Interview: John Rostron

Tom Connick got the lowdown on Sŵn from the Father of the festival, John Rostron. 


For the uninitiated, can you explain what Sŵn Festival is and why they should take note?

Sŵn is a 4-day multi-venue new music festival which takes place in Cardiff this year from Thursday 17th to Sunday 20th Oct. You buy either a day or a 4-day wristband, then go and see as many of the 200 bands as you possibly can. There’s also music industry seminars in the daytime during the week; a record fayre; music bingo, films and quizzes and a whole bundle of other stuff all happening  too.

You co-created the festival alongside Radio 1 DJ Huw Stephens. How did the idea for Sŵn come about?

Huw and I were at the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas in 2007. We’d been there before and loved it, but that year we found ourselves wondering ‘Why not do a small version of this in Cardiff?’ We came back and put the first Sŵn on that autumn.

The festival has gone from strength to strength over the years. This year is your biggest yet – would you like to see this growth continue? Where do you see Sŵn in five years’ time?

We had about 500 people come in the first year. Last year we had 6000! It continues to grow year on year, in a lovely, manageable way. Sŵn is now here to stay – it’s always fun; its packed with brilliant bands; and it’s now managed by a small team who all came to our attention through volunteering on the festival in some way. It feels like it’s owned by Cardiff and everyone who comes.

Since the creation of Sŵn, you have been appointed Chief Executive of the Welsh Music Foundation. Can you tell us a little about your work with them?

Welsh Music Foundation is a not for profit company, core-funded by Welsh Government, to support the music industry in Wales. We help lots of music businesses (and by ‘music businesses’ that’s often individuals working for themselves, or bands and artists) to help them get to that next level with what they are doing. Some ask us questions; some come on our training courses; others just sign up for our newsletter and use the information we pass along. We also advocate on behalf of the music industry in Wales to ensure Welsh Government and other funders are developing strategy and financial support to help people build their businesses and sustain their work in music. It’s demanding work with a wide remit, but ultimately rewarding as we see music bands and businesses flourish.

As festivals like Sŵn show, Cardiff has a fantastic music scene. What does the Cardiff scene – and indeed, the wider Welsh scene – mean to you?

I guess Sŵn also came about because Huw and I were always talking about what great music there is from Wales. Welsh Music Prize is a natural extension of that. Yes, I’m immersed in it as I work in music and I live here in Wales, but the quality is so high – that is indisputable. We see that every year as the judges for the Welsh Music Prize get their albums and are always introduced to new acts that they are impressed by.

Sŵn has played host to some artists whose careers have skyrocketed following their performance, with Alt-J playing Dempseys in 2011, and AlunaGeorge playing Buffalo in 2012. Anyone from this year’s line-up we should be keeping a close eye on?

There’s so, so many good bands it’s impossible to narrow down. I think Chloe Howl is clearly going to be as big as Aluna George next year; and I’d add Nick Mulvey, Waxahatchee, Fryars, Fist Of The First Man, Plu and Marika Hackman as must sees. But I’ll also be down the front for Land Observations, Dan Bettridge, Ellie Makes Music and about another 100 acts!


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