Dean Hodge reviews some of the acts from this year’s DimSŵn Festival in Cardiff , 9 April. (Photography by Nick Evans)
If its older sibling Sŵn is the headline act of the festival season, then the younger DimSŵn is the inaugural support whetting aural appetites for the soundtrack to our year ahead. With the tenth year of Sŵn approaching, DimSŵn was in some ways a premature nine-and-a-half old birthday celebration – a mere slice of the Sŵn birthday cake full of the rich sonic filling and rare flavours-of-the-month that this defiantly Welsh institution never fails to mix up.
As is often the case at Sŵn, it falls on the slim guitar-adorned shoulders of a singer-songwriter act to open proceedings. So DimSŵn 2016 gets under way in Undertone with Merthyr Tydfil chanteuse Bryony Sier – the first in a line of acts representing the Forte Project stage. She manages to inject a unique edge into the country and folk genre with a voice that sounds more Memphis than Merthyr, and melodies cut straight from the heart.
Anelog – “The band’s sugar-coated harmonies manage to shine through”
Upstairs in 10 Ft Tall, the mellifluous electro-pop vibes descending from PARCS radiate around the room like a scented candle. Soundchecking issues at the beginning though, make for a perhaps nervy performance. That is perhaps less to do with technical drawbacks, and more of a reflection on a rather subdued audience, who draw a blank stare when invited to join in singing with another act later in the day.
There is a certain degree of pressure on the opening acts of Sŵn each year. Given the fact the bands given the later slots are greeted with a higher degree of anticipation, the first acts have to put on something really special to make an impact. The fact that the audience are still getting warmed up into the day mean the acts have to often contend with a rather passive crowd.
Indie upstarts Sports Team make something of a valiant attempt to inject some energy into the crowd, with the lead singer doing his utmost to impersonate Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis. He croons and struts around the stage almost as if he is possessed by Curtis’ spirit and baritone himself, with a hint of Liam Gallagher’s leant-upwards pose thrown in for added rock ‘n’ roll. His antics can at times be a distraction from the band’s music which, when given room to speak, does so with authority. Their sound is pitched somewhere between the melancholy of The Smiths and the sardonic punk-pop of The Pixies.
Leif Erikson – “Gloriously melodic guitar-pop adorned with soulful vocals and intricate hooks”
Later in the day in the cosy confines of The Moon Club, North Wales psych-folk band Anelog take to the stage – the first of a trio of acts to represent the Horizons Gorwelion 2016 scheme this year. Given the band performed little than a year ago, the lack of a substantial discography – comprised of little more than four tracks – makes for a set of mostly unfamiliar material.
What I hear to begin with is vastly different to any of the tracks I have heard. The difference in sound is just as much a case of the venue itself which, given its size and acoustics, can be a notoriously difficult venue to play in. While this can make for an inconsistent performance, the sugar-coated harmonies that the band never fail to muster still shine through. Hopefully with more time spent on the road, their live performance will mature in spades.
Leif Erikson‘s choice of name – inspired by the famous Icelandic explorer – is perhaps an apt one for their yearning indie-rock sound. They bridge elements of the jangly sound of late 80’s bands such as The Stones Roses and pre-Screamadelica Primal Scream with the early 90’s shoegaze sound populated by bands such as Ride. The London four-piece craft gloriously melodic guitar-pop adorned with soulful vocals and intricate hooks – most notably on debut single Looking For Signs. I can always bank on Sŵn to throw up a new musical discovery, and my decision to catch these guys right at the tail-end of their set (with added encouragement from photographer Nick Evans) is a fruitful one. Definitely ones to watch out for this year.
ESTRONS – “Their intensity and conviction is unmatched by any act seen today”
Fellow Horizons 2016 alumni Ysgol Sul’s name is perhaps just as apt for their slow-burning ‘dream-indie’ – arguably the calm before the musical storm that follows. To a certain generation of music fans, they’re musically situated between the murky shoegaze riffs of My Bloody Valentine and the power-pop of The Pixies, plus some of the maverick spirit of Super Furry Animals. To the current generation, the only suitable comparison would be a more spaced-out Arctic Monkeys after one too many sloe gins.
Both bands kick off what is an impressive run of names in Clwb Ifor Bach, with homegrown heroes ESTRONS soon to follow – a band with a refreshingly back-to-basics approach to rock ‘n’ roll. Either an heavier clone of Catatonia and Feeder or a more melodic Hole, the Cardiff quartet tear through their set – consisting of recent singles Make A Man and Drop – with an intensity and conviction that is unmatched by any other act seen today. Lead singer Taliesyn Kallstrom‘s vocal is a blend of beauty and bite in equal measure, and she belts every note as if her life depends on it.
The sheer size of the crowd that CaStLeS – the third of the three Horizons 2016 acts to play DimSŵn – manage to draw into the upstairs venue of Four Bars, is matched only by the artillery of psych-pop hooks they manage to cram into their music.
Such is the intensity of their hook-a-minute psychedelic grooves, that at times it can almost feel lumbered together and rather disjointed. Certain tracks can feel a little ‘style-over-substance’, but the band do possess the odd killer tune or two lurking beneath the chaos. If their fierce energy and tight musicianship can be combined with their stronger songwriting moments, they are a band with real promise to be big in the year ahead.
The Big Moon – “They tear through their performance with an archaic yet assured swagger”
The band who is deservedly bestowed with the prestigious honour of closing Clwb Ifor Bach’s coverage of DimSŵn is The Big Moon – a band who sound like the 90’s-concieved lovechild of a Seattle grunge rocker and a Britpop chanteuse. Having (almost literally) burst through the ceiling of 10 Feet Tall with the performance at Sŵn Festival last year, one questions the wisdom of moving such a band capable of cultivating such body-shaking delirium to another upstairs venue.
They tear through the performance with an archaic yet assured swagger, that only a band about to go on to bigger things could justifiably lay claim to. Whether they do indeed enjoy bigger popularity in the coming months (which they probably will) or not, either way their performance here is guaranteed to linger long in the memories of many – with spiky new single Cupid and unrequited-love anthem Sucker both particular highlights, plus their wonderfully warped version of Beautiful Stranger by Madonna. If the crowd is surprising sparse to begin with, by the end the band seem to bring what seems like half the entire Sŵn crowd into one room.
Finally, the swirling psych-infused electro-pop of Coves helps to give DimSŵn the grandiose finale it merits. The duo pack dreamy 60’s dusted melodies that ingrain themselves into your head, and fizzing psychedelic grooves that rush through the senses faster than any Jagerbomb consumed through the day.
DimSŵn 2016 was a sprinkling of just some of the potential success stories we can expect from this year all playing on Cardiff’s doorstep. With Sŵn’s tenth birthday approaching sometime in the autumn, this for now was an early birthday gift, and a teaser for what Sŵn 10 has in store.
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