SWN Festival 2011 Diary: Day 1

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It’s always been a great embarrassment to me as a Valleys boy how little I know about my home city of Cardiff. Sure, I’ve lived in Wales all my life, I’ve been a season ticket holder at Cardiff City from the age of nine and only live a £3.60 (with a Young Person’s Railcard, of course) train journey away from the Welsh Capital. But alas my knowledge of Caerdydd is limited to Queen Street and the surrounding street of a radius to about St Mary’s.

Cardiff has a great music scene and night life, I should know more than most because I keep getting people telling me that when they find out I was born and bred nearby. But in my formative teen years, I was never the type to go to clubs and gigs were few and far between because the Treherbert train stopped at 11pm, which meant that I could only really attend the “big ones” at the Great Hall rather than late-nighters at Clwb or Ten Feet Tall.

Then when I was 18, the age of finally legally being able to drink, I moved to Bristol, another great music city, for University – which meant that Cardiff had merely been demoted to the position of a stop-gap between my two homes. Now graduated, I guess it’s probably the right time to reacquaint myself with my hometown, before heading off to London to get lost in disgust and my own self-pity at the swarms of Hoxton hipsters and Shoreditch scenesters. There’ probably no better time to experience my first SWN. Get the Brains SA in and I’ll pretend I like it.

Arriving as the day becomes dusk, I pick up a press pass at Full Moon, opposite Clwb Ifor Bach. Strangely I’m handed a wristband that says “Artist”. Baffled, as well as deciding on a fake band name I can drunkenly pretend I’m the keyboardist of for the weekend, I head over to Dempseys – home of the night’s most impressive line-up. When there, I find a band really going for it – truly intense stuff. I’m surprised to see nobody else in there, so I slink to the back and take a seat in the corner. After 45 seconds, and frantically trying to work out from the seemingly wrong set list I have in mind who the band are, the music suddenly comes to an abrupt halt and the singer asks the sound technician if the guitar sounded okay. I catch a glance from another punting standing across the way, both of our gazes seeming to say “If you don’t say a word, I won’t say a word – this a truce”. We both realise our rookie mistake and nonchalantly make for the exit.

After walking around in the cold for a while (I’ve realised that the next band I want to see is back in Dempsey’s but feel that to save face I should leave it a while before returning), turns out I’m missing out on Charlotte Church‘s secret gig at Clwb. To keep the promoters appeased, I’ll pretend like I’m disappointed at this. I nervously check my Twitter for some sort of company before heading back in. The first band on are London-based duo-but-sometimes-trio Elephant. They take their positions on the stage with an air of effortless cool; their outfits agonisingly hip – from their American Apparel cottons to gold chains, burglar-chic wooly hats and the singer’s silver pendant of a certain zoo animal. No prizes go to the first correct guess of what zoo animal that is. The Memphis Industries troupe impress with their dark and seductive electronica in the same vein of Zola Jesus, but maybe without the so well-crafted songs. Singer Amelia compliments the Welsh audience on their accents and, you know what, she has a pretty decent voice too, so everyone is happy.

As Elephant’s set closes, everyone swiftly departs and commutes just next door to Clwb where crazy French folk Herman Dune are about to headline the early-starting upstairs billing. The crowd is uncomfortably claustrophobic, to the point that you’re just thankful that the band you’re watching aren’t the type to whip up a mosh pit, or we will all be in for a lot of bruising. I leave halfway through, but it’s not your fault Frenchies, it’s mine. Bizarro folk is definitely not what I need right now, when in such close proximities.

Back to Dempseys, Yaaks are on next. To anybody who haven’t seen them before –  they are like a mental Foals, just infinitely better than that sounds. With two drummers, a trumpet and so many freakin’ guitar pedals, they’re probably the band of the night and totally kill it. RIP it. As the set comes to an end, the members go all crazy like and throw their equipment around before exiting through the crowd. Their keyboardist heads straight my way and I decide to swiftly moving out the way, lest I ruin their departure completely.

After neither Huw Stephens nor myself being able to get in to see Aidan Moffat (a great instance of SWN democracy), it’s back to Dempseys again – our residency for the evening, it seems. While waiting, I sit on a table sticky from spilled beer as the next band hand vitamin water around themselves. Rock n roll. Alt-J start, coming off kinda like Cardiff favourites Future Of The Left, so they’re pretty much guaranteed a warm response here, right? I decide to take a few snaps and soon realising that my inherent politeness and unwillingness to kneel down is going to hinder me in any future photographic career.

Fixers headline the stage to pretty much everyone who hasn’t called it a night yet. The lights are turned down and the disco ball is brought out for the band’s psychedelic offerings. There’s dancers in the crowd, and Dancers – who plays on Sunday and is stood to my left. But for me, it’s a bit too late for dancing – so I save myself for the rest of the weekend. Sorry Huw Stephens spinning discs at Propaganda and the 2am Disclosure DJ set but it’s a Thursday night and I’m just not a Fresher anymore.

Photos by Luke Morgan Britton.

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