Looking beyond the established names, Getintothis’ Paul Higham gets under the skin of Focus Wales to find the best emerging talent.
The festival, which takes place in Wrexham from May 11-13, will feature in excess of 200 bands across more than 20 stages in a multi-venue set-up. Now in its 7th year, the event aims to showcase the best of Welsh musical talent alongside its more established and international acts.
British Sea Power will introduce sounds from their forthcoming new album Let The Dancers Inherit, their first conventional studio LP since 2013’s Machineries of Joy. The album has been produced in the context of an ever uncertain political climate against a back-drop of political mistruths and the unchecked rise of social media as a rival to mainstream news outlets. Guitarist Martin Noble has suggested that this will be their “most direct album” yet and “an album where individuals are dealing with their domestic and personal lives against a background of uncontrollable international lunacy“.
Joining them on the bill will be anarcho-protesters, Cabbage, whose relentlessly hard-working touring schedule looks set to continue unabated. Featuring Guto Pryce of Super Furry Animals, Gulp‘s blend of dreamy pop and fuzz-filled psychedelic adventures will be added to the mix.
John Bramwell of I Am Kloot will play an intimate set at the beautiful St Giles’ Parish Church, where he will be joined by a host of special guests. In addition the festival will see high profile sets from Islet, Cardiff’s Astroid Boys, acclaimed folk-influenced musician and songwriter Georgia Ruth as well as emerging Liverpool talents, Mary Miller and Katie Mac.
Alongside the music will be a full arts programme. Liverpudlian and co-founder of The La’s, Mike Badger, will be creating a sculpture live at the festival on Friday May 12. Director Dimitris Kotselis will present two short films including Y Proffwyd Dwyll made with Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard. Spoken word will play a prominent role with a number of performances curated by the Voicebox Collective as well as former Young People’s Laureate of Wales, Martin Daws.
Yet the real joy in events such as this often lies away from the established names. It can be found in the sense of discovery and the joys of the unexpected. Yet equally the lengthy line-up of the as-yet-unheralded stars of tomorrow can often appear daunting. To make things that bit easier we’ve selected a few among the many that you should keep eyes out and ears open for at the festival.
This list is neither exclusive of exhaustive, it represents just the tip of the iceberg with much more to discover and uncover. Happy exploring.
I Am Of The Universe: Oriel Wrecsam, Friday May 12, 7:00pm
I Am Of the Universe have been described as a trip-hop band but something about that description just doesn’t sit right. Elements are there for sure, echoes of Portishead lace their sound as elements of dub punctuate the rhythmic structures. Yet there is something more at play.
Moody atmospherics abound as the sonic palette shifts between art-rock edginess, cinematic majesty and experimental, abstract electronica. Emma Howe‘s vocals underpin the sound. Rich and pure it holds everything together with at times an emotional depth, resonance and anchor-like gravitas.
I Am Of The Universe construct broad sonic soundscapes in a delicate and understated fashion, without ever loosening the grip and letting rip. Theirs is a well-constructed sonic vision and a lesson in how to use use minimal effects to create something bigger than the mere sum of its parts.
King Tangent: UnDegUn, Friday May 11, 6:20pm
On the festival website King Tangent are described as an “experimental psych/jazz/dance fusion band who just want to make people dance“. While sufficient a description to justify delving a little bit deeper, it barely scratches the surface. The description itself arouses nagging suspicions that it could all be a confusing mess – thankfully it is altogether more pleasing on the ear.
There is a carefully arranged minimalist quality to Hijack, a throbbing pulse around which ambient soundscapes weave delicately, drifting in before fading away. It is both introspective and precise; the stated influences are all there yet are married with subtlety and consideration, any temptation to gild the lily thankfully resisted.
Tikhov has more going on: the gentle clatter of rhythms created from more natural sources while the melody plays wistfully around it. The same sense of understatement is there, a similar underwater feel to the production that lends a trance-like reverie.
At first flush this is music to chill-out than to dance to, yet it still has the capacity to be something very special indeed.
Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard: Rewind, Friday May 12, 10:40pm
The band’s spectacular name offers a hint to what this might sound like. Vast colossal and monumental slabs of doom-laden guitar pulverise and pummel from the off with an enveloping sound that assails. Much like the peaks and valleys of the Welsh landscape there is ample scope for contrast, the near ethereal vocals offering a sometimes welcome anti-dote to the smothering sludge.
Yet do not be mistaken this is big, heavy and intense, although further relief is offered by the whirr of electronic abstractions which lend a Hawkwind vibe to moments. This will be one to hear and feel when they take the stage, threatening ear drums and ribcages alike with equal force; now just don’t forget those ear-plugs.
Mr Huw: Saith Seren, Thursday May 11, 8:40pm
Mr Huw is another in a productive lineage of psychedelic welsh language pop music. Hailing from North Wales, his latest album Gwna Dy Feddwl i Lawr is a buoyant and sprightly collection of tightly-hewn indie-pop songs that borrows the sense of garage-rock urgency and laces it with a chaotically nervous energy.
This is an anxious listen. Highly strung, edge-of-the-seat songs fly by with a sense of purpose. There’s a lot going on with plenty of hidden depths. Much like when you have something important to say and all the words fall out at once in a perplexing jumble of rapid fire delivery.
Yet there is a lot to love and admire in a musician brimming with a playful sense of imagination and an infectious sense of purpose and charm. Apparently his lyrics speak of surfers being eaten alive by sharks among other subversive subject matters that have alienated Welsh language daytime radio.
Oblong: Rewind, Friday May 12, 8:10pm
Oblong are a band heavily indebted to the post-punk tradition, producing spiky, edgy and angular fare, laced with a propulsive urgency and a strong sense of repetition. Yet there is a resolute melodic core and catchy riffs aplenty.
Chronicling the sense of anger, rage and dispossession felt by those left behind yet approaching middle-age Oblong reaffirm the strong welsh language heritage in abrasive DIY pop.
Pulco: Oriel Wrecsam, Saturday May 13, 2:10pm
Pulco is the one man experimental and prolific DIY pop project of Ash Cooke, formerly of cult 90s band Derrero.
Unusual and idiosyncratic, Cooke produces music that is as quirky as it is uncompromising. A collage of found sounds and spoken word irreverent poetry punctuate the decidedly lo-fi music often recorded with little more than an iPad and a single microphone. It is arrestingly unconventional, imbued with a highly artistic bent; indeed its clattering cacophony might be more usually found as part of an art installation.
It reveals a restlessly creative personality fuelled by a profoundly unusual sense of imagination. This will definitely be one to check out on the festival’s Saturday afternoon.
The Revolutionary Spirit: UnDegUn, Friday May 12, 9:40pm
We’ll confess The Revolutionary Spirit have been on our radar for some time now – and for good reason too. Having learnt their craft supporting the likes of The Charlatans and Toy, the North Welsh band are set to imminently release their debut LP which has been recorded under the direction of The Verve‘s Simon Jones.
The band are possessed of an expansive reverb-soaked psychedelic sound that soars with hypnotic optimism as the guitars spiral skywards. While their music borrows heavily from the past, incorporating elements of blues and droning shoegaze, there feels something vital to what they create; after years of well-practised toil their moment could finally be just around the corner.
Wermod: Oriel Wrecsam, Saturday May 13, 3:00pm
Wermod make twisted and warped electronic psychedelia that fuses science fiction – think the outré sounds of BBC Radiophonic Workshop – with a mysterious pastoral idyll.
A haunted and fragmented reimagining of the folk tradition through warped electronica, ritualistic horror and found sounds that imbue everything with a growing mood of stilted unease. Like a soundtrack to a dystopian rural nightmare.
The band have been heavily remixed and have worked with Welsh producers such as Titus Monk and R Seiliog.