Wales Goes Pop! is one of the best weekends of the year in Cardiff, if you are a fan of music. An Easter, all ages all dayer set in the wonderful converted church of the Gate, it plays host to diverse shades of pop; with an accent on more up and coming and female acts, this year’s event was a refreshing, sweet treat, with a great atmosphere.
Boasting a bountiful line up headed by Jeffrey Lewis, Sweet Baboo, Peel favs Shonen Knife, Rough Trade’s Goat Girl one time Fall member Brix Smith Smart, a bevvy of local stalwarts and much, much more. This year, I was there for the more unexpected moments.
By no means definitive (as I was battling tiredness I didn’t see nearly as much as I would have liked), nevertheless here I pick out my six highlights of the acts I saw during the Weekend of Wales Goes Pop 2018!
Kicking off our Saturday are Personal Best, with members drawn from Cardiff and Bristol. Personal Best craft the kind of darkly comic garage pop sounds that bristle with bittersweet, personal couplets and more hooks than a Peter Hook family gathering. ‘Rollies’ is a particular stand out as they race through a charmingly witty set in the late afternoon.
I have waited three years to bear witness to the four-piece Desperate Journalist, and they didn’t disappoint. A four piece that open up post-punk dynamics and inject it with a brooding intensity. ‘Hollow‘ is magisterial, drums like rapid firing shots, basslines wander, lucid guitar licks flicker, and Jo’s towering, cathartic vocals that ebb, flow, and crash along with the song like the waves of the sea. Wrapped in her mic cable, perhaps symbolic of how consumed she is by each lyric, her visceral vocals, and short blonde crop singer Jo Bevan, is a magnetic presence, her voice possessing not just a searing, cathartic melancholia but a defiance: like a stake in the ground written with ‘thou shall not pass. Their sterling set is only further ignited by mic issues as once they are resolved they launch into a frenetic version of the awesome ‘Control’ in sheer frustration. Desperate Journalist are the kind of band that could inspire devotion.
Kero Kero Bonito
There’s a girl leaping around with a soft toy on her head, beaming from ear to ear. This is Kero Kero Bonito, a patchwork of pop with everything from Saint Etienne, The Go!Team, Salt n pepper stirred into this colourful mix. Kero Kero Bonito are a mix of style and sounds from quirky Casio pop to hip-hop cut-ups, this is an indefinable, eclectic sound that’s in turns delightful and in others a little background. But it is always playful and joyous, and gleeful, utilising everything from rapping to sickly sweet pop melodies, soft toy, and a telephone. Kero Kero Bonito are an exotic detour that brighten our afternoon.
At a time when think pieces are decrying ‘the death of guitar music’ yet again, trio Dream Wife are positively giving it the kiss of life! Fierce, bouncy, pop punk fuelled by lead singers Rakel Mjöll’s empathetic, magnetic and charismatic performance style. From smile to scream to joy to orchestration to catchy sing along, Dream Wife have it all, infectious tunes delivered above an edgy sea of punky riffs and kick ass rhythms provided by Alice Go (guitar), and Bella Podpadec (bass) that are always ever so slightly off kilter and add to the chaos as Mjöll the pixie with a plan, conducts this maelstrom grinning from ear to ear, singing sweetly then exploding into rriot grrrl flecked choruses like the urgent ‘Hey Heartbreaker!’ or the crushing ‘F.U.U’. The absolute highlight a comes with ‘Somebody’ an anthem for both LGBT lifestyles and the #metoo movement the awesome repeated refrain has everyone singing along, all together now ‘I am not my body, I am somebody!’
Still, at an early stage, Perfect Body are a three-headed shoegaze animal, made up of five members in all, emerging blinking into the light from South Wales. Three singers take turns, as their sound dips its toes into the early noise pop soundscapes of My Bloody Valentine and the evocative dream pop of Slowdive. Still feeling their way, some of the vocals aren’t quite there yet but what makes Perfect Body stand out is their willingness to explore sound and the different textures each vocalist can bring to a song, not every song is polished but at such an early stage in their development, they hold such promise and an ability to captivate most when they roll through a cacophony of rolling reverb, sonorous femme vocals and keyboards. Closer ‘Getting Cold’ is a rushing blast to the solar plexus as its fuzz box guitars and clattering drums, it’s like a percussive exocet propelling forwards like Mercury Rev at their most driving.
Adwaith‘s evocative, jazzy minor chords pinned in place by a taut rhythm section, floating through Sunday’s early afternoon, perhaps toning down their sound a notch for the cafe setting they deliver a sublime set of bilingual songwriting. ‘Lipstick Coch’ is a twitching delight, they play a cover of Pixies ‘Where Is My Mind‘ with singer Hollie’s ‘aw aws’ replacing the trademark backing hollers with her own extenuated ‘ow ows’ onto the end of the chorus. When her guitar strap slips off she apologises, laughs, remains composed and carries on regardless. While the highlight comes with recent single ‘Fel i fod’ that’s all chiming arpeggios and longing vocals which casts eyes into the middle distance, it’s a song that distills that feeling of being lost and trying to find meaning, and it really moves me in its live form. Gorgeous, yearning, inspiring and effortlessly crafted songs, possessing both attitude and a charm, Adwaith are a coming force in Cool Welsh pop and they’re lovely down to earth girls to boot! Catch them at Focus Wales when they perform a showcase for us, you will not regret it!
All photos by Bill Cummings apart from the Dream Wife Image which is the property of Ian Edwards.