Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
Sailor Honeymoon 1 FOCUS Wales 2024 credit Steve White

FOCUS Wales is propelling acts on the global stage

17 May 2024, 08:30

Returning for its fourteenth year, the international showcase festival delivers a diverse range of genres from an equally eclectic array of venues in the heart of Wrexham, North Wales.

Cementing its place as one of the UK’s best showcase festivals for emerging artists, FOCUS Wales has organically grown to boast three days of industry panels and discussion, a film festival, and an enviably expansive music offering.

Since launching in 2011 to spotlight Welsh acts on an international platform, export has remained at the core of FOCUS Wales. Increasingly important as Brexit and the costs of touring continue to limit acts' abilities to play overseas, the festival features curated stages from a variety of industry bodies and festivals worldwide. From indie, synthpop and folk, to post-punk, hip hop and soul, this year’s lineup showcased more than 250 artists from 20 countries; with the likes of Wide Days, M for Montreal and The Spanish Wave presenting a brilliantly eclectic display of their best talent.

Centred around community space Ty Pawb, where the majority of conference panels take place, the event’s 20 stages are nestled within minutes of each other across Wrexham’s city centre. This location, as festival co-founder Andy Jones explains, is an intentional choice. While Wales’ capital city Cardiff may seem like a more likely host, the compact nature of Wrexham is a welcome change to other new music showcases, where walks between venues can be the length of a band’s short set.

Conf 20240513 DSC 1061 FOCUS Wales 2024 credit Steve White
Photo by Steve White

Sat in the bustling arts hub of Ty Pawb, Jones notes that the festival’s curation caters for the needs of artists as well as professionals new to the industry. Scouting delegates in much the same way as the artists, FOCUS Wales’ is designed for making meaningful connections, and the close proximity of events across the city ensures attendees can experience as much as possible within its 3 day duration.

While many industry panels drill deep into niche subjects, Jones and the team believe it’s important that the festival is also functional for the artists, an ethos that plays an important role in the conference programming. With the 2024 edition hosting panels on topics ranging from sustaining a career as a black creative or professional in the music industry, balancing parenthood and music, and mental health and wellbeing in the creative industries, it’s notable that all performers are given access to the full festival offering and not only the shows.

As the sun beams across Wrexham’s cobblestone streets, the festival’s first day begins tucked behind the box office in a lecture-style room inside Ty Pawb. Delivering valuable learning opportunities for artists’ burgeoning careers, representatives from Rough Trade, Libertino Records, Secretly Group, and Domino Records discuss the strategies of signing new artists to indie labels. From the importance of word of mouth and building a strong live show, the panel’s Q&A reveals a number of acts in attendance, eager to pick brains on just what they’re looking for. As Libertino’s Gruff Owen succinctly offers, “my fuel as a label is [the artist]’s vision”.

Bon Enfant FOCUS Wales 2024 credit Alexandra Durrant 5 M1 A1342
Bon Enfant by Alexandra Durant

Over in the darkened and pleasantly air-conditioned venue space Penny Black, M for Montréal's showcase kicks off with bristling energy to a packed out room. Québécois art punk outfit La Sécurité open the show with an intensely frenetic parade of rattling shakers and tambourine twirling. Soon followed by crowd favourites Bon Enfant, screeching guitars and clashing cowbells merge their pop sensibilities with infectious disco melodies. “I travelled 8 hours to let you hear my bass,” yells the group’s bassist from the corner of the stage, launching into a carnival-esque solo to an animated crowd.

A couple blocks away at the Wynnstay Arms, Wide Days’ showcase is a welcome breather. As indie-pop outfit The Big Day bring the audience down to perch on the carpeted hotel floor, the group’s set erupts in a joyous ending as they launch into unreleased track “Send It”. In a tee emblazoned with ‘hating pop doesn’t make you deep’, singer Ryan Hunter storms through the crowd with an infectious energy.

Although initially plagued by tech issues, leaving band leader Joe Love’s “we’re fucking Fat Dog“ introduction on a slightly anticlimactic note, the highly praised post-punk group’s legion of devoted fans are out in force. Downstairs in an undeservingly quieter room, a particular highlight of the evening is Canada’s ALIAS. Dressed in a crowd-pleasing Wrexham football shirt, the blue-haired singer’s showmanship pivots between reservedly grateful to be here and a riotous potency, striding across the stage to a backdrop of experimental electronics.

Willy Mason FOCUS Wales 2024 credit Alexandra Durrant 5 M1 A2000 3
Willy Mason by Alexandra Durant

Friday welcomes the opening of the FOCUS Wales film festival, which this year achieved BAFTA Cymru accreditation. At the red carpet drinks reception, an air of excitement hangs over Theatr lâl, a theatre space tucked inside the campus of Coleg Cambria. Kicking off with a music video competition, the short films play out an outpouring of emotion through contemporary dance in digital opera "Grief", a kaleidoscopic celestial renaissance in Otto Aday’s “Dancing Round The Morning Sun”, and kitsch stylised animation in the video for AL Lacey’s “Paper”.

Over in The Parish, Dirtyfreud bring their captivating meld of dubstep and 2-step garage to a late afternoon crowd, before Nicole Ariana takes to the small pub stage with her smooth flowing RnB. With a variety of venues taken over by the festival, some acts feel deserving of bigger stages, though the community spirit of a busy pub brings its own delightful charm.

In a far grander setting, St Giles Church bathed Willy Mason’s set in ethereal blues. With the last of the afternoon light falling through the stained glass windows and the audience lined in pews, his folk performance becomes a blissfully intimate affair. Across the street in Hope St Church, a far cry from the medieval plinth with its modern glass exterior, Wales’ own Islet deliver a wildly intense cacophony to a heaving room.

Sailor Honeymoon 10 FOCUS Wales 2024 credit Steve White
Sailor Honeymoon by Steve White

Entertaining the punk fans over at The Rockin’ Chair, South Korean trio Sailor Honeymoon admit this show to be only their third performance outside of Korea. With deadpan delivery, spoken word interludes, and screeching guitars elevating their argumentative rock, track “Bad Apple” becomes a standout crowd-pleaser. Playing to their audience, the group’s drummer cries out “congratulations on your promotion, Wrexham Soccer!” to an eruption of cheers.

A short dash back to Penny Black reveals one of the festival’s strangest, albeit most entertaining performances. Paris’ self-styled “techno pop princess” Sam Quealy offers soaring melodies amid an energetic, erotically choreographed spectacle. Snaking through the crowd during track “Klepto”, her immersive performance sees her plucking items from an enthusiastically entranced crowd.

Back at The Rockin’ Chair, Québécois punk duo DVTR show why they're one of the most hotly-tipped acts to catch. On a tiny stage in the corner of the room, the pair’s relentless energy easily matches the heaving, sweaty crowd. Spinning to face the back of the stage, their set abruptly ends with a blind bouquet toss, fake white flowers hurled into the pit at the foot of the stage.

As Saturday draws the festival to a close, Ty Pawb’s auditorium hosts an industry panel discussing mental health and wellbeing in the creative sectors. Exploring the issues many in music and film face, the panel answers questions and signposts resources from Help Musicians and BECTU to Roadie Medic and The Film and TV Charity.

DVTR 1 FOCUS Wales 2024 credit Steve White
DVTR by Steve White

Over at Old No.7 Bar, a quiet English country pub setting draped in glistening fairy lights, Cardiff rapper Sonny Double 1 playfully demands more energy from the tired crowd. Leading a call and repeat of his name and encouraging the audience to shout out the title of his new single “Spill”, his infectious energy soon has the room moving.

Round the corner in a large tentipi, venue HWB showcases some of the festival’s more experimental performers. Hong Kong’s Blackout on Mars, the solo project of producer Justin Leung, is joined by experimental percussionist Yion for an ambient and hypnotising show of ethereal melodies and chiming synths, looped with effects-laden guitar and clarinet.

Back inside Ty Pawb, Nova Scotia’s showcase offers up Moira & Claire, who succinctly introduced their viral TikTok hit: “It’s called Delaney’s dad and it’s about a dad that sucks.” A calming break from the beating sunshine, the sister’s harmonising vocals are confessional and gentle, with an air of quiet determination that makes for a captivating show. As FOCUS Wales comes to an end, a warm sense of community persists on the city’s streets and, while Wrexham may have been making headlines in sport, in music there’s no doubt that it’s also cultivating headliners.

FOCUS Wales returns next year and runs from 8-10 May 2025.

Share article

Get the Best Fit take on the week in music direct to your inbox every Friday

Read next