon Hillcock-themed rescue mission, to recover his Darkstar LP (bought at Spillers) from “the John Malkovich hotel”. I spent most of the weekend thinking that this must have been some in-joke between Malkovich fans about the hotel being really surreal, or having holes in the walls behind the photocopier. But no, The Big Sleep is actually owned by Malkovich, which is surreal in itself. The lobby had a picture of him sat on a chair in front of a picture of him sat on a chair in front of a picture of him sat on a chair.
La La Vasquez
The first band we managed to catch was our new housemates, La La Vasquez, a three-piece band of ladies who look DEVASTATINGLY cool (even when they roll out of bed at 11am after five hours sleep). They have attitude and eyeliner in spades, along with lots of cold, deliciously sulky songs about MEN and their fluctuating degrees of usefulness. Rachael, the drummer, lectures in art theory, and is particularly interested in the feminist side of things. I wish my teachers were that cool.
We have to dash before the end of their set, however, as Y Niwl are on in the Model Inn, and we have already missed them once today (they play thrice, the industrious sorts!). Their new album is a joy (it’s out in Wales, not out here until December I believe) – it’s straight up surf rock with no vague nostalgic haze, played by total dudes with the best jumpers and frizzy heads I’ve ever seen. There’s a rainy, grey-ish quality to their sound as well – a sign that Wales does not have Californian beaches (an aside: over the weekend we learn the term Cardiffornia, which is excellent). It reminds me of when I was about 9, and we drove for HOURS to the Rhyl Sun Centre in North Wales, supposedly an ultra mega fun haven of waterslides and floats and diving boards and watery pranks. When we got there, it was what my mum likes to term “human soup”, and the floor looked as though it had several decades worth of verrucas rubbed into it. We turned around and drove home. Y Niwl understand this kind of watery disappointment, which is half of what makes them such fun, I think.
The next band are less fun, in theory anyway. I don’t like The Vaccines‘ single, but what I dislike even less is the HYPE that surrounded them before they’d even released a note. The Music Press are desperate for another UK guitar band to propel it through the next five years (see also: Brother), and it has been decreed that The Vaccines shall be it. They are the kind of band about whom I receive emails saying, “the whole industry is going to this gig tonight, would you like to come?” No. No, I would not. Anyway, that is not really The Vaccines’ fault, but coupled with the fact that their single is rubbish, the sight of a very long queue outside Dempsey’s waiting to see them irks me somewhat. So we go and eat pizza instead, which is much better.
Jonathan here now – it is at this point in the night that, having just eaten out on Laura’s dollar, I suggest we swap duties for the rest of the night. I only did this because I THOUGHT IT WAS GOING TO BE A QUIET ONE. Little did I know..
Having only seen Fair Ohs in small, dirty venues along Kingsland Road (perhaps a ‘slurry mile’ rather than Manchester’s Indian restaurant collection?), seeing them play to people outside of their immediate friendship group is odd initially, but reassuring. These experiences reinforce the notion that music which enters the ears with the weight of geographical context can (and probably should) be shorn of such baggage to figure out what the hell it is you like about it. Previously: that a room full of people I knew the names of were throwing awkward shapes to afrobeat indie-rock. Now: that a room full of strangers are throwing awkward shapes to afrobeat indie-rock, most of which they probably wouldn’t have heard before. It speaks volumes for the collective ‘good vibes’ they hand out with the wristbands here, and is a nice comparison to enjoy – after all, most of this weekend has been spent seeing acts we’d never heard of before this week. This is also the longest set I’ve seen Fair Ohs play, with several new songs for bulk. These came without the bouncy boooom-ta-bum-ta drumbeats and hinted at a more straightforward direction, certainly no bad thing given the changing seasons (afrobeat is surely something best enjoyed during the parts of the year you don’t need to worry about the tog of a duvet).
Apparently some silly person left the heating on full blast in the Model Inn all day, so post-Fair Ohs, everyone is melting. It is only going to get hotter, and the sweat addles my brain somewhat. Today is Beach Fossils‘ first ever non-US show, and their surf pop is very charming and naïve and swoonable, but it is too hot to think.
By this point, the heat has almost claimed me as its victim. Who knew three hangovers in a row added to five hours of shut-eye a night after successive drunken Chippy Lane salt-fests would take their toll? Snapes suggests a double and a mixer. My stomach lurches, my head screams “NOOOOO”, but a small part of me concedes that in a couple of minutes time, my stomach and my head wont know what’s going on, and that perhaps I should pacify (or more realistically, incapacitate) them. They wont know what’s going on, incidentally, because Islet are currently setting up keyboards, guitars, the whole room. The whole room is an instrument. There are around twenty box-fresh drumsticks stacked on top of the bass drum before they start – by the end, these have been reduced to splinters, halved lengthways from stress fractures caused by each of the four members striking everything in sight to create rhythms. Mic stands, amps, the floor, the ceiling, each other, the PA, the banister along one side of the stage, drum cases, hi-hats; nothing is safe. The staccato object-hits (‘drumming’ seems too bland a word to use for this octo-rattle) are accompanied by yelps and chants and screams and howls, like a Jenga puzzle being tentatively assembled, waiting for a big riff to come and knock it down. When the riffs come, the whole structure comes crashing down and people are pushed forwards, the floor bending noticeably under the weight of a capacity crowd. I don’t know any of the titles of the songs that were played, but I know that it wasn’t essential. Islet are a FORCE OF NATURE live.
Exhausted and gleeful, we amble towards Cardiff Uni’s Great Hall for (our first) Silent Disco experience. Running low on funds and feeling mentally short-changed for how much alcohol has been consumed today, Snapes comes again with the ideas. “Let’s do shots! Let’s do a triple sambuca each!” This happened twice, the second time within ten minutes of the first. The rest of the night is an almighty haze with only scant details standing out – Laura belting out Libertines classics to anyone with their volume down, wheeling around the floor looking for partners in crime, sprinting back from the smoking area as the strains of t.A.T.u.’s ‘All The Things She Said’ are overheard (apparently a monumental record in the Snapist’s childhood), Jen throwing fists into the air from the DJ booth. We leave in the early hours, a large rabble including us two, Jen, Becky Randall of Warmest Chord and Happy Birthday. HB are good value – utterly bewildered in the only chip shop we find open at 4am. “I got some kind of curry soup over my chips. I didn’t like it.” One of them asks for chips and cheese, but apparently only “SLICEY SLICEY” is available – essentially Kraft slices draped over tepid potato. A large battered sausage and chips is shared between us two and, feeling very bad about ourselves, we retired to the warm, friendly delights of Jen’s abode.
The morning brings about a private mini-’goodbye Swn!’ party with ARMAG-EGG-ON, a 15-egg scrambled batch and toast shared between myself, Laura, Jen, Becky, Happy Birthday and the well-rested and -composed (as opposed to us bedraggled masses) La La Vasquez. All that’s left to say, as the teacups are emptied and the trains home are impending is, goodbye Cardiff. We’ve enjoyed being here and experiencing your bands and partying with your finest hosts. We could’ve done without being told by local celebrity Ninjah that “WHEN I LEAVE, YOU ARE ALL FUCKED!” but we’ll take it with a pinch of salt because we’ve only ever seen him drumming on bins in the High Street before now. We loved your venues and the smiles the Swn volunteers were always on hand to provide, and we’ll be back next year, if we have to beg, steal or borrow.