Live Reviews

Swn 2007 @ Various Venues, Cardiff

11 November 2007


Shaking off the slight nausea of the night before, Sunday’s somewhat truncated line-up provides a few things to look forward to. You never quite know what to expect from Chicago’s Bobby Conn (the last time I saw him it was Bowie-esque psychedelic tunes all the way, Conn resplendent in a bright red tracksuit top unzipped to reveal a quaint medallion), and Soft Hearted Scientists are a local curiosity I’ve been dying to check out.

A walk down to the Glo-Bar venue at the bottom of Queen Street is fruitless, as there’s an hour’s delay to the music there, damn it, and after another hour’s delay up at Chapter Arts Soft Hearted Scientists at last provide the day’s first sounds. The crowd is strewn sullenly around the floor after a heavy weekend, but the sounds of the A470 Song soon rouse it from slumber. It’s a rambling poetic piece that builds the bridge from what seems to be an older prog rock sound into something sparkly and new.

The songs from Soft Hearted Scientists new Whirling World LP seem to be on a different plane to the old stuff. Where the old tracks boom along in a linear fashion, guitar, drums, keyboard and voice filing in one moribund line, tracks like Eyes and I Wanted You jump out like blazing stars from old constellations. SHS singer Nathan Hall says he’s struggling a little too after a heavy evening yesterday, and though he sounds like he can’t quite fully commit to the Pop optimism of these tracks they’re still fantastic, lunar lyrical nuggets that send us away smiling.

We set off like the Marx Brothers down Canton after towards Buffalo Bar in an attempt to catch Hush the Many, but alas we arrive to the desolate sounds of them packing up. It’s worth hanging around though, as the next band, Brooklyn’s Yeasayer are really something, a strange concoction of huge vocals emanating from the singer (who remains tantalising out of site around the notorious Buffalo Bar “bend”), subtle Latino rhythms and giddy psychedelia. The place is packed, and it’s enough to do to stop oneself dropping out of the door and rolling down the stairs.

Time to make our way up to Clwb Ifor Bach now, and as we step in through the door there’s a whole lot of shaking going on, riot grrl style. Only The Duloks at closer inspection are not really riot grrls but more humorous electronic tweepop cabaret. Front-lady Mira Dulok is quite a presence, free with her tongue and sharp-witted as a Bobby McGee, every bit the leader of her shorts and knee-socked all-girl threesome. The Duloks’ songs bounce out between Mira’s monologues with an irresistible youthful ebullience, and at the end of their set I have Mar Dulok’s furious toy drum lines etched in my brain, and huge, brash melodies chasing me up the stairs.

After the abrasiveness of The Duloks, the music of Slow Club is like entering a different reality, but two songs in something just happens… Slow Club are immediately nice and mellifluous, but after standing there a while they start sounding humbly spectacular, something like an indiepop version of The White Stripes, rhythmic, festive, and oh so sensitive and poignant. Co-singer and percussionist Rebecca Club has a way with a microphone like I’ve never seen, knowing just the right moment to pull away and let her voice pour out the sides, and the music keeps coming and coming in shimmering waves. Slow Club are a total delight, and it’ll take a while to climb back down to earth.

In fact it’s debatable if this ever happens, because downstairs Bobby Conn is prancing about in striped circus trousers that look like they’ve been pulled off a deckchair, like nothing you’ve seen, and, oh yes, this time he’s supported by a violinist, and not just any violinist… Conn’s accompaniment here tonight plays along with his peculiar brand of psychedelia like it’s Bach, strumming elegant lines through his elongated riffs with the serenity of an angel. Conn seems himself to be on truly perverse form, climbing up on a triangular speaker and falling flat on his face, getting up, shaking himself down, and insisting that it’ll take more than that to keep him down.

But where is his stand-out song Never Get Ahead, a glitterball Pop epic that serenades the dancefloor like nothing else, and why aren’t there more where that came from? It’s only that we’d need, and we’d be talking David Bowie without looking over our shoulders. After already falling over once, it’s maybe not Conn’s night, as the person he chooses to join him on stage for a one-on-one serenade at the end is Mira Dulok from The Duloks, and where she was expected to well up in embarrassment at Conn’s pseudo-romantic treatment, she ends up similating oral sex on him. Fantastic.

The inaugural Swn festival is hurtling full throttle to its end, and upstairs at Clwb Black Lips are rocking out with stylish abandon. It’s getting late though, and we wouldn’t be in our right minds if we didn’t stop off at the Secret Garden Soundsystem Barn Dance at Callaghans for one last drink. Here the party crawls on and people try to keep their feet as best they can on sawdust floors, inebriated like you wouldn’t believe. It’s an outre end to a fantastic weekend.

Swn has done well to put the festival in the hands of the Cardiff people for whom this is a way of life, and thus we don’t even have to wait till next year to do it again. It’s a little rest, and then, quite simply, on with the dance.


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