Dean Hodge talks to John Rostron ahead of the return of DimSwn to Cardiff this weekend.
One of the living symbols of independent Welsh music, John Rostron has played an instrumental role behind the scenes in shaping a musical culture that has helped put Wales firmly on the musical map, and arguably embodies the maverick ‘indie’ spirit that has come to define the scene.
Along with BBC Radio 1 DJ Huw Stephens, both men co-founded what is arguably one of the biggest indie festivals nationally Swn Festival, and the first National Music Prize for Wales, the Welsh Music Prize.
Like many shining lights in the music landscape, the Swn Festival found itself in a temporary moment of darkness as it was forced to scale down to an one-day event last year as opposed to the usual four-day marathon due to costs. Rather than bury its head in the sand, the festival rebranded itself as the aptly named DimSwn and responded with a colossal line-up of rising acts in their ascendancy, all condensed into one October day of musical majesty that proved Swn was far from being a sunken ship.
This weekend as the sunshine reappears, DimSwn recommences again in a new spring timeslot. Homegrown gems including MIXALYDIA, Delyth McLean, Pretty Vicious and KEYS, will grace seven of the city’s musical shrines alongside exciting UK acts such as Laura Doggett, Jagaara and Mercury Prize-nominated East India Youth. Additionally, this year marks the first where Swn will take place in two separate instalments, with a two-day event announced for this November.
As music devotees roll into Cardiff for their Swn fix this weekend, John Rostron spoke to AfterDark’s Dean Hodge about the great response DimSwn has received, why he reckons the Welsh music scene is in a healthy place, and how he thinks it can grow further.
DEAN: Considering that Swn was made a one-day event for the first time in November last year, what did you make of the response to it?
JOHN: It was certainly a very different event but the fact it still sold-out proves it was no less successful. There was a great buzz across all the venues that day and everyone who attended had a great time, which is really the key element to how an event’s success is measured.
Additionally, it re-energised the team and seeing how well it was received gave us the incentive to repeat the one-day DimSwn event at a different time of year. Considering we haven’t done any events under the Swn brand in spring before, it will be interesting to see how well it works.
DEAN: The line-up for this year’s DimSwn consists of some very exciting, up-and-coming acts. Do you think there are some acts people may not necessarily be familiar with, who they should watch out for?
JOHN: Generally, we don’t book acts based on how well-known they are. We want Swn to be a platform for newer or under-the-radar acts to play to a bigger audience, and to encourage our attendees to discover acts they wouldn’t normally listen to or be able to easily discover anywhere else.
The popularity of an act is very difficult to determine as people’s opinions of how great or established an artist is are extremely varied, and I think that in itself is one of the great things about music.
I honestly couldn’t single out one act in the line-up as I like them all, and it’s a minor negative that there’s only so many artists you can see in one day. For anyone attending this weekend, I recommend just listening to the DimSwn playlist, finding out for yourself which artists you most like, and plan to see them on the day.
DEAN: Following the event this weekend, Swn Festival will return to being a multi-day event in November. How pleased are you that after two years, Swn will once again return in its original multi-day form?
JOHN: It’s very exciting for us not just for the fact that we can bring the original multi-day version of Swn back, but that for the first time we are holding two separate events at different times of the year. It’s less pressure in a way because rather than pulling all our resources into one event and feeling we only have a single shot to get it right, this year we can spread our resources more.
It will be great going into the November event knowing that already this year, we have given a great opportunity to over fourty artists, and that will give us an extra belief and confidence that we can repeat the previous success.
DEAN: What are your thoughts on the music scene in Wales, and how do you think it could get even bigger?
JOHN The scene itself and many artists in Wales have a very ‘independent’ aesthetic, in that they don’t feel they always have to rely on a manager or record label, and they’re willing to work in other areas such as booking gigs and PR to support their careers.
I really value that and I think we simply need to encourage and nurture that self-driven spirit, as well as ensuring that there are more venues and platforms for them to play to more people. That’s how we see our role at Swn, which is giving a platform for artists to get themselves heard, and to meet new people involved in all areas of the industry.
The BBC Wales and Arts Council of Wales Horizons project is a fantastic initiative for instance, because it recognises the hard work of some of our acts that they put into achieving success, and ultimately aims to ‘exhilarate’ that process through more platforms. It’s not about waiting for one big event a year to play. As an artist, you have to work hard through the whole year, and find more platforms for yourself where you can get noticed.
DEAN: As well as everything you previously touched on, do you think it is just as important for the Welsh music scene that there are more music writers and bloggers in Wales, who are all helping to promote local artists?
JOHN: Obviously it is crucial we have all these music venues and initiatives, but it is just as important that there are people who attend gigs, who have an opinion about music and who can write about that. Music is a very socially powerful thing. You need to have that ‘debate’ among people about different artists, and that debate is only sparked if there are reviewers or bloggers writing about them.
If people want to discover new music or know which gigs are happening, just as much as artists want to get their music heard or promoters want to advertise their shows, there needs to be that medium between the two. The more voices we have in the scene, the better the scene gets.
DEAN: As well as DimSwn last year, taking place alongside that was the AIF Festival Congress event and awards ceremony, which highlighted the work that festival organisers and operations teams do. Do you agree the event is a great showcase of that?
JOHN: It’s just as enjoyable for me to be at a festival actually as an audience member where I can experience the atmosphere, and so many exciting things happen in the festival environment. It’s great there are more diverse, independent festivals being held across Wales, the UK and the world now.
There are so many different areas that go into making a successful festival, so I think the AIF initiative and the Festival Congress event are wonderful because they enable people involved in all aspects of the festival industry to come together, and share useful information that can help everyone move forward. The fact it happened in Wales was even better, as it showcased our proud musical heritage and that Wales welcomes people from all corners of the world. I just hope the Festival Congress event can continue to get bigger.
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