Chlöe Howl – The Angel Hotel
At just 18 years of age, Chlöe Howl writes the sort of brutally honest, cynical lyrics about what it is to be young that you’d expect from someone who’s lived through it already. Her talent as a synth pop artist was clear from the outset, with opener Rumour from her EP of the same name: high energy and a tight arrangement set the tone. Halfway through, the tempo was brought down with ‘a song about my friend, India’. Howl confronted drug issues with a sensitive performance and a lot of heart, showing serious promise for her future as a singer-songwriter. The slot ended on her latest, faster-paced songs Downtown and Paper Heart, as well as new single No Strings from the EP. All were delivered with a resounding vocal and riffs harking back to ’80s pop influences, leaving the crowd cheering and convinced of her place on the British pop scene. This artist is one of a quality handful making a name for young British musicians in 2013, a far cry from the manufactured pop we’ve previously been used to. HES
Frankie & The Heartstrings – Clwb Ifor Bach
Having graced the Great Hall in support of The Cribs at last year’s festival, not to forget the subsequent front cover of Quench, Frankie & The Heartstrings returned to Sŵn and the smaller surroundings of Clwb Ifor Bach.
Sporting a new sharper look, front man Frankie Francis appears to have matured, maintaining what comes across as genuine enthusiasm but having put aside many of the unnecessary theatrics of 12 months ago. Although the crowd isn’t quite as up for it as the band would have hoped they don’t allow it to detract from their performance, which is lively and animated throughout.
The band play their way through a selection of material from their two previous albums, which doesn’t offer much in terms of variety, but displays the sort of jangly guitars and catchy choruses that we have become accustomed to, with Frankie’s regional vocal giving it the Heartstring seal of approval. LM
Sky Larkin – Clwb Ifor Bach
The Leeds-based trio are back together from separate projects. Regulars in Cardiff, they returned for their second set in a month following their UK tour for the release of September album Motto. This time, Sky Larkin were slow to start but things picked up with upbeat single Loom. Beers in hand and a faultless unity throughout, the band attracted growing cheers with each song. The whole gig had an easy vibe with every member giving a straightforward, quality performance – particularly drummer Nestor Matthews. With rich, resounding instrumentals, Sky Larkin have honed the right balance between addressing the crowd and playing a great set. HES
Gulp – Clwb Ifor Bach
Sŵn saw Gulp, current project of Guto Pryce (Super Furry Animals), return to the scene of their first gig. Gulp’s brand of synth-drenched psychedelia saw Clwb packed out for the beginning of the festival.
Lindsey Leven’s vocals are captivating and sincere, delivered in a way that invites the audience in to the melodic opening of the set. Following two unreleased tracks, the droning synth of ‘Game Love’ kicks in, signalling the beginning of the hazy 3 and half-minute journey through the band’s debut single.
The duo combine electronic and experimental influences to create a sound that is incredibly unique, a quality owed in part to Leven’s delicate vocals. The pair bring an extra dimension to their live performance, with trippy visuals creating a fitting atmosphere throughout.
The set closes with latest single ‘Play’ followed by the upbeat dance floor-friendly ‘Diamonds’, the B-side from ‘Game Love’, leaving behind an audience likely to be hoping for and expecting much more from this band. LM
Totem Terrors – Clwb Ifor Bach
Setting up, the awkward duo looked incapable of living up to their name. Fortunately, appearances can be deceiving: their post-punk material is minimal and unforgiving, with heavy bass lines, monotone vocals and the odd atmospheric yelp from guitarist Rosie. Sure, it was weird at times, but in a progressive kind of way. After a shaky start of forgotten lyrics, the pair won over the crowd with cheeky subject matter and a little self-deprecation. At one moment the duo would be seemingly unaware of having an audience; the next, they’d be moving through the crowd and grimacing at press cameras. Totem Terrors gave a quirky performance with a parting message to match: “We’ve been Totem Terrors and you’ve been… a bigger audience than expected”. HES
Heavy Petting Zoo – Clwb Ifor Bach
Taking to the stage clad entirely in black, Heavy Petting Zoo’s uniform forms stark contrast to the white suited dancer they’ve brought along with them. Deftly filling the gap in the crowd consistently formed by those either too cool or too shy to move forward, their snowy shape-thrower perfectly compliments HPZ’s darkly swaggering rock ‘n’ roll. Downtuned and bassy, the set soon takes a turn for the weird as a conga breaks out around Clwb’s infamous mid-floor pole. A brisk end-of-set undressing from the band’s alternative answer to Bez solidifies this as one of the most interesting – if incongruous – sets of the weekend. TC
Ghostpoet – The Angel Hotel
Within seconds of taking to the stage, Ghostpoet’s bassy soundtrack tears down the stage’s Sŵn Festival backdrop. This, coupled with the ‘poet himself (Obaro Ejimiwe to his mother) being shrouded in darkness, forms perfect metaphor for the subsequent hour and a half. This is not about the festival, this is not about the man; this is all about the voice. Warped and muddled by an array of pedals to Ejimiwe’s right, it takes on a life of its own among the ornate surroundings of the Angel Hotel. As the crowd sways and bobs before him, it soon becomes clear that Ghostpoet is in fact less a poet, more a priest, and tonight’s performance is a borderline religious experience. TC
Outfit – The Great Hall
“Thanks for coming early!” Frontman Andrew Hunt addresses the keen end of the crowd as his band Outfit are tasked with opening not just the evening, but Sŵn festival itself. As they launch into House on Fire, a curious crowd becomes an excited one, drawn closer to the stage by beautiful, skulking disco numbers. One angular pop melody after another rewards the earlybirds, the heavy washed falsetto and pure funk bass of Thank God I was Dreaming allow a glimpse into what Hot Chip could be live on a good day. After the tightest of 40 minute sets, they end on album-closer and radio-favourite, Two Islands. A soaring chorus bounds over delicate synths, and after 4 minutes even those merely reserving a space for later felt sad to see them go. JD
Dutch Uncles – The Great Hall
The vocals get higher and the dancing gets stranger as Dutch Uncles respond to Outfit’s opening set with their own brand of oddpop. And if there’s any band to move to, this is it. Flexxin’ and Slave to the Atypical Rhythm provoke the exact response you’d expect from such titles, as happy gig-goers shed inhibitions and get down in hilarious fashion. Frontman Duncan Wallis leads proceedings, interjecting bursts of song with spasmodic jerks and shimmys, and making it all seem normal. Amid the falsetto funk are darker moments like Threads and Fester (they don’t mess around with track titles, Dutch Uncles) to grant us a moment’s recovery, before the familiar tones of old single Fragrance invite movement once again. As exhausting, and fun, a show as you’re ever likely to see outside of punk.
Everything Everything – The Great Hall
Mancunian four-piece Everything Everything have evolved their live show. Gone are the grey boiler suits and stoic stage manner of their Man Alive tour; the band walk on in what look like utopian IKEA uniforms, but they walk on smiling. The most notable change is in singer Jonathan Higgs, who emerges from behind the synth to play the part of frontman with relish, handing deliberately tricky lyrics over to the crowd while he peacocks the stage. Some manage to keep up with the rapid high notes of opener Undrowned, but most content themselves with filming it on their iPhones.
More songs from second album Arc follow, and are met with the same fervour as old favourites Photoshop Handsome and MY KZ, YR BF. Torso of the Week, in particular, prove the band still like to jam as many melodies into one single as decency allows. One thing unchanged is the solo rendition of Tin (The Manhole), a highlight of their last tour which continues into this. Responding to appeals for ‘one more song’, the band take an encore, Jonathan clears his throat into the mic, and they perform an exhilarating Cough Cough to a rejuvenated crowd, pounding drums to the largest cheers of the night. JD