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Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Helia Phoenix

Helia Phoenix has been trying to write this Letter from Cardiff in lockdown since March! Better late than never. We’re looking for your stories, so please carry on sending in your letters for our series … 

Cardiff Bay

Early lockdown was extremely unsettling.

In weeks beforehand, we watched the death toll mount in other countries, while still being encouraged to go out and about our business, like nothing was wrong. My last outing in the default world  was watching Jon Hopkins at the Forum in Bath – the tickets were a birthday gift last year. We deliberated hard on whether to go – I’m glad we did, I think. It was an amazing show, but with a strange, sour edge to it. The chat all around – in the loos, at the bar – everywhere – was virus related, in hushed tones, the early scenes from a 50s B-movie. “They think someone in Frome has caught it. It’s only a matter of time before it gets here.” After we came home (a week before anything  was announced), I stopped going out. Unofficial lockdown began.

Socially distanced trolleys, Asda, Ferry Road

There was no stockpiling in our house. But I definitely added an extra couple of ‘essentials’ to each shop. Lentils, rice, UHT milk, that sort of thing, just in case. I tried to keep calm waiting in queues at the shops. People who hadn’t grasped the two metre rule stood too close to me. I felt breathless in my mask, bringing on panicky thoughts about infection, which made it even harder to breathe. Early lockdown was a strange and eerie time, where the radio and TV were still advertising shops being open and events taking place, like nothing had changed – except everything had changed. Shops were closed. Everything was cancelled, just like that.

I’ve been working from home since my office  in the valleys was flooded back in February (remember the floods?? Storms Jorge and Dennis?? Ah, a simpler time). I’m essentially a desk monkey, so no frontline stress, but work was still hard. I forgot Mother’s Day. I ran out of meds. And I couldn’t drink, as I was on antibiotics. Like everyone, I think, I was a bit of a mess.

Different running route – Curran Road Industrial Estate

The one constant thing that’s got me through (and has got me through many other things in the past) was/is exercise. I found the fitbit I abandoned last year, and I walked, and I ran. I was actually originally going to structure this piece like a running route. But then I realised running was just one thing I’ve done during lockdown. I have done a lot of it, but again – it’s only one thing. I’m grateful for how AMAZING exercise is for everything – mental health, appetite, sleeping.  If you’re feeling like crap and you don’t exercise, PLEASE consider doing something. If you want to run, I recommend doing the NHS couch to 5k. It’s a wonderful plan and hardly takes any time out of your day.

When it first starts, suddenly lockdown opens up the roads – for walkers and runners.

Once I exhausted routes around the Docks, I headed to town. Queen Street was empty, quiet, and creepy. Suddenly the rough sleepers are hypervisible. They’re not hidden in doorways, or confined to benches along the edge. They’re the central attraction, because they’re the only people still there. Neil Cocker wrote about this in his Letter from Lockdown, the first one we published. 

Gwdihw

On my runs through the city centre, I started changing up my route so I could pass by some of Cardiff’s clubs. Places I spent so much time in, through my life. Gwdihw and the other buildings are just facades now, hiding the scaffolding and gaping nothingness behind. Fuel has a heartfelt note on the door. Undertone. We will be back. The Moon – how many more times are we going to have to save The Moon??

I run past clubs long gone: the Hippo, now some offices; the Emporium, still empty; Club X, unrecognisable; Apocalypse / Vision 2k / Top Rank / The Forum / Astoria, depending on when you went there, which is now Matalan; and Dirtbox (remember Dirtbox??) – nothing more than skeletal remains –  a stack of deserted slipper limpets, attached to the side of the good ship Clwb.

Dirtbox

Venues close, venues open, promoters make money, or they go bust. People have a gutsfull, move away. Younger people are hungry, move toward. But right now, the universal outlook clubs and pubs everywhere is bleak. I sit on the Cardiff Music Board, and our first Zoom meeting is just as you’d expect it to be. Many venues aren’t set up for anything other than mass gatherings – they can’t reinvent themselves to sell food, or do drink takeaways. Some have no outdoor space at all. Without gigs, how can they survive? The scene in Cardiff has been through a lot in recent years. How is it going to survive this?

I scour the news impatiently for information about mass gatherings in other countries. There are legal, socially distanced raves in Nottingham. There are illegal raves, ravaged by troublemakers, like the ones at the weekend in Manchester (the headline is so grim it’s enough to put you off forever – Greater Manchester illegal raves: Man dies, woman raped and three stabbed‘). A socially distanced festival (the No Art Hotel) in Amsterdam is engineered, promising a clinical clubbing experience with limited social interaction and DJ sets streamed to hotel bedrooms, to limit chances of viral transmission. Sounds weird as hell to me but it sells out regardless. Whatever people are doing elsewhere, we’re still a long way off any of that, here in Cardiff.

Washing day, Cathays

As well as being extremely unsettling, the first few weeks of lockdown were a revealing time. I, like all of you, I imagine, Zoom-fatigued myself on video calls with many people – work meetings, family, friends, my therapist. (Not even joking about the therapist part although it does sound like the punchline of a bad Woody Allen joke). A lot of them were people I hadn’t seen or spoken to in a long time, and it was wonderful to catch up. But none of that matched the wild ecstasy of genuinely accidentally bumping into friends when out on one of my walks. That is, I suppose, the beauty of Cardiff – you can’t swing a cat without smacking someone you know. We only stood and spoke for about five minutes – we were all mindful of the rules, and didn’t want to mix, even socially distanced, at that early time. But just that five minutes was enough to totally revive me. That’s the thing about face to face contact, to actually being there with someone. Nothing can beat it. That’s why watching streamed gigs, or plays, or anything, is never as good as being there in person. Humans vibrate together. We charge the atmosphere. Bodies in a place, taking up space.

This idea of ‘bodies in a space’ is something I think about a lot through lockdown. Firstly because of the mass gatherings thing – and my love of music, and working in tourism, I guess you could say my life revolves around mass gatherings of some kind. Secondly, because George Floyd dies after being arrested by police in America, and the world erupts in anti-racism protests.

Black Lives Matter protest, Cardiff Castle, 31 May 2020

Cardiff had its first socially distanced protest on the lawns at the front of Cardiff Castle. The speakers were invited from the crowd that gathered. They encouraged people to join unions. They denounced racism. And although some people questioned why we need these kinds of protests here, because “we aren’t America”, two mothers spoke about the systemic racism their children have faced in the UK, and continue to face, on a day to day basis – being pulled over in cars, stopped and searched, about how their families were targeted and abused and beaten by police when they were younger. One woman was in tears talking about how she worries daily about the safety of her son. Younger people spoke about being racially profiled and denied entry into clubs here in Cardiff. It’s sobering.

I spoke to a number of friends who support the cause, but don’t go to the protests. Some have young children, or other caring duties, and are worried about taking their charges with them, just in case something happens. Some are frontline workers, in social work or healthcare. Some just don’t feel comfortable protesting during a pandemic. Because so many people can’t, I feel it’s important that I do. I appreciate that I experience a lot of privilege, being a light skinned Middle Eastern person. My parents were born in Iran. We are an immigrant family. I walked to the BLM protests, a 20 minute stroll from my house. I wore my mask, was diligent with the hand sanitiser, and stayed socially distanced from people, as did everyone else I saw there. Listening to the speakers was a humbling experience. I’ve had plenty of racist stuff said to me over the years, but I’ve never felt like my life was in danger just for the colour of my skin. No one should ever have to feel like that.

Photo from the BLM protest in Bute Park by Lorna Cabble

As well as my first socially distanced protests, the lockdown has given me a couple of other ‘firsts’. I’ve always been grateful for where I live – a quiet but friendly street down the Docks (I am chastised constantly by people who’ve grown up here when I call it Butetown or Cardiff Bay). During lockdown we have our first socially distanced street parties, where I learn the electric slide. A swan gets stuck on our road on one very hot day, and me and a group of us usher it down the street and back into the river. Some enterprising neighbours set up a Whatsapp group for our street, and we are now all in an endless dance of lending tools and swapping plants and gifting books and baking cakes for each other. I love it.

Socially distanced street party

I also cook Persian food properly for the first time. There’s a point during lockdown where I’m feeling really low and I just want things my mum used to cook for me when I was a kid. I’ve never been an eat-your-feelings person, but suddenly that’s ALL I want to do. I  want to consume comfort from the past, gorge on an illusion of proximity to my family through herbs and naan lavash and citrusy stews. I cook for my household and cook extras for friends, thinking maybe we could all do with a bit of comfort food.

I feel so much and so hard for all the people living alone, struggling. People who have no one. I scour the internet for recipes and cook things I never thought I’d manage. I make tadig, for cripes sake! You can keep your sourdough starter. I got these zesty rice pies on the stove. (All the recipes I cook are from Persian Mama and come highly recommended.)

Zereshk polo and khoresht bademjaan
Zereshk polo and khoresht bademjaan

I start growing things – sunflower seedlings (they’re my favourite thing to grow) until the house is overrun with them. My partner and housemate request a plant amnesty, so the plants find a new home at the Salvation Army Hostel on Bute Street, where a couple of residents are looking to improve the grounds. (If you have any you’d like to donate, they’re still looking for plants). I borrow some kit from Keep Grangetown Tidy and hit the streets, picking up litter during my walks.

Also I eat my first Michelin starred birthday cake from Restaurant James Sommerin. It is delicious. (They’re still doing them, and so I suggest you go get some). I do my first online workouts. My favourite one is still Fridays at 5pm, when my kitchen becomes a dancefloor for the Bristol Drum & Bass workout.

I also give blood for the first time, which is one of the most insane things I have ever done. I ask if I can touch the bag before they ferry it off. IT IS STILL WARM, and it is a complete trip for me. I’ve been there for ten minutes, they’ve extracted a pint of blood out of me,  given me some biscuits, and I’m essentially totally back to normal.

Giving blood at Cardiff Met. Gnarly.

If anything, trying to write something coherent about my experience of lockdown has just proved how impossible it is to describe it as a cohesive experience. Because it hasn’t been one. I’ve loved a lot of things – the lack of traffic, working from home. I’ve hated not being able to see or hug people that I love. Queuing is annoying. Also, I’m really glad this happened in the spring and summer and not during a bleak wet winter.

Also, it’s made me really think about all of those times we get told that things just aren’t possible. It’s not possible for you to work from home. It’s not possible for us to “solve” homelessness. It’s not possible to do anything about child poverty. It’s not possible to curb our fuel emissions. Somehow these were all unsolvable problems, wrapped up in immutable systems.

And yet, within a 12 week period, all the people who can work from home are doing just that. Beds have been found in Cardiff for rough sleepers. A premier league footballer has persuaded the government in England to provide meal vouchers for children who would go hungry without them (we already had this in Wales). Britain goes for over two months without burning coal for electricity, the longest period since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. People across the world are asking for us to interrogate our history and not celebrate oppression – by removing statues that glorify those that profited from colonialism.

So I guess that all those things were always possible. The will to do them just wasn’t there. Think about that. And please, next time there’s an election of any kind, GO AND VOTE, for the things that are most important to you.

Twelve weeks into lockdown. Our rules are relaxing. Reality is flexing. So before anything else happens, and I have to rewrite this entire thing again, I want to finish this off. Here it is. The end.

(For now.)

Cathays Park, Cardiff City Centre
Queuing for the bank, Death Junction

Also, I have to mention my doggy, Zelda. She’s a disabled greyhound. (She broke her back a while ago, it was a whole thing). She’s old and a bit knackered but she still gets around. Look at that smile. I love her.

SOUNDTRACK.

I’ve put together my ideal lockdown 10k running soundtrack, from looking at the songs I’ve played most often while running since the lockdown started. Spotify playlist – Phoenix Lockdown Rundown 

SHOP LOCAL!

I also want to give a BIG shout out to all the local independents that have kept me fed and watered during the lockdown. It’s great that the bigger chains are opening up again, but don’t forget to shop local, and support the independent scene!

In no particular order:

Follow Helia on Instagram @HeliaPhoenix or Twitter @HeliaPhoenix, although tbf the content you want is all over @ZeldaPooch

Want to write for Letters from Cardiff in lockdown? Find out how here…

See also:

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Meet Flameholder, aka Ruffstylz, aka Dan Lloyd – hip hop pioneer, emcee, activist

Today we have the pleasure of chatting with Flameholder, aka Ruffstylz, aka Dan Lloyd – Cardiff based hip hop pioneer, emcee, activist. 

I grew up in London until I was about seven or eight years old, enough to get the London attitude towards life into me but not long enough so it consumed me; making a three year detour through living in Kent to coming to Cardiff was great for me I think in that it gave me the best of both worlds – that big city energy mixed with some breathing space.

In Kent I was there when hip-hop started to blossom, me and my friends were actually out there dragging our lino round to different places, breakdancing on the streets and seeing the early hip-hop classic films when they came out. It was Michael Jackson’s Thriller era too, it was a blessing to be there around the start of these huge cultural phenomenons.

We came to Cardiff and I became a right little nerd (there’s a family video of me that might make you want to end my life). I went from being the sort of kid who wouldn’t be scared to get in a fight to a shy and vulnerable type. I went through the typical growing up process and after years of introspection, curiously questioning everything about life and learning individuality I reconnected with my early hip-hop roots when I tried writing lyrics. I instantly came out with something that had talent in it but I was really aware of the corny bits. I definitely didn’t want to let it go though, I had a spark and I knew that if I kept changing what I didn’t like about it I’d be left with what I did like. Hip-hop was a huge part of the development of my confidence.

It was in Cardiff I became fully fascinated with music, always listening for what was new and interesting. In particular I’d become fixated on remixes; if something was a remix I had to hear it. I loved Shep Pettibone, he was a producer who did remixes for everyone up to Madonna and the way he sampled and played with people’s vocals was a whole new world to me. I started using a mechanical double tape deck to make remixes of tracks using the pause button. I got really good at it and pushed the boundaries of the equipment I was using beyond what it was meant for but people never really heard them, I didn’t push my talent out there enough. Part of me thinks if I was focused enough with what I was doing then I could have been a nationally recognised Radio 1 DJ today or something similar. I think it’s good to tell people thoughts like that about what we feel we haven’t achieved, we all probably have them in our head to some degree.

I periodically kept up the writing, called myself Ruffstylz and became really focused on the strength of maximising the power of words – the same principle behind what poets like Saul Williams and Buddy Wakefield do. I sharpened it and sharpened it until I felt I got rid of the weak spots. Ultimately though the Cardiff music scene was still apathetic at the time, before the 2000 mark. I was passionate about getting things going with emceeing or DJing but I could barely find anyone with the same enthusiasm.

I moved back to London for two years and started to make some sort of name for myself. I was received there in the way I’d always wanted. I also got myself into music journalism, I wrote for Ministry (Of Sound) magazine, Music Week and Hip-Hop Connection. The biggest thing I did was being sent to review Eminem’s show by his record company. A big part of my passion was in wanting urban music to be treated with the same respect as all the jangly indie stuff that was celebrated by the radio and I tried to bring more light to the talent in the UK that I felt was unfairly overlooked.

I came back to Cardiff when I’d ran out of money and the time was right for me and two friends Dregz and Kaptin (now head of music at Boomtown Fair) to start a night called Higher Learning at The Toucan Club (the best club in Cardiff hands down if you ask me).

Boom, that was it, as soon as we provided a stage for local talent all that untapped energy I knew was in Cardiff exploded and I lost count of the amount of classic nights we had. We brought everyone from Task Force to Rahzel and Arrested Development there. People loved it, it was amazing. Also my friend Dan came up with the idea of starting a label called Associated Minds. We did it, grew to a team of eight and put out loads of great material. I never felt the press in the area ever really recognised us or supported us but we played all over the UK. Me and Beatbox Fozzy had a really special and innovative show that killed it everywhere we went. Fozzy’s one of the most talented people I’ve ever met, he’s never stopped blowing my mind.

We once supported Rhys Ifans’ group The Peth, they nearly took us on tour with them. I also went to work for and then be tour manager for Killa Kela, a beatboxer who’s performed with Prince, Pharrell Williams and Justin Timberlake. It was an honour to be around his talent and his whole team Spit Kingdom operated properly to a world class standard, it was highly inspiring.

A number of years back I went to a theatre audition in London my friend Jason Camilleri (the aforementioned Dregz) at Sherman Theatre/Welsh Millennium Centre referred me to. As a result of getting it I got trained in acting, improvisational skills and physical theatre. We then put together a show called Freestyle Forums with the directors Kwesi Johnson (someone who’s addicted to always trying something new) and Felix Cross from Nitro Theatre where we performed a 20 minute play about a young person getting involved in a gang and getting stabbed, then we’d say to the audience we’d perform it again and this time at any point they could put their hand up, say “Freeze”, we would freeze still, then they could come down and take the place of the main character, make different decisions and see if they could make the story have a different outcome while we improvised the rest of the play around them in freestyle rap.

In addition to being really innovative it had a good social purpose of making young people think about how they have the option of making different decisions in bad situations. We did a few performances in schools. I was playing the leader of the gang and in a school in Bristol one of the boys who seemed like he was part of a little gang of troublemakers came up to me and said “Whoa, you’re evil” with wide eyes. It made me happy that I did it well enough that he wasn’t just laughing along with the badness. We also did a Whose Line Is It Anyway variation style of the show where we improvised freestyle along with video footage. All of this really used us to the full, it was super challenging and very satisfying when we succeeded.

I then got involved in a show called Serious Money with director Mathilde Lopez. She’s a genius, working with her is perfect. I had to convert two Ian Dury songs into rap versions for the cast to perform. The Guardian gave it 4 stars. Then I was in Praxis Makes Perfect by National Theatre Wales which was Gruff Rhys’ group Neon Neon’s album/theatre show combined into one. It was immersive theatre, where the set, the actors and the audience all move around each other all the time. The response was overwhelming, damn near everyone treated it like one of the biggest triumphs in theatre from this area. I’d always wondered to myself if I’d be able to act and I never guessed how all these things I got involved with would move me into new and uncharted territory each time.

Following that I was getting very dismayed with the state of the world and I really latched onto some of the internet documentaries that came out that decoded and explained how society actually works. I loved the Zeitgeist films and ended up supporting the Zeitgeist Movement heavily, just because it was so inspiring and the ultimate in open-mindedness. I suppose you’d call it activism. I also went and got involved with the Occupy Movement in London, Cardiff and Bristol and gave a talk about the idea of a resource-based economy at Occupy Bristol and also at Cardiff’s Philosophy Café (I’m actually the only person I’ve seen who’s been allowed to speak there who’s not an academic). Occupy was amazing as an open forum on the streets but the only thing they weren’t really willing to question was money itself. Zeitgeist has the best ideas I can find but I realised in the end it’s too intellectual for people, we need something that communicates the same messages that hits them in the heart. I think Russell Brand came really close.

I’m not a vocational person, I’m a leaf in the wind just trying to do good things. I’m allergic to settling for second best; I think I’m a visionary who can see the potential of society and I’ve done everything I can to try and contribute to its growth. I want an unprecedented, historic, life-changing, global spiritual evolution – the big one we’ve all been waiting for but have been made to feel too small to talk about or create. The removal of limits in our minds and the will to change our social system from a competitive to a cooperative one. The reclaiming of us living in a way where we’re hungry to dive into the mystery of life. Metaphysical thinking. The reduction of science to its appropriate size in the grand scheme of things and a humility for the sheer brain breaking, mind-boggling unknowable size of everything we don’t know, in line with the indescribably beautiful poetic way the whole of existence works in perfect harmony. Let’s go for Utopia. If anyone has the resources to go for the best meal/the best job/the best house/the best partner then we’re all over it. Apply the same thoughts to changing the social system and people go ‘Whoa…’ and say it’s not possible. All it is is fear and negativity and negativity is weak.

i don’t feel comfortable talking about myself, it makes me self-conscious straight away because with everything I do I want people to take away the meaning or inspiration of what I’m showcasing and do something with it themselves but I can say throughout all of this Cardiff has been a great base to do my thing in. There’s nothing specific I could say about why but it just continues to have this lovely extended circle of hundreds of really cool people who are interesting and interested in things, I feel you can talk to people here in Cardiff and they listen.

Dan Lloyd now performs and produces as Flameholder: find out more …

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Astroid Boys – Broke Album Release, Clwb Ifor Bach

Local outfit Astroid Boys hit a sweet milestone recently, with the release of their Broke album. Photojournalist Aiyush Pachnanda went along to document the night!

In their own words: Rising out of Cardiff’s unlikely CF10 area code, Astroid Boys have cultivated a movement that transcends multiple sub-cultures – a growth that defines them less as a band, and more as voice for the youth.

With a DIY ethos rooted in the punk and hardcore scene, mixed with the raw, narrative approach of grime culture – their sound fuses together multiple perspectives, channeling their aggressions and woes into a platform for creative expression and escapism.

Bringing everything to a climax through their high-energy live shows, the combination of attacking vocals, crushing guitars and Dellux’ signature production never fails to get a crowd bouncing, both cult followers and innocent bystanders alike.

BUY BROKE NOW

LISTEN TO BROKE NOW

www.astroidboys.com

Astroid Boys Facebook

Astroid Boys Twitter

Astroid Boys Instagram

Astroid Boys YouTube

See more of Aiyush’s photography at YO Snaps!

Listen to Ep 23 of Minty’s Guide Gig – where Minty speaks to Benji Wild

And to finish up, Phoenix’s favourite Astroid Boys song: Foreigners

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Women of Wales in music: Chloe Jackson-Nott investigates

Photojournalist Chloe Jackson-Nott recently completed a project on women in music in Wales, about the lack of women in the industry and how we can address it. Take it away, Chloe!

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women_in_music-11
Niamh Doyle and Rebekah Price, presenters on Dragon Radio. All photography by Chloe Jackson-Nott.

My photography mainly focuses on music. There aren’t many female music photographers around, so within my work I wanted to photograph and talk to women in other parts of the music industry: whether that be, in a band, solo artist, radio presenter, photographer or enthusiastic gig-goer.

I found eight young women in different parts of the industry. They all do different things within it, and they agreed to speak to me and allowed me to photograph them.

Firstly, Daniele Lewis is a singer-songwriter from New Quay, West Wales. I stumbled across her at Sŵn Festival when looking through the schedule for female artists. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to speak to her on the day but I did see her perform and she has a lot of friends and family around supporting her. Her performance had a calm vibe to it but at the same time you could see all of her enthusiasm and that she loved being up on stage.

I then spoke to Fenne Lily just before her show at Sŵn Festival in Clwb Ifor Bach who had travelled from Bristol to perform in Cardiff. She has strong views about how to get to where you need to be in the music industry and how you need to fight your way to the top, especially being female.

Before I started to find women to talk to about this, I knew I wanted to speak to Katie Hall from Aberdare as I have worked with and seen her band Chroma play live multiple times. She’s incredible. When she performs, she’s lost in performance – she doesn’t care what other people think about her. She’ll be dancing around the stage, giving enthusiastic facial expressions. You can tell she is very passionate about her music and take advantage of being the lead singer of a band with two other male members. She’s a great role model for young girls who want to make it big one day in music.

I also spoke to Dani Hewitt from Treherbet and Samantha Bull from Aberdare who volunteer with Young Promoters Network where they have worked with many women, including myself, who want to take the next step in music. They realised that all of the girls were coming to them for advice noticing that there were no other female role models for them, so decided to create a community called WOMEN (Women of Music Events Network.)

I then went to the students of all music courses at University of South Wales and found Ellie Strong from Cardiff who aspires to be a successful drummer, which is someone I had yet to come across so jumped at the chance to speak to her. She performs at Café Jazz every Monday to practice her skills and perform to a small crowd. Finally, I was asked to photograph two radio presenters from Dragon Media at University of South Wales who happened to be both female so spoke to them to get a different view as they were not in a band or aspire to be artists.

Women of Wales in music

Samantha Bull, 26, Aberdare, W.O.M.E.N

“There aren’t enough women in the music industry, progress is being made but it is slow. There is so much could be done and must be done to counteract the inequality that we as women face in the industry. From the culture that surrounds us and society it has been ingrained in us from a young age that all girls are in competition with each other. Take that thought and push it out of your brain. We need to come together and start supporting each other and celebrating each other’s achievements.”

Dani Hewitt, 26, Treherbet, W.O.M.E.N Cofounder

“There are a lot of men working in the music industry that I could look up to but not a lot of women that I could identify with and follow in the footsteps of. I volunteer with the Young Promoters Network and a lot of the girls starting coming to me and looking up to me to help them. It became a community where we supported each other with developing skills. As there aren’t a lot of female role models, I decided that I should be one for now for young girls who want to achieve their dreams and goals.”

Samantha Bull, 26, and Dani Hewitt, 26, running a W.O.M.E.N panel (Women of Music Events Network) panel at Swn Festival 2016 to inspire young girls to achieve their dreams in music.
Samantha Bull, 26, and Dani Hewitt, 26, running a W.O.M.E.N panel (Women of Music Events Network) panel at Swn Festival 2016 to inspire young girls to achieve their dreams in music.

 

Fenne Lily, 18, Bristol – Singer

“I think there are enough women in the music industry but not women who are actually doing what they want to do, because it’s quite easy to see a girl with an acoustic guitar and tell her she’s can be the next ‘Taylor Swift.’ I think it should cater to women more instead of having men setting up their career and choosing for them. I’ve been brought up by a lot of music as I was attending festivals at a young age so I knew this is definitely what I wanted to do with my life and have decided to build a career out of it. If it’s something you want to do, don’t let society’s opinions stop you.”

Fenny Lily performing downstairs in Clwb Ifor Bach on Saturday 22nd October.
Fenne Lily performing downstairs in Clwb Ifor Bach on Saturday 22nd October.

 

Danielle Lewis, 21, West Wales – Singer

“In the 10 years I have been performing live from school, my local scene at home, playing in Australia to moving to the city in Cardiff, I have seen a lack of women in music in all areas of the industry from playing to sound engineers and producing. It still seems to be a very male orientated business and as a female artist myself I have felt looked down at numerous times. I recently recorded my latest CD with a female producer for the first time and she herself agrees on the shortage. I do think we are becoming more aware of this and I look forward to a new wave of more females in the industry.”

Singer Danielle Lewis, 21, from New Quay, West Wales, performing on the Horizons stage at O'Neils on Saturday 22nd October.
Singer Danielle Lewis, 21, from New Quay, West Wales, performing on the Horizons stage at O’Neils on Saturday 22nd October.

 

Singer Danielle Lewis, performing on the Horizons stage at O'Neils on Saturday 22nd October.
Singer Danielle Lewis, performing on the Horizons stage at O’Neils on Saturday 22nd October.

 

Katie Hall, 21, Aberdare – Singer

“There are definitely not enough girls in the music industry. It shouldn’t be the defining feature of you band that a girl is the front woman. There are so many talented and inspiring musicians that are girls. I think the way to inspire more girls to work in the music industry is to shatter that glass ceiling that’s oppressing women everywhere. The way we do that is challenging promoters attitudes towards women in bands so they give them more gigs. We need to inspire girls from a young age to get involved or pick up an instrument, and support the women who are currently involved in music to reach their full potential as artist.”

Lead singer of Chroma, Katie Hall, performing in Undertone, Cardiff on Sunday 23rd October.
Lead singer of Chroma, Katie Hall, performing in Undertone, Cardiff on Sunday 23rd October.

 

Lead singer of Chroma, Katie Hall, performing in Undertone, Cardiff on Sunday 23rd October.
Lead singer of Chroma, Katie Hall, performing in Undertone, Cardiff on Sunday 23rd October.

 

Ellie Strong, 20, Cardiff – Drummer

“I think there’s a common misconception that there aren’t a lot of women, but there are plenty of women in music; just not enough making grungy rock and shredding guitar! But then there are some gems like jazz and rock drummer Cindy Blackman, currently killing it in the band Santana.. I think what the current women in the industry need to realise is that ‘music’ isn’t a term to be taken lightly; it’s not always about image, which seems to be the case nowadays. So my advice to singers is that they should listen to Jill Scott’s raw vocals instead of whatever is in the charts, and to instrumentalists – keep doing your thing. Prove that we can do it just as well as the boys.”

women_in_music-08 women_in_music-09

 

Niamh Doyle, 20, Cardiff, Radio Presenter

“I believe that there are a few women who are extremely big at the moment, but that’s only a fortunate few. The advice I would give is to keep up their YouTube platforms, as this is a platform where anyone; gender, age, or race is welcome and as it is such a large platform, it is accessible to everyone around the world. We are also at a time in our lives where society is beginning to change the status levels between men and women; women are beginning to become more noticed and taken seriously. My final advice to women would be to never give up and to just keep their end goal in mind.”

Niamh Doyle, 20, student at USW and radio presenter at Dragon Media
Niamh Doyle, 20, student at USW and radio presenter at Dragon Media

 

 

Rebekah Price, 22, Cwmbran, Radio Presenter

“Music is an incredibly important thing in my life. I’ve always loved talking about it, listening to it, as well as making it. But I will admit that there has been times where I have stood back and questioned whether realistically, as a woman, I would be able to move forward in the industry. Negative thinking I know, but this was partly because I’d recently become aware of the gender divide within music festivals. When we look at festivals in particular, which essentially provide a platform for a large collection of artists and musicians, we can see that typically there is only a small percentage of female acts being seen.”

Rebekah (CORR) Price, 22, student at USW and radio presenter at Dragon Media.
Rebekah (CORR) Price, 22, student at USW and radio presenter at Dragon Media.

 

 

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Baby Queens – Baby Queens Review: Personality Over Pop Appeal

Benj Newman reviews the new Baby Queens album

Baby Queens debut album

Cardiff-based Baby Queens are enjoying something of a slow burning, organic raise to public consciousness. Though they’ve been around for a while – they were first featured here on We Are Cardiff in 2014 (Baby Queens Our Cardiff Geography) – they’re now signed to SFA man Cian Ciaran’s Strangetown Records, and this year have been part of the BBC Horizons project, spearheaded by new music champion Bethan Elfyn.

The opening track of their eponymous debut is entitled: ‘Tired of Love’. The title of the track is one that we’ve seen many times in music; before our ears have even been properly aquainted with the record there’s a worry that may just be another nondescript British pop album. However, as soon as the music starts, these worries are allayed; in fact, the first track’s seems like it is deceptively there to catch the listener off guard. The track is layered with an infectious electronic drum loop, the lyrics are consciously lovesick and the production shifts between styles effortlessly; it is a signifier that the album packs no punches both lyrically and sonically. The track is evidence that the self-titled nature of the album isn’t simply out of convenience, it is a declaration of the group’s identity, both philosophically and sonically. With the group getting props from Marinia Diamandis on Twitter to write-ups on The Guardian, they’re certainly on their way to something big and show that Cardiff’s tightly-knit music community is still doing great things.

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The synthesis of synthetic and organic sounds is one of the biggest positives about the album. It is difficult to properly balance these polarising sounds, but Baby Queens have balanced it competently; in fact, they haven’t just found the right balance, they’ve synthesised both sounds creatively. The soft electronic percussion of ‘Hear Me’, for example, pops with the inclusion of the relatively archaic shaker and classic guitar lines. There is an acute awareness throughout the record that the weaving together of opposing sounds leads to a much more pleasing collage of sound. The symbiosis of these two sounds ensures the album’s production stays organic and sonically interesting throughout. It’s difficult not to think of Cardiff when you hear the combination of electronics and natural sound; the electronic production winds around a subtle natural foundation much like the city itself. Cardiff is a city that juxtaposes harshly against a fertile natural landscape; the city is a symbiosis of nature and modernity much like the music it produces. The unique material culture of the city – one that is still grounded in nature despite its metropolitan allure – has been threaded into sonic palette of the record; Cardiff has left an impression on this group, perhaps even unconsciously. The group aren’t afraid to dip their toes into different styles, either, which ensures the album stays stylistically varied.

The album jumps around a few different styles with aplomb. There is a direct trip-hop and pop influence embedded in the album, but it is still stylistically varied. For example, ‘By The River’ veers into a gospel song on points with a strong Americana influence, whereas ‘Forever’ opens with a reggae guitar line and never really threatens to leave the genre for the remainder of the track. There’s always a nice surprises in each track, – like the Aphex Twin-esque drum loop at the end of ‘Forever’ – that keep the listener’s earbuds on the tip of excitement, too. The group’s ability to wind through several complicated genres speaks volumes for their chemistry. Despite foraying into several genres, their harmonies still stay solid and their identity never becomes compromised. The best thing about the album, really, is how the group are so unrelentingly themselves. Leroy’s drumming, too, deserves special mention – it is expertly measured and matured throughout.

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Lyrically, too, the album displays the group’s deceiving depth. Initially, I thought the album was entirely made up of romantic love songs – not that there’s anything wrong with that – but on further listens I found that the album, in a few tracks, deals with much more relevant and complicated issues. The hook in ‘Forever’ can deceive the listener into believing it is a simple love song, but the overall lyrical content points to something more political. For example, the lyric ‘your skin is light, my skin is dark, that does not change the shape of our hearts’ is a plea for egalitarianism in a time of rampant secularism or straight-up racism. Baby Queens seem ready to shake off their ‘girl group’ stereotype by producing lyrical content that is relevant and political. In a time of Brexit, alt-right and all that other nonsense, it’s good to have a group pushing for people to view each other on more human terms. The vibe of the whole track, too, is suited to the times. It is as utopianistic as it is sombre, in a way. The lyrics contrast sharply with the sombreness embedded in the vocals.  Essentially, the track’s contrasts and tonal hypocrisy mirrors contemporary life; the track realises it is a time where relentless positivity is needed, but where the facts of modern life distils this down into sombre well-wishing.

Overall, Baby Queens was a real surprise packed to the brim with personality and risky production choices. It is out now on Strangetown Records– go check it out, you won’t be disappointed (and if you are then I’m prepared for some comment section shadowboxing).

Baby Queens is out now on Strangetown Records. Find out more:

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Deep and funky with The Organ Grinder

Many years ago, I used to work as the Saturday help in Cardiff’s much missed dance music store, Catapult Records (RIP). I met a load of interesting and talented people while I was working there, and one of those was Cayne Ramos – aka, The Organ Grinder.

the organ grinder cayne ramos

He’s released a clutch of cracking underground house tracks in recent times, with Graft Volume 1 hitting into the Juno House top ten. As well as producing some fabulous music, he’s also djed around the world. I grabbed Cayne for a quick Q&A.

Q. Graft went into the Juno house top ten! Have you got plans for any other releases this year?
A. Yes I’m planning Vol 2 for Graft now and hopefully Volume 3 for the end of the year. Also a few other releases with other labels, so stay tuned!

Q. Any DJing plans coming up?
A. I have a monthly residency with Memorex, and we got some serious parties planned for this year. Plus a few overseas dates which are being confirmed in the next few weeks.

Q. What artists are you listening to a lot at the mo?
A. I have a few artists that are doing it for me at the mo: house, Pascal Viscardi (Switzerland), Frits Wentink (Holland), Diego Krause (Germany). For techno, it’s Uvb (France), Fjaak (Germany) and Kamikaze Space Program (UK).

Q. What’s the best night out in Cardiff?
A. Ha! I’ve got to be a bit bias here and obviously say Memorex, but there are a few good nights in Cardiff which are booking serious artists like Delete, CityBass, Groove Theory, Blue Honey, Rotary Club … if you haven’t already I’d strongly suggest you check out any of the events above

Q. If you had some friends coming down to Cardiff for the weekend, what would you do with them? Where would you take them?
A.
I’d take them to Caroline Street, Clark’s pie and chips and then a pint of Brains Dark at the Old Arcade … proper Kaardiff!

Then I’d take them on a little tour around Tiger Bay, explaining the rich history that Cardiff holds.

Find out more at:

The Organ Grinder Facebook page

Listen to The Organ Grinder – Crack mix

The Organ Grinder – Resident Advisor page

Memorex club night, Cardiff

organ grinder records

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