Last summer saw the debut outing for the Cardiff Psych and Noise Fest, and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who was there who didn’t reckon it was an absolute triumph. Set on Womanby Street, which if not the heart of Cardiff’s underground scene is at least it’s main artery, it brought together a decent chunk of the finest weird and wonderful bands the South Wales underground has to offer, as well as drawing in a healthy number of similarly brilliant noisy types from across the UK. The centre of operations for the festival is The Moon, a cooperatively run venue that was rescued from extinction by a handful of dedicated staff members last year and, like the venue itself, the event felt a bit like it was held together by duct tape and dreams; some impossible happening that had somehow dragged itself into reality via a cocktail of pure love of live music and cans of Red Stripe. As amazing as it was it begged the question, “this can’t be sustainable, surely?” I for one soaked up the atmosphere with the sense that it might not be repeatable, that it’d be some weird fever dream I’d never quite be sure actually happened; and if they did manage to put it on again they surely wouldn’t be able to match last year’s stacked line-up. Surely. . .
Take one look at the poster for this year’s event and you’ll know they’ve made a grand old fool of me and my doubts – and I couldn’t be happier. Not only is it running again in 2019 it’s going ahead with a line-up to rival – arguably even top – last year’s obscenely good bill. I’ve no idea how the ragtag band of promoters have pulled it off, but you’d be mad not to be on Womanby Street raising a glass in their honour over the late May Bank Holiday weekend.
And Womanby Street itself is the secret star of the show. Back when I moved to Cardiff from Yorkshire, many moons ago, it was 2015’s Red Sun Festival that made me feel at home in Cardiff, and convinced me to start stringing together sentences about music again after a lengthy hiatus. The way the punters from the venues pool out into this wonderful back alley to chat with strangers about the bands they’ve just witnessed is really quite special. It feels like an alternative oasis amidst your more regular 15-Jagerbombs-and-a-fight joints nearby, and with an actual castle a stones-throw away, and the imposing monolith that is the Millennium Stadium just round the corner, it feels like a secret garden for beautiful weirdos. Visitors from the Big Smoke I’ve met all come away comparing the festival favourably to bigger, more celebrated events in London – no doubt influenced by much lower beer prices, sure, but it’s the vibe they all go away singing the praises of.
That’s all well and good but isn’t worth buying a wrist band without the line-up to back it up. And forgive me if I sound like a down-on-his-luck salesmen here but what a line-up. In truth the “Psych & Noise” banner doesn’t tell half the story (unless you allow for “noise” technically covering everything) – punk and hardcore, synth-tastic space voyages, math-rock workouts, doom-metal heaviosity, techno/house/drum n’ bass and giddy avant-pop all fall under that umbrella somehow, leading to a diverse bill that promises interesting surprises whichever bar you find yourself stumbling towards. But should you want a more curated experience, we at Echoes & Dust have a few suggestions for acts to see over the weekend. The festival seems to be developing a knack for getting hold of bands on peak form, and the bands we’re recommending are the ones we consider unmissable at this point. But wherever you choose to be there are delights to be had on the last weekend in May – so long as it’s in Cardiff and it’s on Womanby Street.
Friday night is a free entry party in The Moon, so it’d be poor form not to take advantage of a freebie. And there’s only one stage so there’s little point recommending which bands to see when there aren’t any alternatives vying for your attention. But if you’re thinking of keeping your powder dry for the Saturday you’ll need to live with missing headliners USA Nails, which I would suggest to be something of a mistake. By the time they descend upon Cardiff, the caustic, sardonic London hardcore/punk/noise/pick-your-fast-n’- heavy genre band will have released their blistering fourth album Life Cinema, a record which sees them in the form of their career. Though through sheer consistency that just happens to be the same great form they’ve been on for the past 5 years.
Sharing at least one member with USA Nails (handy for saving petrol money) and with the sadly defunct Death Pedals, Dead Arms are similarly raucous, comparably noisy and are also quite excellent. Along with the relentless rolling noise-punk fury of these two are local stoner-psych heroes Lacertilia who never fail to Bring It on any given night. Put them on a festival bill and sparks are guaranteed to fly.
Top of the bill on Saturday are the fast rising doom/stoner/psych band with the ridiculous name they may well now regret, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard. The name may well lead you to assume they’re the most generic stoner-rock band in existence but you’d be dead wrong: they effortlessly transcend the genres often tight constraints and draw from shoegaze, prog and even the dystopian electronica of John Carpenter to craft a sound no less heavy than their weed-addled peers, but with a dreamy, otherworldly character that is entirely their own, and are winning fans far beyond the stoner crowd.
Islet may seem like a surprise name to see high on the bill six years after their last record – the mathy-psych popsters seemingly vanished with a lot of potential untapped but have resurfaced, signed to Fire records, and seem set on completing a heartwarming redemption arc. If comeback track ‘Clouds’ is anything to go by it ought to be a sight to behold.
If betting shops took money on this kind of thing then it might be worth a punt on Glaswegian multi-instrumentalist and DIY promoter Kapil Seshasayee to steal the show on Saturday. Kapil writes intricate, knotty guitar music that draws on DIY punk culture, classical South Indian Carnatic music and plenty in between, playing with a handmade one-man-band quality that soars with judicious use of beats and a truly special set of vocal pipes. Joyous math-rock types Memory of Elephants on the other hand have booked-for-ArcTanGent-festival written all over them (they have indeed been booked for this years ArcTanGent) and their complex but infectious grooves should be a treat. Fans of their dreamy, awkward time-signature-riddled style will want to check in for Aaronson’s El Ten Eleven-esque blissed-out math-rock too.
On the gnarlier, nastier side of things, Shishu may well be the best live punk/hardcore band Cardiff have to offer right now – and there are a few heavy-hitting contenders in that bracket. If you like things fast and intense they’re simply an unmissable proposition. And if you like things to run even faster then grindcore outfit Conqueror Worm have all your 50-songs-in-15-minutes needs covered; whereas if you prefer your punk to come with a ‘post’ prefix then Jemma Roper will be playing the set you need to see on Saturday.
Fans of more electronic-based noise will need to check in on Jaxson Payne’s dubby drum n’ bass sounds and would do well to look in on the Steve Lamacq-approved cut-up danceable headtrip that is Conformist. I’m also willing to heartily recommend Kate Wood’s set despite not hearing a note of her music – her work as part of Obey Cobra (playing Sunday) is enough to guarantee she’ll be up to something interesting, whatever form that takes.
Sunday would be a nice day to relax after two days of vivid, kinetic music from all over the musical map (not to mention the real possibility that it requires retiring to a cave for at least a month of recuperation), but the Psych and Noise Fest organisers have shown no sympathy for such concerns by absolutely cramming Sunday’s bill full of goodness. Teeth of the Sea alone absolutely demand keeping some energy in reserve: the uncategorisable three-piece make mind-bending music that somehow combines electronica with the energy to level any given club, the most rapturous trumpet sounds around, and heroic guitar action to majestic effect; and they’ll be arriving in Cardiff not long after dropping what just might be their best album yet. They always play better before a crowd, and the prospect of them playing to a packed house in The Moon is mouthwatering. The only concern is that if they drop ‘Gladiators Ready’ from the new album then there may not be any survivors, and anyone who does walk away will never make anyone else believe the things they’ve witnessed.
A less riotous but no less rapturous recommendation, Haiku Salut will play be playing The Moon at the tail-end of a much-lauded tour featuring lots of lamps and a selection of songs from their absolutely magnificent There is No Elsewhere album. No word on whether the lamps will be travelling with them, but either way their instrumental self-described ‘Baroque-pop folktronic neo-classical something-or-other’ promises to beguile anyone lucky enough to witness it. And Sly & the Family Drone are one of the live bands in the UK right now, having put in an incredible performance for Cosmic Carnage promotions back in December in an absolutely glorious night of communal noise. They’re soon releasing a rare record with the excellent Gentle Persuaders but they continue to be an Event, an Experience, a Happening, and other slightly wanky-sounding things that nonetheless become apparent when beholding them in action. If you’ve made it through this preview to this point and plan to take away one single piece of advice from it then a) that’s an odd way to take in articles but b) watch Sly & the Family Drone.
Similarly unmissable – though marginally less so for locals purely because they’re Cardiff based and so much easier to catch (for now) – Obey Cobra are threatening to be Cardiff’s own breakout alternative stars in the near future. They’ve slowly built up a reputation by bringing increasingly impressive performances on support slots for the likes of last year’s fest headliners Pigsx7, and their blend of psych and post-punk with grandiose electronic flourishes is being laid down on a debut release that is sure to turn a lot of heads when it drops. Your chances to say you were there before they were cool are dwindling by the day – best get in now.
Elsewhere in Sunday’s embarrassment of riches, Gallops will be bringing their ever impressive blend of mathy sensibilities and blissed-out electronica to the fest, MoE will be deploying their brand of Amphetamine Reptile friendly, brilliantly awkward noise-rock filth all the way from Norway, and locals Made of Teeth will be banging out some low n’ slow heaviosity, the pace of which may be gentle on the neck but not on the ears. And then there are Ill, Manchester’s “disobedient noise” act who bring a host of riot-grrl bands to mind in both attitude and, to an extent, sound, but whose wit and exuberance quickly carves out an identity of their own that’s difficult to pin down. And the final recommendation from us are Bruxa Maria, who appear last simply because someone has to, and whose irresistible noise-rock that draws on everything from Melvins to the Butthole Surfers to NoMeansNo and continues a lineage of furious, uncompromising heavy bands that do it their own way and do it in style. They’ve just released a split record with Casual Nun that’s rather fine, and they’re very much on my must-watch list despite their billing in this here write-up.
Phew! That’s a lot to take in, and that ain’t even the half of it. The Cardiff scene has been in rude health over the past year, despite the loss of beloved bar Gwdihw to greedy landlords with nothing but bottom-lines on their minds. Last year’s event came off the back of a successful campaign to block the building of flats on Womanby Street, the coming of which would have undoubtedly meant the end of it as a hub of live music. There’s no such victory to toast this year, but it’s a great occasion to raise a glass to what we have in Cardiff instead, to the people and the venues that make it special, and to thank the music gods for our blessings. But, more importantly, it’s a damn good excuse to watch a litany of damn good bands. I mean, have you seen that poster?! Are you fucking kidding me?!