Words: Ben Woolhead
Curse real life for conspiring to prevent me from immersing myself in the Cardiff Psych & Noise Fest from the start, thereby denying the opportunity to see USA Nails, Welsh-language doomsters Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard and a long-awaited set from missing-in-action eccentrics Islet (among others). So when its final day rolls around, I’m determined to flit between the three venues and soak up as much as possible.
That the festival is a broader church than its name might imply is evident within an hour and a half of kick-off, during which I encounter loose, noisy rock (Borrowed Atlas) and drum-machine-assisted solo riffage (Twin Siblings) but also lush John Carpenter-inspired retrofuturist synthpop (Vieon). Numerous bands aspire to soundtrack films but the latter, backed by great projections, have more modest ambitions, if a track called ‘Music For Supermarkets’ is anything to go by. Still, they seem to have set themselves an alternative challenge: to reclaim the keytar from ridicule.
In addition to inviting out-of-towners to play, the organizers have offered a platform to a select bunch of local acts. Perfect Body seize their chance to impress with both hands, their simultaneously languorous and propulsive shoegaze demonstrating how they caught the ear of Sonic Cathedral, who have just released ‘Melting Trees’ as part of their Singles Club. Following them onto the stage at Clwb Ifor Bach are fellow Cardiffians Obey Cobra, who throw a curveball every time you think you’ve finally got them figured out.
“It feels wrong to be doing this shit on a Sunday afternoon, when you should be in the garden with the kids”, laughs the frontman of This Is Wreckage, as his band dutifully swing another noise-rock wrecking ball into the craniums of the crowd in the Moon. The trio are on course to claim the title of heaviest act of the day until Bruxa Maria pitch up a couple of hours later, blitzing Melvins, Butthole Surfers and hardcore punk in a blender and assaulting us relentlessly with the results.
It’s really saying something when arguably the most conventional and accessible act of the day feature a former member of Japanese experimental overlords Boredoms and Acid Mothers Temple. Tabata Mitsuru’s partnership with fellow guitarist Suzuki Junzo under the banner 20 Guilders offers up folky blues gently illuminated by passages of technicolour psych. He promises to spend some coin in Spillers if we pick up a copy of the duo’s album, the superbly titled Acoustic Motherfuckers. But it’s Haiku Salut who are the festival’s true oasis of calm, its quietest revelation. Operating at the intersection of post-rock, electronica and neoclassical, they craft intricate little songs out of glockenspiel, stark piano, barely-there guitar and twinkling, chirruping and burbling electronics. I was previously aware of them only through their contribution to Public Service Broadcasting’s Every Valley, but ‘Cold To Crack The Stones’ and ‘Nettles’ are more than enough to sell me on most recent LP There Is No Elsewhere. Suffice to say that Manchester’s ILL are the polar opposite, wild-eyed riot grrrl gone very much to the dark side. The Stooges ‘Cock In My Pocket’ is quite a cover to choose, while final song ‘Drunk Fight’ ends with vocalist/keyboardist Harri Shanahan working her way around the crowd screaming “You’re a cunt” or “You’re a fucking cunt” in people’s faces before collapsing in a heap in front of the stage pleading for forgiveness. A safe spaces poster in the toilet encourages anyone who feels threatened to report it to the staff; presumably they were inundated.
More interested in collaboration than confrontation are Sly & The Family Drone, who set up in the middle of Clwb’s floor facing in on themselves and encourage the audience to cluster tightly around. Drums, pedals, sax and distorted vocals combine to create an unholy racket that culminates in a kind of primal percussive frenzy, punters gleefully accepting Matt Cargill’s invitation to pound skins and smash cymbals. It’s a communal experience like no other. Gallops have the misfortune to follow, their neatly interlocking mathy rhythms (think Battles and early Foals) deserving better than to have been upstaged. Meanwhile, back at the Moon, the resolutely unclassifiable Teeth Of The Sea (who boast both lots of trumpet and a man in a sleeveless Alice Cooper T-shirt shredding on a Flying V) turn out to be a mild disappointment – if only because, for some reason, the venue’s volume level has dipped and because they can’t live up to the expectation levels set by excellent new LP Wraith. And so it falls to Raketkanon to close out proceedings, the Albini-produced Belgian nutjobs having interrupted a tour of their home country just to travel here for the evening. If they’re feeling fatigued from the punishing journey, they certainly don’t show it, laying waste to the room with their surrealist bludgeon.
A final word for the organizers, who not only assembled that bill but did so while charging just £26 for a weekend ticket. For comparison, Raw Power, taking place simultaneously in London and starring many of the same bands, cost £70 – which just makes the Psych & Noise Fest seem even more stupendously good value. Here’s to its return in 2020.