Various Venues, Cardiff | October 19th
The second day of Swn 2012 is a particularly significant one for us, boasting as it does the Crack hosted stage at Clwb Ifor Bach.
First up is Jethro Fox, the rising Liverpudlian providing a quickly filling downstairs room with an impressive display of his much-discussed talent. With the capable assistance of a youthful backing band, the sound produced is smarty and catchy, and an innately uplifting opening to the evening’s proceedings.
Up in the larger top floor room, local boys Kutosis command a headliner-worthy crowd, as queues begin to snake around the outside of the building. Their spiky post-punk-indie-rock has truly gained momentum over the last 12 months, despite being staples on the Cardiff scene for years, and here they thoroughly justify a surge to wider prominence which included a nomination for the WMP, performing confidently and showcasing a roundness and depth of sound which has marked them out for continued growth. These could quite easily become the next band to truly explode out of South Wales.
Watching The Invisible downstairs at Clwb goes a long way to capturing just what makes Swn so special. With the deeply atmospheric and spacious sound of latest album Rispah ringing in our ears from repeated listens, to see the songs being crafted a matter of feet in front of us, at floor level, takes the cliched description of ‘intimate’ to another level. There’s something so clever and knowing in what The Invisible do, particularly in a live environment. As layered percussion bleeds forth, mingling with electronic beats into incredible creative grooves, even from our vantage point it’s difficult to place individual elements of the engrossing, irresistible overall effect. While these percussive leanings mark them apart, the only feasible point of comparison is perhaps Radiohead, in the spaciousness of the guitars, in the seamless merging of the organic and the electronic, and in the innate confidence in the musicianship.
Truth be told, until Liars stepped out onstage, we still didn’t quite believe we were going to witness one of the most important, creative and ruthlessly innovative bands in the world, straight off the back of one of the unanimously named albums of the years thus far, alongside our boxfresh new CRACK banner. In fact, we’re perhaps even a little bit flustered through the low-key opening moments of the set, quickly set right with the blast of immediate, pulsating rhythms Brats. Angus Andrew is straight into character, his ample limbs stiff and eyes deadened, approaching the mic in zombie (we’re talking Romero-zombie) fashion, before droning monotonously.
The new found electronic leanings which define WIXIW in no way clash with the band’s esteemed, ever-varied back catalogue. In fact, they locate a sweet spot in amongst older material, which in turn seems to be injected with a vigour and vitality, as if spurred into life by a band with renewed understanding and respect of the rhythmic qualities in their past, spurred by a world of new discovery. Let’s Not Wrestle Mt. Heart Attack, with its yelped intro and tribal progression, Broken Witch’s wild-eyed mania, and the bubbling brilliance of WIXIW’s No.1 Against the Rush all sit together seamlessly, brilliantly. Culminating in the feral assault of Plaster Casts of Everything is an exhausting, tangible stroke of genius. What a band.
No one should have to follow that, so fittingly it was the end of proceedings at the Crack Stage. But still, a manic run across Cardiff city centre was a must. For a festival of this size, The Cribs are surely the perfect headliner. Our sweaty stumble into the generously filled Great Hall couldn’t have been better timed, surging straight into the heart of the crowd and promptly going berserk for a series of modern indie-punk classics. We’re treated to Men’s Needs, Chi-Town, Hey Scenesters!, Be Safe, complete with Lee Ranaldo cameo (as devastatingly poignant as ever) and the inevitable boozy guitar-riff-singalong of Another Number, which will literally never get old. Closing with the custom-made triumphant strains of Arena Rock Encore With Full Cast, this is a festival headline set deserving of the name.
But we’re not done yet. A lust to squeeze a tad more noise into our Friday evening saw a repeat of the high street dash to become acquainted with Bo Ningen. A maelstrom of fuzzy riffage, skyscraping atmosphere and sheer noise appreciation, the Japanese four-piece have the venue rapt and buzzing, leaving us reeling.
And we’re only halfway.
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Words: Geraint Davies