I shan’t bore you with some little anecdote of what I was doing between this piece and the first day’s segment but it basically consists of me sitting in other people’s houses, outstaying my welcome, totally contradicting my living-out-of-a-bag status by asking for an iron to de-crease shirts and generally just seeing a few bands and stuff. Which, luckily, is what I’m now supposed to actually talk about. So without further introduction-filler delay, I bring you some snippets and sentences on the bands we caught on Day 2 at SWN.
We arrive at Clwb for noise-rock duo Run, Walk. There’s no drum kit in sight yet and considering the outfit consist solely of bass and drums, that means they’re probably not about to launch into song any time soon. We settle into a beer with the journo contingent and discuss the Welsh Music Prize – the ceremony to which just ended and was attended by a few around the table. We’re informed by our good friends at the NME that Gruff Rhys has won for his album Hotel Shampoo. So you can count this as your third-hand account of the awards.
Run, Walk kick into gear after a good half-hour delay, but by golly do they make up for lost time. Once everything is set up, soundcheck seems as swift as a Ramones intro as the band plunge into a deep surge of feedback and distortion. Sadly the delay has meant that we have to leave to head upstairs after a few songs, but we’re ensured by those that stayed put that the band’s stride continued to the last.
While a few of our team head off to see Brandyman, who I’m later told was their highlight of the night, I decide instead to cut my journey a bit shorter and venture just up the Clwb steps to catch Gross Magic. If you’ve heard Gross Magic (you know Gross Magic, the band from out of the Eighties films, seemingly with access to a time machine) before then you probably have your own firm opinion of them, as their recorded material varies from the brilliant to the downright unlistenable. But live, they totally outdo expectations that even firm fans would pre-empt. Sounding like the bratty Stifler’s brother of Ariel Pink, the baby-faced fourpiece are considerably easier on the ears live – but it’s their youthful exuberance and unashamed enjoyment that make them so captivating in a gig context. And despite his John Hughes cast attire, be-capped-frontman Sam McGarrigle somehow manages to steer clear of any pretence and merely comes across as damned cool.
We’re definitely going to have much argument about this back at HQ (which could be deemed by some as a hostel room) with one editor possibly choosing Beardyman and another likely to push for Niki & The Dove, but these kids in Gross Magic were definitely this writer’s highlight of the day.
Heading over to the Irish-pub-by-day-super-awesome-gig-venue-by-night Dempseys, Breton are about to start. Feeling a bit parched and with a water bottle emptied, I decide its the right time to start the night’s irresponsible drinking on the job. The band begin as I work my way to the front of the bar, providing me with an excellent sideview of the set. Multi-tasking to the max, right? Musically, Breton are good – but sadly nothing engrossing despite hearing great things about them (including recent studio time at Sigur Ros recording complex in Iceland). A highlight instead comes in the form of a remark from a certain electronic musician playing later in the evening who says that they “look like early 2000s Lostprophets”, the first overheard and clichéd Welsh analogy of festival. Luckily he was stopped in his tracks before he could utter a comparison to Feeder.
If you were wondering, a ‘brontide’ is a “sound like distant thunder, due to seismic causes”. Yep, I just googled it because this was puzzling me all evening after seeing London band of the same name but with a capital letter and all that, Brontide. But how they plucked that name seemingly out of thin air seems to all make sense now as it’s exactly how the instrumental guitar-heavy (drums-even-heavier) trio. In this respect they could so easily just have picked any synonym of “huge”, “colossal” or “catastrophic” from the thesaurus, but all those would sound a bit shit – so I guess they should stick with what they got.
After the tour-de-force just witnessed, indie-rock revivalists Veronica Falls provide the perfect tonic to our previous straight-gin. After taking a few snaps (the above photo being the only one that didn’t feature a backdrop advertising a rival publication), I had to put my writer’s cap on. But it’s hard when staring through a lens at people for several minutes uninterrupted to then not dwell on appearance. And Veronica Falls – just a matter of fact – a very good-looking band, making you wish that all Shoreditch dwellers looked like they are from early-2000s Brooklyn rather than late ’80s Detroit. Oh and I’d like to point out that drummer Patrick resembles a celtic Sufjan Stevens, just another of the oh so astute observations that these diaries have come to offer. With all seriousness though, Veronica Falls are just sublime – well-crafted pop songs with a delightful do-wop feel. ‘Wedding Day’ in particular is sensational live, with the crux of the chorus “You don’t look at her like you’re looking at me” hitting like a crushing blow to the chest.
As Niki & The Doveengage in some very comical, but nonetheless frustrating, language barrier exchange with the sound guy, those able to get in to see the Swedish duo are idly checking their tweets and texts in what was definitely a not full-to-capacity O’Neills pub. After waiting twenty minutes on the stairs queuing, I ponder make shirts with “I Got Into Niki & The Dove, Swn 2011″ across the front – who wants one? I’m not sure if it was a dispersal ploy or just some misunderstandings, but the night seemed to feature a lot of bouncers telling little white lies about how full venues actually were: a prime and shocking example was a Clwb bouncer telling an acquaintance of mine that he wouldn’t be letting anybody else in for the rest of the night, no matter how many exited the place. This was at 10pm.
But as the Scandi pairing of Malin and Gustaf, equipped avec une drummer, eventually dot the i’s and cross the t’s of their extensive display of keyboards, pedals and mic, everything goes a bit quiet on the Twittersphere. If you’re keeping up with our #swn coverage at home and were wondering why suddenly your news feed looked empty, well it’s because Niki & The Dove were just that damn good. Malin pulls off her killer signature moves, which seems a little out of place in a pub context, but the music sounds huge and even attracts the attention of a drunk rugby fan who has been drowning his sorrows since Wales lost a good 16 hours ago and decides to sit at her feet like a cat whose had too much catnip at the foot of the bed. Our special guest leaves before the last song, but not before putting his headphones in and laying back on the floor beneath the feet of the audience, allowing Niki & The Dove to go out in true theatrical style.
After some more queuing, we finally make it into Clwb for a DJ set courtesy of Ifan Dafydd. The Welsh electronic artist dropped on the scene under an air of mystery and rumours of him being a back-to-the-bass(ics) moniker for James Blake. This was kind of like speculating that some new shoegaze band is actually My Bloody Valentine reforming, the only common thread between the two being a R&B infused dub influence. But we’re glad to announce the breaking news that Ifan Dafydd is not actually James Blake. Shock horror.
Next on isStay+, an electronic group who’s name nobody was wholly confident of pronouncing outloud. You’d assume the + sign stood for “positive” right, like a battery, and that it was a nice, quirky warm-hearted name. But no, supposedly the proper way to say it is “Stay Plus” – which is a terrible name. But I guess it’s for the best really because – and I know SWN isn’t a place for outright negativity – but Stay+ is simply a terrible, terrible band. Earlier in the evening, queuing for in one of the numerous lines of the night, I overhear conversation that the group started “as a joke” and I really have to hope that this is true. But joke or not, when your entire set involves the overuse of a smoke machine to uncomfortable breathing levels, a topless man throwing a crutch at a fellow “band member”, a backdrop of Nathan Barley-esque visuals, flaccid drone music that sounds like Prodigy never happened, and a tendency of clearing an entire dancefloor altogether, it’s just not really that funny is it. The atrocity of a performance (which makes you wonder what Midas-like PR group are doing their publicity) is made worse by all my friends leaving me with bags and coats, making the 25 whole minutes that they outplay their designated time slot an entire lifetime. But really, we try not to be a negative site here at TLOBF – if we don’t like something we will just normally walk away, but when you feel like the punters, promoters, festival and fellow musicians alike are all being taken for a ride then we alter our ethics accordingly. Life, at the end of the day, is too short for shit music. So if you’re thinking of seeing them, by all means go ahead if you wish – nobody should take another’s opinion as gospel – but be warned, you may suffer a similarly agonising fate.
But, got to stay positive right? And on next to by this point an admittedly quarter-filled Clwb is Seams – a firm favourite here, that much you already know. But despite his fringe-flicking intensity, even his superb newer material sounds a bit flat. A fellow muso remarks that maybe we’ve just invested too much emotional attachment to the guy and this is definitely the case. It’s just a total mood killer to see a great act perform to a lacklustre crowd. But those who were in attendance replied with their feet and a nice little dance to ‘Focus Energy’ is a good way to close any evening and raises our spirits to end what was largely an excellent SWN night.
Photos by Luke Morgan Britton.