Album review: Baby Queens ‘Baby Queens’ – “Their greatest strength is their ability to break down walls between genre and time”

Published on AfterDark (06 Nov 2016) – CLICK HERE to view

Dean Hodge reviews the eponymous debut album by Cardiff R’n’B fusion band Baby Queens (released through Strangetown Records on 28 October 2016).

Tracklisting: Tired Of Love/Melodi/Had My Heart/Hear Me/You And I/By The River/It Feels Like/Forever/Spiritualize/Unite/Red Light/Samsara

baby-queens-copyirght-baby-queens

Having followed them for a lengthy period of time and thrown around the lofty words ‘long-awaited album’ in much of my previous reviews, it comes as a massive relief to be able to finally review an actual album by Cardiff’s Baby Queensthe female five-piece who serve up a hypnotic and harmonious aural cocktail that is shaken and stirred with R’n’B-infused pop melodies and garage rock-imbued hooks.

The Welsh quintet can pose a two-edged sword to any music journalist or press figure. On one hand, you would need a list longer than your arm for the myriad of genres the band could justifiably fit into with petite ease. But it poses something of a quandary on how exactly to articulate or market their sound within one genre or within a single tagline. Additionally, it is just as much of a challenge in how to thread together the numerous stitches of the band’s sound into a cohesive whole, and capture the raw energy of their live sound onto record. This is perhaps an obvious factor as to the why the wait for a debut album has dragged on for what seems like an infinite amount of time. At least it has so in the eyes of many of their fans – or their ‘New-Jack Army’ if that could be considered a suitable royalty-inspired nickname for their fan club – who have been licking their lips over the prospect of a full-length album by the five-piece.

Not content with just putting out sub-standard recordings of the music that they have been pouring their heart and soul into writing while balancing day-to-day jobs, the band take a decidedly more meticulous approach. For them, the production should be just as important, and just as emotionally ambitious, as the songs themselves. Additionally, so much can happen within the realms of life and love in the space of a couple of years, that can only serve to enlighten and enrich the creative nous. Continue reading

Review: Sŵn Festival 2016 – “Providing musical memories for ten glorious years, and hopefully more to come”

Published on AfterDark (26 Oct 2016) – CLICK HERE to read article

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge reviews some of the acts from the 10th anniversary weekend of Sŵn Festival in Cardiff (Friday 21 – Sunday 23 October 2016).

Photo provided by BBC Cymru Wales (Photographer: Simon Ayre)

Photo provided by BBC Cymru Wales (Photographer: Simon Ayre)

The sight of instruments and amps being wheeled from numerous white vans into one of the various venues in Cardiff. A sea of pink and red balloons dotted around the city streets and inside said venues. People walking around with glitter etched across their face as if it an acceptable form of everyday attire. These are images that have become very much synonymous with the annual orchestrated cacophony of chaos that is Sŵn Festival.

Like a song that reminds you of an iconic scene from your favourite film as soon as you hear it, these images are a visual accompaniment to the many moments of musical magic that have come to define the Welsh festival. Artists have marked their breakthrough here. Friendships (and relationships) have been formed. The odd Jager-bomb has been consumed here and there.

They are moments that indeed now span an entire decade for those that have shared the journey of Sŵn right from the beginning – and four years (and counting) worth of musical memories for me. With local music venues fighting an uphill battle to remain relevant in the current streaming-dominated music industry, the support of these venues and the ability of city-based festivals like Sŵn to highlight the independent scene, is more vital now than ever before. So the Welsh festival marks its tenth birthday by providing more of the high-calibre new artists that have come to define the ethos of Sŵn. Continue reading

Sŵn Festival 2016: AfterDark’s 10 must-see artists

Published on AfterDark (16 Oct 2016) – click here to access article

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge previews the 10th anniversary weekend of Sŵn Festival (Friday 21 – Sunday 23 October) and picks his 10 recommended artists.

10 Must See Artists Swn (Copyirght AfterDark)

Cardiff‘s own curtain-closer to the festival season Sŵn Festival returns once again to numerous venues around the Welsh capital for a whole weekend – showcasing the cream of upcoming artists that are sure to be the soundtrack of the years to come.

Like the one music-obsessive in your social group that continually claims bragging rights to knowing the best new artists before anyone else does, Sŵn prides itself on bringing future headliners and chart-hasslers directly into some of Cardiff’s petite venues. Artists like Temples, Alt-J, The Vaccines and Disclosure are just some of the acts to have graced the Welsh festival on the way to the ‘toppermost’.

Now in its 10th year, Sŵn shows no signs of going stale with its ear still finely attuned to the freshest sounds – and this year’s line up is sure to have something to please everyone whatever their aural tastes. AfterDark’s Dean Hodge handpicks his own ten artists to look out for this weekend. Continue reading

Live review: The Bluetones – TramShed, Cardiff, 19 April – “The band raise a gin and bluetonic to twenty years since their soaring debut”

The Bluetones TramShed 1 (Copyright Nick Evans)

Published on AfterDark (21 April 2016)

Dean Hodge reviews the band’s Cardiff leg of their ‘Jukebox’ 20th anniversary tour, at the recently opened TramShed venue (support from The Standard Lamps). Photography: Nick Evans.

For a band often considered part of the blossoming Britpop scene of the mid-1990’s, The Bluetones were far more inspired by the harmony-laden guitar-pop of 60’s US West Coast bands such as The Byrds, than by the British songbook circa-Kinks and Small Faces that informed the sound of much of their peers.  But timeless singles such as Slight Return and Bluetonic have ingrained themselves in the psyche of many of those who were in their twenties when the band started, as well as those lucky enough to discover them since.

Having initially parted ways, the band have reformed for a one-off tour as they raise a gin and ‘bluetonic’ to twenty years since the band’s inception and the release of their soaring debut album Expecting To Fly – an often overlooked, but scarcely overpraised, classic from the 1990’s British indie scene.

Their return to Cardiff coincides with the recent arrival of the ambitious TramShed venue in Cardiff, which in a short space of time has established itself as an integral part of the Cardiff music scene, filling the gap for a suitable ‘medium-sized venue’ that Cardiff has lacked for so long. Its thousand-strong capacity makes it suitable for housing the audience for this gig – albeit many of whom are in their late 30’s to 40’s and whose youth was fortunately soundtracked by the Britpop era. Continue reading

Review: DimSŵn 2016 – ‘A premature serving of Sŵn’s 10th birthday cake, with just as much rich sonic filling’

Published on AfterDark (14 April 2016) [click here to view]

Dean Hodge reviews some of the acts from this year’s DimSŵn Festival in Cardiff , 9 April. (Photography by Nick Evans)

Anelog (Copyright Nick Evans)

Anelog, The Moon Club (Photo: 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 Sierthe 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. Continue reading

Review: Afro Cluster ‘We Don Land’ EP – ‘The dawn of an exciting new addition to the Welsh sound’

Dean Hodge reviews the new EP by Cardiff band Afro Cluster (released 11 April 2016).

Vid Shoot Photo Afro Cluster (Copyright Afro Cluster)

Tracklisting: First Rites/Love Thing/Double Trouble/We Don Land/Access Denied

For their new release, Cardiff funk-revivalists Afro Cluster one of the Horizons/Gorwelion 2016 artists – have adopted a decidedly more-is-more approach, with their line-up expanding from eight to nine. The phase ‘too many cooks spoil the broth‘ frankly doesn’t apply within this musical kitchen though.

Rather, each individual in the band brings a different set of ingredients that simply accentuates the flavour of the sonic stew of soul, funk and hip-hop that the band serve up . Like a certain Premier League football team from Leicester, they seem to bring out the best in each other, and their approach to their craft is just as full of pace and attack.

We Don Land sees the nu-funk band once again play to their core strength – reviving the preserved back canon of 60’s/70’s funk and soul, while adding a modern sheen with lyrics that are in tune with the issues facing the world today – courtesy of frontman/wordsmith Skunkadelic. If the rest of the band are an engine, then his captivating wordplay is ultimately the steering wheel that gives a direction to their sucker-punch rhythms. Continue reading

Forté Project 10: AfterDark’s Dean Hodge Interviews Spike Griffiths

Published on AfterDark (4 Dec 2015)

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge interviews Spike Griffiths, the project manager behind new Welsh music scheme Forté Project.

With precociously talented young artists and brilliant bands seemingly falling like leaves off trees from within the Welsh valleys, it is only going to be due time before the rest of the nation has to sit up and take firm notice. Just one of the people clearly recognising the growing force of young Welsh talent is Spike Griffiths – project manager of the Young Promoters Network scheme and now co-ordinator behind the latest Welsh music initiative Forté Project.

Brought to you by the minds behind the Young Promoters Network, in co-ordination with SONIG Youth Music, Arts Connect and Arts Council of Wales; the Forté Project aims to take ten emerging artists from regions which span across the areas of Rhondda Cynon Taff, Caerphilly, Merthyr Tydfil, Bridgend and the Vale of Glamorgan, collectively known as Arts Connect. 

Just some of the benefits the Forte Project 10 artists will enjoy include working with assigned industry mentors, songwriting workshops, industry-related seminars, recording sessions and a range of opportunities which will be gradually revealed over the next year.

Teenage modern soulstress Kaycee (a recent highlight at this year’s Sŵn Festival) and the enigmatic electronica of HVNTER make up some of the artists (Rhondda Cynon Taf), as do the pedal-powered pop of Alex Stacey and roots-folk outit Ofelia (Caerphilly). The eclectic line of artists continues through country songbird Bryony Sier to alternative hip-hop duo Luk to socially-conscious ska collective Upbeat Sneakers (Merthyr Tydfil). Completing the cast are Bridgend indie rock bands Young Calypso and Fire Fences, alongside the soul-soaked folk of Thomas Seddon (Vale of Glamorgan).

To find out more about the project and the artists involved, AfterDark’s Dean Hodge chatted to Spike Griffiths about the origins of the scheme and plans for the year ahead. Continue reading