Live Report: Sŵn Festival 2022

Cardiff's new music showcase returns...

Metropolitan music festivals are easily the best, and most efficient, way to discover the next big thing. Blending the old with the new, these festivals showcase the very best talent the music industry has to offer, and Cardiff’s Sŵn Festival is no different. Over the course of a weekend, Sŵn Festival boasts a mighty array of artists across seven stages throughout the Welsh capital, priding itself on diversity and community, creating a ‘no more excuses’ approach to the catastrophically non diverse line-ups of their counterparts.

Friday kicked off with a stellar line-up at Tramshed, easily one of Cardiff’s best live music venues, and the only venue hosting the festival on that day. Transatlantic indie rockers Prima Queen hit the venue first, treating the stage as also a catwalk thanks to the incredible outfits from the band. Their vocal harmonies were rich and gorgeous, and the friendship between the group was more than evident. They were followed up by arguably one of the most exciting UK bands of late, that being Brighton’s stellar quartet Lime Garden (once again killing it on the fashion front). Their off-kilter brand of indie pop-meets-post punk had every foot in Tramshed tapping away, with cuts like ‘Marbles’ increasing the dancing levels in the room. Chloe Howard was cheekily flitting between her stunning vocal performances and casual, hilarious, chit-chat with the audience, and guitarist Leila Deeley showered the room with charisma and star power, all while playing the sweetest licks we’ve heard in a while, most notably her parts on killer track ‘Pulp’.

Saturday was the first proper day off the festival, with all venues being open to attendees rather than just Tramshed. Parisian hyperpop artist Kitty took to The Moon in the mid-afternoon, boasting incredible vocals and being a welcomed sonic change in the primarily ‘guitar band’ landscape of the festival. London duo lilo brought their ethereal, delicate brand of indie-folk to Tiny Rebel, serving up boygenius-esque sounds to a captivated audience. Newest single ‘Settled’ delivered harmonies galore, the track being a stunning melting pot of indie, country and folk.

Post-punk extraordinaires Home Counties tore up the stage at Clwb Ifor Bach, blasting through their set of high-octane tracks. Wobbling synths, jagged guitars and plenty of tambourine, the band not only won over the audience, but cemented themselves as one of the most exciting bands in a heavily saturated scene. Baby Dave hit Fuel on Saturday night, the latest musical endeavour of Isaac Holman, one half of punk duo Slaves. Baby Dave’s music sounds a lot like the name – a little bit silly, but you can’t help loving it. Tales of tennis, Clarence’s dead father and ASMR had the crowd cackling just as much as they were bopping. Holman’s ability as a frontman and an entertainer is almost unparalleled, with a remarkable band of musicians behind him having just as much fun as him. ‘If that mic isn’t gonna work, can you make this one sound shit’ Holman asks the sound engineer, minutes after standing in the crowd himself – watching his own band jam. Baby Dave has something for everyone, and the entire set was simply feel good.

Without a doubt one of, if not the best, acts of the weekend was pop starlet Greta Isaac. Playing an early afternoon slot at Clwb Ifor Bach, Greta Isaac and her band behind her truly set the bar incredibly high for anyone playing after. The Welsh artist had the entire room in the palm of her hand, due to a combination of charm, hilarity and pure, unrivalled star power – a star that will definitely be exploding into huge success in the near future. Searing vocals paired with incredible instrumentals is always a winning combination, and tracks like ‘PAYRI$E’ showcase that perfectly.

Other highlights across the weekend were electronic dream pop duo Robbie & Mona, a couple duo feeling like what would happen if you put Beach House, Bjork, Aphex Twin and Jockstrap in a blender (in the best way). Then despite being fairly fresh to the scene with their incredible debut single ‘Get By’ only being released a couple of weeks ago, Scottish noisemakers YABBA made their mark as an incredible live outfit. Heavy riffs, walls of atonal noise and dancefloor drums is a bizarre combination, even more so with frontman Josh Kirk’s frenzied vocal work, but the result is one that truly knocks you for six but keeps you hungry for more. On a lighter note, London quartet Buggs gave a healthy dose of bedroom-tinted indie rock during their early evening moment at The Moon, brandishing their very visible best-friendship with one another, their smiles being infectious.

The only downside of Sŵn Festival is the lack of any bigger-name headliners. Although it is a festival that prides itself on new talent, a smattering of bigger names would really push Sŵn Festival to be a force to be reckoned with. The festival still showed off an impressive armada of talent but a couple of more notable names, or even secret sets, would elevate Sŵn Festival to an even higher status.

That said, the lengths Sŵn Festival have gone to in order to find and snag the UK’s best talents is wildly impressive, and very much welcomed by the city and its attendees.

Sŵn Festival is setting the benchmark for festival line-ups and is really hammers in a ‘no more excuses’ approach when it comes to diversity on line-ups – and rightly so. With the recent lack of non-male artists on most festival line-ups in recent years, it was incredibly refreshing to see so much heterogeneity across the city. Throughout the weekend, Womanby Street and the surrounding venues provided a safe space, a community feel where all people shared the same love for music.

There was no toxic culture anywhere to be seen, a pleasant surprise considering the traditional fist fighting-balloon huffing-tent fire-macho comradery of other festivals. In short, Sŵn Festival is what other festivals need to be looking at. A perfectly run event, glued together by beautiful, kind and community-driven people, with a myriad of the most amazing up-and-comers blasting through the sound systems.

Words: James Mellen
Photography: Cloe Morrison // @cloenna

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