As in most cities, Cardiff’s music scene mutates fast. The lifespan of local bands and promoters rarely exceeds a couple of years, meaning the city can look like a very different place almost overnight. Music scenes are hyperobjects, mutating via inscrutable, ever-churning metamorphosis. However, none could escape the effects of the COVID pandemic. In Cardiff, the lockdowns served as an abrupt end point to a previous incarnation of the city’s vibrant and tight-knit music culture.
What emerged out the other end of this sudden stasis was a whole different creation. A crop of acts crafting an unusual, ambitious and often confrontational sound have suddenly become a dominant force in the city. This trend stands in contrast to the city’s (and broader nation’s) recent heritage. Welsh independent music is often thought of as quirky, gently-psychedelic and easy-going; heavily-indebted to the ground zero act of modern Welsh alternative music: the incomparable Super Furry Animals.
However, the iconoclastic new breed are questioning this tradition. Whilst there remains plenty of great Welsh bands walking in SFA’s amiable footsteps, it’s no longer the dominant style. Factors driving this shift include; wider music culture becoming more genre-fluid and progressive, as well as the ample arts funding provided by Wales’ devolved government. As even a glance across cultural history will reveal; robust state support for the arts has long played a role in cultural innovation. Combine the two and you get something very exciting.
A sense of innovative freshness is what defines this new wave. Their electrifying nature is transmuted via an omnipresent commitment to live shows that are as thrilling as their future-minded music. The core organ of any local scene, indie venues including Clwb Ifor Bach, The Moon, Porter’s and Tiny Rebel have provided New Weird Cardiff with a welcome home; a place to warp the nation’s familiar musical landscape; the land of song filtered through a distorted scream.
Here are five of the key acts that are defining New Weird Cardiff…
The abrasive and downright-feral SHLUG are, on the surface, not the band you’d expect to serve as the city’s de facto scene leaders. However, via their eclectic support bills and Midnight Mass events at Clwb Ifor Bach, they’re relentless supporters of new music in Cardiff.
Think of them as the reprobate older brothers who bought you booze when you were underage. Their noise-rock/post–punk brew is best consumed live, an experience that features, among many other delights; moustachioed frontman Ellis Acton-Dyer stripped down to his boxers and discordant blasts of saxophone courtesy of Blue Amber’s Andrew Noel. Transgressive and primal fun from a band that have become a totem of Cardiff’s music scene.
Every local scene needs an enigma, a mercurial character that effortlessly transcends styles and sounds. James Minas is this figure. His moody, intense brand of punk-rap has been widely-embraced by the Cardiff and wider Welsh music scene. His oeuvre brims with barely-sublimated anger at both the world and himself, ranging from the restrained anguish of ‘Fight One’ to the blunt aggression of ‘Protest’. He’s also a versatile creative, as comfortable in high-energy live shows (backed by drummer Greg Davies and bassist Bob Williams) as he is in a jazz trio or performing Pina Bausch-like dance moves.
Support slots with the likes of Benefits and Bad Dreems have brought Minas to a UK-wide audience, where he deserves to be embraced as warmly as he has been in Wales.
Are Blue Amber art rock? Prog rock? Jazz-punk? They’ll hate that last tag, even if their roster does feature formally-trained jazz musicians.
The band, currently a five-piece, are best described without genre labels. Their sole album thus far; 2021’s ‘Rockland’s Workshop’, throws everything at the wall and almost all of it sticks, including beat poetry-inspired lyrics, delicate acoustic arrangements and expressionist sound collages. Their unpredictable approach is practically-mycelial in its branching ambition, moving in myriad directions simultaneously and contorting itself into unusual but beautiful shapes. Every time you catch Blue Amber live they seem like a different beast; one of the many reasons the band have become cult favourites in Cardiff.
Monet are fast becoming the enfant terrible’s of the Cardiff and South Wales music scene. The four piece ply a manic brand of experimental rock, within which you can hear a heady combination of eccentric influences: the math rock of Tera Melos, Speedy Wunderground-style post-punk and noughties-era dance-punk.
However, no comparisons can wholly capture the four-piece’s unique ambition or oddball energy. Comparing Monet’s trajectory from 2022 album ‘Locmine’ to 2023 EP ‘You Need To Tell Worse Lies Man’, it’s clear that the band are becoming both increasingly-proficient musicians but also more thrillingly-weird. Check out their absurdist banger ‘Wallace’ for diamond-hard proof of their greatness.
The youngest act on this list, digital hardcore trio Spithood are included because of their sheer individuality within Cardiff and crucially because they’re an incendiary live act, as anyone who caught their set at SHLUG’s most recent Midnight Mass can attest.
The above video (one of only three featuring the band on YouTube) includes their old drummer and lacks their new synth/noise twiddler, whose bare-chested, beer can-smashing feral mania has helped turn Spithood into a monstrous and intimidating live presence. The nascent band are still a work-in-progress, but their riotous noise-rap and intense live show shows that Spithood have all the ingredients to become something special.
Words: Tom Morgan