Red Sun Festival, Cardiff, 1st – 3rd May 2015
Written By Grant Jones // Photos by Sam Worthington.
There was an almighty rumble emanating from Womanby Street on that Bank Holiday weekend just passed. Whilst most of Cardiff’s musical population was off attempting to keep their socks dry at Troyfest, the city’s main entertainment was left in the hands of Red Sun; A three day festival, that although set to an apocolyptically grey background, still managed to feel like the genesis of Cardiff’s constantly evident and ever burgeoning heavy rock illuminati. Like a few demons had occupied the vacant Eden whilst the divine was away watching Mr Scruff and proceeded to hand out all the apples to the lost souls left behind to indulge in the dark pleasures.
In a city that is becoming increasingly known for it’s multi-venue festivals; Hub, Swn, Oxjam and Glasnost to name but a few; It is the ones that find themselves collected entirely on a small lane opposite the castle that resonate the most. It is the ones that breathe life into that cosy alley that come closest to recreating the atmosphere, energy and overall common togetherness that are the underlying reasons for this country’s love affair with the festival. Only at festivals on this street can you realise you’re missing a band because you hear them playing in the distance. Only here can you almost literally hop from stage to stage. When on Womanby St, one can be completely immersed in it’s narrow parameters and feel like nothing beyond The City Arms and Dempsey’s is worth bearing thought to. (Which is quite a task considering that the colon of St Mary’s Street is so close you can spit at it). These street festivals have become microcosms of Cardiff’s deep, unfortunately underlying yearn to be an open, liberal, entertaining, accepting community that values expression.
All that said, Red Sun managed to have a certain overwhelming cohesion to it that is not yet apparent in the other festivals on the street. This may have been because everybody wore black, or it could have been that there was a clear intrinsic goal running through promoters, performers and participants alike. A genuine gathering of like minded individuals interested in progressing and indulging in a collected theme. A ‘scene’ if you will. I hesitate at that as it appears to my relatively naïve mind that scene has become a dirty word. I feel sorry for people who genuinely feel part of a scene. To suggest this is to appear conceited. It is to be seen as having grandiose illusions of cultural self-worth; to apply significance objectively to oneself. It seems to be believed that a scene could not possibly recognise itself in it’s time. That a culturally significant moment in time can only be labelled so after it has been thought out and measured. Of course the attitudes, creative output and control of a scene have to be natural and bred through complete immersive involvement for them to remain truly representative. But it must also be coherently brought together. It must be fed, looked after and thrive through a conscious appreciation and natural understanding.
For me, this is what Red Sun was all about. It was a platform for a prevailing community of musicians and music lovers that has been cultivating for years. Rarely do you see musicians and music lovers revel in their craft as wholeheartedly as you do when witnessing those who have chosen to march down the heavy road. And never does it seem conceited, overly self-confident or deluded. It feels passionately natural and it’s a wonderful thing to behold.
From the moment of it’s announcement, Red Sun felt like an entirely different beast altogether. It’s striking, original artwork, provided by local artisan Gareth Jon Day, created a heavy rock mythology of its own. Different creatures representing a particular genre. It set a lucid and fun tone, that the festival itself would go on to surpass. Then came the announcements, with most of the nationally recognisable acts appearing to be a selection of touring bands that have made huge impressions on their previous visits to the city. The likes of Desert Storm, Admiral Sir Cloudseley Shovel, Thought Forms, Trippy Wicked, Bongcouldron, Bast and Elephant Tree all benefiting from, and adding to, their reputations in our city. These names however, could not take away from the army of local acts stationing themselves for battle all across the schedule. Which for a festival run over 3 venues, for 3 days, at an average of 8 hours a day, is no mean feat that I’m sure many other cities would struggle to match in quality, quantity and appeal. This really was a festival of the city, for the city, that managed to parade its big fish, in a small pond, with the greatest sense of confidence and humility.
The local acts were strewn across all times, some that would take headline slots at many gigs, happily finding themselves playing at almost humorously early times in order to serve the interest of the ‘all-day’ aspect of the festival. And it worked marvellously, giving nobody who yearned to see all that was on offer a chance to recover from the night before, just like at an actual festival. It’s because of this you could find crowds at Godbomber, The Cosmic Nod and Akb’al even though they were rocking pre-tea time. This meant that by the time the sun was being swallowed by the horizon, hoards of revellers found themselves captured in the sounds, atmosphere, excitement and pungent smell emanating from the street. Any passer by must surely have been struck by the commotion and activity. It looked, felt and sounded like a festival.
Despite a few inevitable time changes and delays, the proximity of each venue made catching each band not only easy, but invariably fun. It almost became overwhelming. Scores of poor cigarettes were left half smoked through fear of missing a single magic moment. And there were plenty of them. The mutually brutal interaction between the crowd and Heil Zilla, Gung Ho and Lacertilia late on Friday night was something I’m sure that room in Clwb Ifor Bach hasn’t witnessed in a long time. Omnipotent Cardiff warlords Thorun getting a deserved slot and crowd in Fuel on Sunday night and capturing everybody in the doom groove felt long awaited. Sunday also saw an ankle-ligament-tearing set from Not Since The Accident followed by Admiral Sir Cloudsely Shovel capturing the hard rock spirit this city was famous for when Budgie released their first album 44 years ago. And, of course, the crowning of the kings of darkness, Hogslayer, on Saturday night. No band I have ever seen could have taken this platform with such vigour, force, power and communicated a bold message of dark togetherness that epitomised the entire attitude of the festival. The idea that the anger and frustration that often finds itself at the roots of heavy music, is a force to bind us together. And look at what can be achieved when we allow it to. A weekend of mind-altering proportions that has set a president for times to come. Plenty of other bands deserve a mention, but to individually announce every band that performed expertly would take a certain amount of recollection not usually possible after a festival and would also take away from the overriding sense of glorious unity that it is most important to expound from my musings.
From experience I know that being part of organising, running and promoting these festivals can be a monumental task that takes an unprecedented amount of effort from all involved and to this extent Owen Bowley and Tom Cole deserve unreserved respect for appearing less frantic over the festival period than most of the performers and attendees. I’m sure that any reservations they had were wiped away by the unequivocal successes of each evening. Booking so many local acts was an obvious and smart move. Not only are you showing confidence in these bands, but it allowed everybody to play a part in promotion. Each band seemed to exercise themselves in the seemingly lost art of self-promotion. Left to a few heads, this festival could have slipped under the radar, but thanks to the true power of each band promoting themselves and the festival, Red Sun was unavoidable in certain circles, and so it very well should have been.
The entire festival, from booking, to promotion, to design, running, production and actual enactment was an exercise in our cities ability to create a thriving culture that feeds itself on mutual appreciation. If something this right can manifest itself over a single weekend, I see no reason why that proud feeling that every single mother fucker in attendance felt during and afterwards, can not be the most prominent feeling expounded by the streets of our City.
Written By Grant Jones.
Find out more about the festival here.