If you’re reading this, you may already have some idea about what it means for us to proudly say this October is Sŵn Festival’s 10th Birthday! You might well know something about the multi-venue, new music and arts festival focusing on the great, the good and the weird of Wales and beyond. Well, whether you have an idea or not, 10 years – rightfully or artificially – is a good time to take the long view of what it really is About Sŵn.
Sŵn was started 10 years years ago by John Rostron and Huw Stephens, filtering a revelatory trip to South By Southwest into an idea about bringing together the plethora of up and coming venues, promoters, and bands across Cardiff into a condensed version in kind of SXSW, but just for the fans – no delegates, no queue-jumping.. In that November in 2007 they put on 100 bands across the city, with the then unknown Yeasayer, DJ Annie Mac and the brilliant Beirut being just some of the names performing over a chilly 3 day weekend across Cardiff’s lovely city centre.
Since then, a barely believable decade – in terms of time, quality and excitement – has whizzed by, and to look back on 10 years of something as alive, communal and loads-of-memories fantastic that happens to be slap-bang, crackle and pop in the middle of Cardiff’s city centre is to wonder where the time went. Well. We’ve spent it doing all manner of things.
We have been giddy to have acts the size of The Cribs perform rattlingly brilliant gigs and then return for more 6 years later. We’ve been hushed in reverence as Ghostpoet leaves his affectingly half-rhymed lines speak volumes in the dark at The Angel Hotel in 2013. We have swayed and swooned at an early show from Perfume Genius.
Part of the slow-burning thrill of Sŵn has been in seeing our city centre turned time and again into an exciting, giddying musical and artistic space – seeing unusual nooks and crannies transformed to points of standout performance. Islet throbbing down the barrier between audience, band and pub darts area in 2009. Worshipping at the altar of beloved “Indie Heartslobs” Los Campesinos! in the beautiful church-come-venue The Gate.
There have also been plenty of chances to see genuinely burgeoning careers at pleasantly close quarters – The Drums, Alt J and The Vaccines all packing out Dempseys, Disclosure shortly before they went stratospheric, and Drenge playing several shows, first un-signed, then signed as they demonstrated their enjoyably frenetic volume at Clwb Ifor Bach in 2013, when the festival had a remarkable 200+ acts perform at the festival.
Of course, to concentrate only on such highlights would be to miss the point of Sŵn; that being the chance to wander aimlessly around Cardiff and discover brilliant new music and buzzing, sweaty little venues. 2013 was our biggest year (so far), and we feel proud we won Best Small Festival from NME that year, as it proved the main attraction isn’t one headline act, but rather large and extraordinary pool of talented artists, promoters and venues , all brimming with excitement and ideas.
Having gotten so big, we weren’t quite sure what to do. ‘Big’ might be right for some, but it didn’t feel right to us. So in 2014, we took something of a breather, and piloted a one-day version of Sŵn we called DimSŵn. A full day and night of music with just 50 bands playing. DimSŵn was well-received, enormous fun and it sold out in advance, so we established DimSŵn as its own one-day event each spring – a lovely counterpoint to our Autumn festival and a nice introduction to Sŵn growing in other ways, as it gave us the inspiration and space we needed to re-imagine Sŵn for Wales today.
Which brings us back to this October. We are looking forward to bringing you everything that’s been good about Sŵn’s past again, but stoked by the kind of cumulative excitement that a double figures anniversary does to you. That won’t just mean extra golden bunting and chocolate confetti (though we’ll be definitely holding a party), but Sŵn 10 will be a celebration of tons more brilliant music, just a little bit bigger than before but with everything you’d expect. Even the unexpected.