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Since the early 1990s, Cardiff has been churning out one great band after another, from the Manic Street Preachers, Super Furry Animals, Catatonia and Stereophonics, to more recent talents like McLusky, The School, Los Campesinos! and Astroid Boys.
“People think of cities like Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol when they think of British music. But actually Cardiff’s music scene is as good as any of these,” says Daniel Minty, of Minty’s Gig Guide to Cardiff, a weekly podcast.
What makes Cardiff a petri dish for musical talent? Dan Donnelly, who presents Cardiff at One on Radio Cardiff, points to Welsh coal mining history and its male voice choirs. “That is a foundation,” agrees Minty, whose grandfather was a miner. “It was a terribly tough life they led and in their nights off they’d go to the social clubs, get together and sing. It was their escape.”
“Wales is the land of song,” says Ashli Todd, who runs Spiller’s, the world’s oldest record shop and one of Cardiff’s many independent vinyl specialists. “Music and creativity is in our veins.”
“We’re a small city geographically… with a large population of people from all over the world,” says Donnelly, pointing to Cardiff’s former role as a major international port. That translates to the music, with almost any musical genre flourishing in the city. “People have always welcomed and relished a diverse mix,” says Donnelly.
And local audiences stay supportive of even small-scale venues and festivals in and around Cardiff. “When you go and see a band, you know they’re not getting paid much, that they probably won’t be getting their petrol money covered. And when they’re playing great music with real passion, we really appreciate that.”
Cardiff’s top emerging bands…
Rainbow Maniac, who have just released their first EP, are one of Minty’s indie recommendations. “They studied together and they’ve got quite a following in Cardiff,” he says. He’s also keen on Roughion, “an incredible electronic duo who play in both Welsh and English.”
Meanwhile, Astroid Boys are “the biggest thing to come out of Wales recently,” says Minty, part of a Grime scene emerging from the Butetown and Grangetown districts of Cardiff, where notable artists include Sonny Double 1, Mace, and Reuel Elijah.
Captain Accident & The Disasters is a reggae band that is “all Cardiff born and bred” but has played with reggae legends like Toots and the Maytals. Bella Collins is a jazz and blues musician and celebrated regular at the Café Jazz, where “you won’t get jazz and blues anywhere in Cardiff as good,” Minty insists.
…and where to hear them
“Cardiff provides opportunities for artists to have a go,” says Minty. “There are so many small venues, so many people are open-minded. There’s an ethos of giving a decent platform to people who are just starting out.”
Minty worked with artist Alex Waeland to create a map featuring 29 of Cardiff’s best music venues. Here are some top picks:
By day, the Sully Café is a greasy spoon run by the same couple for nearly 50 years; by night, it’s a “a rave in kebab shop” run by the Blue Honey arts collective. Gwdihw Café Bar, a multicultural, multi-functional venue offering “different sounds every night of the week. Independent, friendly, whimsical, it’s like a wonderland”, says Minty.
Clwb Ifor Bach “gives a platform to up and coming bands but also offers a real acknowledgement of Welsh language music in Cardiff.” The Moon is right next door. It went through a lot of turmoil in the last year, says Minty. “It got closed down and then had a successful kick-starter campaign to reopen.” Now run as an NPO by former employees.
The Moon also puts on the Hub Festival at the end of August. The Swn Festival (22nd September to 21st October), running now for 11 years, is a month-long fest featuring the best music in the country alongside local bands.