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

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

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.

Continue reading

Horizons/Gorwelion 2015: The BBC Maida Vale sessions – Interview with Huw Stephens

Published on AfterDark (28 January 2016)

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge spoke to BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio Cymru presenter Huw Stephens during the Horizons/Gorwelion 2015 sessions at BBC Maida Vale.

Huw Stephens (Copyright BBC Radio Cymru)

Last month saw the new wave of acts from the Horizons/Gorwelion scheme descend on the iconic BBC Maida Vale studios over the course of two days. There to preside over these sessions was BBC Radio 1/BBC Radio Cymru/C2 presenter – and new music connoisseur – Huw Stephens. As a member of the Horizons panel for the previous two years, Huw has lent his support for new original music to helping uncover the most exciting new talent in Wales. Here, Huw speaks to Dean Hodge about why a scheme such as Horizons is so important for Welsh music, his thoughts on the class of acts this year, and how he thinks the Welsh music scene can get bigger. Continue reading

Horizons/Gorwelion 2015: The BBC Maida Vale sessions

Published on AfterDark (13 January 2016)

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge gains exclusive access to the Horizons 2015 sessions at BBC Maida Vale and talks to some of this year’s Horizons acts about the past year.

Horizons - Violet Skies w/band (Copyright by Horizons)

For two days over last December, the iconic BBC Maida Vale Studio in London transformed into a glowing musical furnace of Welsh talent as the acts from this year’s Horizons/Gorwelion scheme waltzed through the doors of the building.

For those not familiar with the Horizons scheme, here is a bite-size synopsis – Horizons is a scheme delivered each year in partnership between BBC Cymru Wales and Arts Council of Wales, with the sole intention of developing and nurturing independent music in Wales. As part of the scheme, twelve Welsh artists are picked each year by a panel of producers, and offered a number of opportunities throughout the year.

Just some of these opportunities include more exposure across Welsh radio, slots at a number of national/international festivals, career mentoring carried out through numerous music industry workshops, and at the end of the year a recording session at the illustrious BBC Maida Vale studio itself.

Some of the chosen artists to pass through the star-adorned walls of the building this year include Aled Rheon, Cut Ribbons, Dan Bettridge, Delyth McLean, Hannah Grace, HMS Morris, MELLT, Peasants King, Violet Skies and Yr Eira (with Y Reu absent due to other commitments).

What ensues is two days imbued with plenty of musical blood, sweat and tears. Two days of each artist pouring all their musical blood into three specially chosen tracks. Two days that bring plenty of sweat courtesy of the team of producers, filmmakers and project managers working hard to capture the sweet sounds being made. Two days that result in the occasional tear cried over what is an emotional moment for all involved after such an eventful year.

What emerges from these two days is a catalogue of tracks imbued with the heavenly melodies and the fiery soul that the music of Wales excels in creating. Gaining a front row seat to these two fruitful days in Maida Vale is AfterDark’s Dean Hodge, who talks to a few of the artists – Cut Ribbons, HMS Morris, Violet Skies and Aled Rheon as well as BBC Radio 1’s Huw Stephens – about the sessions and their year-long journey with Horizons. Note: the term ‘musical rollercoaster’ is used with a heavy degree of regularity here. Continue reading

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