Sŵn Festival is coming back to Cardiff next October, and from the first wave of artists announced it already looks like this year’s line-up for the original Welsh multi-venue festival is going to be one of its most exciting. As the festival approaches, I’ll be talking to some of the artists that are going to play, to discuss their impressions of the Welsh music scene, their approach to festival season, their music and future ambitions, and get a sense of what we can expect from what sounds like the most ambitious edition of Sŵn Festival yet.
For those that have, to some extent or other, been involved in the punk and post-punk scene, Heavy Lungs are easily a familiar name. The Bristol quartet’s fame extends well beyond the South-West, and they have earned a reputation for themselves not only in the UK, but throughout Europe and in the States as well, having both collaborated and toured with bands of the caliber of IDLES and brought their raw, uncompromising sound to a variety of venues and stages. Having had myself the pleasure of seeing them in Cardiff, I can testify to the intense energy they bring to their performances, where moments of sheer chaos do not get in the way of an authentic connection with the audience.
Made up of vocalist Danny Nedelko, guitarist Oli Southgate, bassist James Minchall and drummer George Garratt, Heavy Lungs have recently released their latest EP, Straight to CD, marking an evolution in their sound that brings some order to the chaos – just about enough to enjoy a surge of creativity in structure, innovation in the use of the rhythmic section, and the incorporation of a surprisingly bluesy guitar sound here and there. Even with this sense that they clearly are open to experimenting in new and perhaps unexpected directions, the band retains an explosive energy that calls back to the very heart of classic punk. The intensity and joyful recklessness of their live performances make them a perfect band for a festival weekend, able to challenge the energy of a crowd and give back twice as much. It is hardly surprising that they have become a household name of sorts in the emerging British punk scene, a scene that has been enjoying a growing vitality as of late.
I have spoken to the band’s guitarist, Oli Southgate, to discuss all of this, the band’s outlook on the musical scene and political situation, their connections to the Welsh music scene, and their expectations for Sŵn Festival.
Chiara Strazzulla: Sŵn Festival is an important event for the music scene in Wales. What is your experience with Welsh venues and audiences, and your impression of the Welsh scene?
Oli Southgate: We’ve played in Cardiff twice, and collectively been to a few, and it’s always been rad. Supporting Oh Sees and seeing The Good, The Bad and The Queen there are highlights.
CS: In general, we’re seeing a bit of a punk and post-punk renaissance in the UK right now. What’s your impression of that? Is there a community being built around it, and what’s your experience with it?
OS: I think it’s great. It’s more of a label than an actual genre really, people are just on their feet more and ready to get stuck in. The landfill indie thing made a dent for a minute, but things have meaning again.
CS: You’ve also worked with IDLES on a split 7”, and they’ve gone on to make themselves heard on the mainstream scene too. Do you think that’s part of the same momentum for grassroots punk music, and how was it working with them?
OS: Absolutely, but they do their own thing. They stand head and shoulders above for a reason. They’re inclusive and fun and exciting, but also modest, which makes for a band you not only like for the music, but for their human spirit and attitude.
CS: Punk has of course always been very political. Does the political situation have a strong impact on your work, and in which way?
OS: It does in a way, because it affects everyone. We’re not always the ones to pinpoint the exact problems, but we like people to know we’re with them and not with the system, you know?
CS: Your latest EP has been playing with different types of sound, still raw and noisy but in many ways more experimental. Is this a direction you’re planning to explore more?
OS: Absolutely. We’re all about moving on and expanding. Things will only get bigger, and we’ll do it our way.
CS: You have a very energetic performance style, that works extremely well live. What has been your experience channeling that energy when working in the studio?
OS: It’s all about working with the right people. Alex Greaves is a great friend of ours and we love working with him. He knows our sound and our personal goals, so he knows when to dial it up, and ramp it down when needs be.
CS: What’s the thing you enjoy the most about performing live?
OS: Connecting with people. Making them feel like they’ve seen something great and that they want to talk about it. I’ve seen so many bands that passively perform their music, then go home, and it’s a shame, because people pay to see that.
CS: Can you tell us your favourite festival memory, or a moment from a festival that has stuck with you?
OS: Last weekend was killer really [in reference to Dot to Dot festival]. We hung out with Crows for three days and it was really fun. And Handmade was really cool in Leicester.
CS: What does the rest of the summer have in store for you?
OS: Very busy, we are all over the shop. First trip to Europe soon, and we’ll be in the studio after Glastonbury. Look out.
Sŵn Festival will be held at various venues in Cardiff from 18/10/19 to 20/10/19. Find details and buy tickets on the Sŵn Festival website.