Horizons/Gorwelion 2016: Dean Hodge Interviews CaStLeS – ‘Our live shows are an opportunity for us to do something exciting and inventive’

Dean Hodge speaks to Dion Hamer from CaStLeS (Cestyll) – one of this year’s Horizons/Gorwelion 2016 artists.

Castles 2 (Copyright Horizons)

Members: Dion Hamer, Cynyr Hamer, Calvin Thomas 

When listening to garage-psych trio CaStLeS (or Cestyll in Welsh), you only have to close your eyes and you can convince yourself that you’re back in the 60’s again. Their staunchly authentic sound is a kaleidoscopic blend of psych-infused surf-rock and West Coast influenced guitar-pop, filtered through a late 60’s lens.

The North Wales band have been meticulously honing their distinct style while managing to exist fairly underneath the radar for a while now. But while the ‘sound’ is one thing, are the ‘songs’ good enough? Recent singles like PartDepart and Foresteering are strong hints at a band who have belief in their craftsmanship, and are ready to emerge from the shadow.

Dean Hodge spoke to CaStLeS member Dion Hamer about the band being selected for the Horizons/Gorwelion 2016 scheme, their ambitions for the year ahead, and their two upcoming albums. Continue reading

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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

Horizons/Gorwelion 2016 – meet the new class of Welsh artists

Published on AfterDark (3 Mar 2016)

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge gives his first review of this year’s Horizons/Gorwelion 2016 artists (announced on Feb 29).

Horizons 12 2016 (Copyright by BBC Wales and Horizons)

When casting my eyes and ears over the new Horizons/Gorwelion 2016 line-up, for some unusual reason the film Forrest Gump seemed to immediately enter into my mind. More specifically, it was the famous line which Tom Hanks says at the beginning of the film – “Life is like a box of chocolates, because you never know what you’re going to get.”

The peculiar reference to that line is slightly justified here because it goes some way to summing up what has to be the most diverse line-up of twelve acts picked by the Horizons/Gorwelion scheme yet. From hip-hop to post-hardcore, from indie to electronica, from folk to pop – there is certainly something here to appeal to everyone’s aural taste.

But one thing is guaranteed – you are bound to stumble across some true musical gems that hopefully will have only just entered your life (and your playlist). If they haven’t yet, they are bound to make their presence felt over the course of the year ahead.

Once again, Horizons will be delivering on its ethos of promoting new music in Wales and shining a light on these twelve artists over the course of 2016 – through extensive radio airplay, live shows, festival slots, and an exclusive recording session at BBC Maida Vale.

BBC Radio 1 presenter – and one of the Horizons panel – Huw Stephens summed up the mission statement of Horizons in his previous interview with AfterDark. “There is so much talent in Wales but sometimes it’s hard to find it, and people might not know about new bands or where to start looking. You need to have a ‘filter’ for all the music out there and Horizons is a great music filter.”

To get you acquainted with the new wave of Welsh artists providing the ultimate ‘alternative’ soundtrack to the year ahead, AfterDark’s Dean Hodge provides his own take on the chosen 12 – and there is certainly a mixed bag of musical treats to indulge in here. Additionally, you can find out more about Horizons here.

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Review: Sŵn Festival 2015 – “If the previous two DimSŵns were slim pickings of the Sŵn fruit tree, this year was the full aural cornucopia”

Published on AfterDark (14 Nov 2015)

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge reviews some of the performances from this year’s Sŵn Festival in Cardiff (6-8 Nov 2015). Photography by Tess Seymour.

Cristobal and the Sea. Copyright Tess Seymour.

The venues: Buffalo/Clwb Ifor Bach/Four Bars (Dempseys)/Gwdihw/Ten Feet Tall/Undertone/The Moon Club/The Abacus Rooms

Like many, it was great for me to see Sŵn Festival return to Cardiff in its original multi-year form after a two-year spell. The previous downsized DimSŵn events did a fine job of filling the gap in between and keeping the Swn faithful happy, but at last we could now enjoy a whole weekend of arguably the biggest musical ‘street party’ in Cardiff.

The slightly later date for this year’s outing (due to a certain rugby tournament) meant that the days were slightly shorter, the evenings slightly darker and the weather slightly colder (or perhaps not much colder as it is the Welsh weather after all). The quality of the music and the atmosphere though, remained of the same high calibre as it did before.

If the previous two DimSŵn outings were merely slim pickings of the Sŵn fruit tree, then this year’s event promised to be the full cornucopia of aural richness. Having such a plethora of talent gracing some of the city’s venues is both a blessing and a curse, as it leaves a dilemma as who to see or which act could be an as-yet-undiscovered favourite. Continue reading

Single review: Afro Cluster ‘Basic Questions’ – “A wall of funk-driven fury, fuelled by a respect for the roots of soul”

Published on AfterDark (4 Nov 2015)

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge reviews the new single by AfroCluster (released 9 Nov 2015).

AfroCluster

In my last review of Afro Cluster’s preceding single They Don’t Know featuring Helena-May (released New Year’s Day this year) I described it as ‘four-minutes of pedal-to-the-floor doo-wop funk layered with shimmering beats, brash horns, smouldering guitar licks and topped off by a sultry vocal turn from Miss May which elevates the track to another level of sophisticated sass.’

My verdict was really just a short and sweet sampling of the sonic beverage that lays within the track. The music purely does all the talking by itself and if it was a mouth, it would need an excessive amount of cooling mints to cool down the fire that echoes from its belly.

The gap between They Don’t Know and their upcoming release Basic Questions (featuring Greg Blackman) has certainly done much to heighten the appetite for more of the same soaring level of smouldering soul-driven hip-hop. Any chances of feeling short-changed by their new release can be laid firmly to bed, as Basic Questions answers any such apt inquisitiveness in the same manner that They Don’t Know did. Continue reading

AfterDark’s Ones to Watch in 2015: Helena-May – “Going solo is an exciting journey I’m looking forward to embarking on”

Helena-May

Published on AfterDark (13 Jan 2015)

Featured on the official Helena May website (14 Aug 2015)

The musical queen-of-all-trades that is Helena-May really needs no introduction. She has been the voice and the face of diverse acts – including the likes of The Siren Sisters, Miss May & The Magic, The May Duo, Super Chango and Man May’d to name just a few, as well as previous sessions with Thunder and the Union, Think Floyd and most recently Kokomo – and is practically an inescapable figure in the Welsh scene. 2015, however, marks the year where Helena-May officially launches herself as a solo artist.

Her EP released with Man May’d ‘Living at the Speed of Love’ is four slices of refined, funk-flavoured neo-soul laced with catchy jazz melodies, soulful grooves and topped with Helena-May’s effortlessly smooth, husky vocal. From the hazy romanticism of the title track to the melancholy-tinged reggae of I Dodged a Bullet, to the light-as-a-breeze soul of He’s a Dandy and bouncy, toe-tapping riffs of Tongue Ties and Twisted, each track encapsulates Helena-May’s ability to paint pictures of modern-day issues of life and romance within a tapestry of retro pop-tinted soul. Continue reading