Ponty Fringe Review

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I don’t know how many of you knew about this but happening alongside Ponty’s Big Weekend was a smaller, perhaps even more intimate event — Ponty’s Big Weekend Fringe. The Fringe took place on Thursday, 19th July and was designed as a build-up, a starter-course, for the bigger event. 

Some of the bands/acts that played were: Astroid Boys, Continents, Dopamine, Falling With Style, Ghosts and Echoes (Neil Starr – Attack Attack and Gavin Butler The Blackout), Straight Lines, and many more. The event was free and Clwb y Bont and the YMCA, in Pontypridd, were the designated venues.

I know what you’re thinking, the YMCA?! How, in the name of Tom Hanks, did that work out? The place doesn’t even sell alcohol for those ABV-hungry vultures you find in gigs, nor is it big enough to host a gig, right? 

No, you’re not right. Wrong, in fact. Really wrong. The YMCA didn’t sell alcohol, but that was no problem for those that wanted to drink as they could just nip over to the Muni in 30 seconds and feed their demons that way, and the amount of people that turned up was a really inviting sight. The venues were full, but there was enough room for everyone to feel comfortable. Clwb Y Bont was jammed to the rafters; so much so that even the beer-garden/smoking area was full and even though the YMCA wasn’t as busy, there was an audience there who were really into the music and more than made up for their lesser numbers by throwing themselves around, and shouting the lyrics back at the band/s at any opportunity they could get.

You could say that Clwb Y Bont was for the more chilled-out music fans with acoustic and indie the order of the day (night) and that the YMCA was aimed at the more heavier and alternative music fans with metal/hardcore/alternative plugging everyone’s ears. I dunno if anyone of you will remember the Dog & Muff in Llwynypia back in the day (I sound about 80 now, take 57 years off that, please) but standing outside the YMCA brought back memories of when I was younger, running out of my teenage years. The Dog & Muff was well-known for putting on metal/hardcore/punk gigs and you could guarantee that on a Friday night the place would be jammed with young people clad in black, band names adorning their T-shirts, hairspray thicker than carbon monoxide, and the essence of being part of a musical community overpowering the stench of stale beer and 50-year-old leather seats. 

But, this was a Thursday night and the young people outside the YMCA may not have been wearing as much hairspray as when I was younger, but the band T-shirts were out in force and standing outside the YMCA, waiting for the doors to open, watching these groups of young people mill around, waiting for the bands with the eagerness of an owl hunting its prey, reminded me that the musical community of young people in RCT isn’t dead yet and that it probably will never die. It filled me with hope, as music is a great way to make friends, and to interact with other people who you may not have met before and also gives you a sense of belonging. It’s vital that the flame is carried on. Music can be a liberator, and music can also bring an unprecedented amount of people together.

Music is great.

Now, I haven’t got a double (apart from that tramp down the street) so I could only be in one place at a time so this review is only going to be of the bands I saw and I’ll start with the first band on in the YMCA.

Astroid Boys.

The Cardiff wild-bunch are building a swift and sturdy reputation as an act to keep an eye on due to their mental live shows and their pretty inimitable style. Their blend of dubstep/hip-hop with sprinkles of hardcore and metal (due to the guitar) has really got people excited about the potential of the band; even the well-known Front magazine has featured the band in their pages. On their WordPress, the band say they are ‘2MC’S A PRODUCER AND A DJ’ but, when playing live, they play with a drummer and a guitarist. They all let loose on stage and it’s hard to pull your eyes away from them, just in case you miss something. The 2 MC’s really get the crowd going and with their chants of ‘Everyone in here, even you lot at the back, get closer, get involved, get down the front,’ everyone truly is involved.

Astroid Boys’ set is full of humour, dirty dubstep beats, crunchy guitar riffs, and clever, concise, creative lyrics. What makes the band as accessible as they are, though, is their ability to meld fun into their set whilst still retaining a vice-like grip of seriousness about what they do. At the end of their set, a yoga gym ball is thrown into the crowd, who then proceed to throw it at each other, run into each other with it and kick it around. All in the name of fun, though. No-one wants to get serious now, do they?

Continents

Next up were Continents, a band who I was looking forward to seeing. They’ve recently been signed to the huge Victory Records in America, and listening to their studio recordings it’s not really a surprise that Victory picked these guys up. Drumming capable of knocking out Stone Cold Steve Austin, heavy-as-hell breakdowns with angular riffs spraying out from the lagoon of down-tempo strings and throaty, yet catchy vocals really snare the attention and they fit Victory’s roster perfectly. 

However, live was a different matter. One thing I will say for the YMCA is that the sound wasn’t up the quality it should have been and this helped Continents as much as a lack of smell would help a hunting dog. The vocals merged into the music too easily, and the mic was faulty and just simply stopped working about three or four times in a single song, never mind the whole set. This meant that newcomers to the band weren’t entirely sure whether the lack of vocals were intentional and looking around, a lot of people were confused and some even looked a bit dejected that this bad luck had happened to a band currently on a crest of success.

A redeeming feature of the band’s set, though, was their defiance in the face of disruption. They carried on regardless, and got into their set just as much as they would have if everything had gone smoothly. I look forward to when I see them next so that I can (hopefully) see what they’re all about live without anything inhibiting their performance. And if they’re reading this – boys, when the album’s done, send it over to Wicid for review!

Dopamine

Dopamine first emerged in 2000, and since then they’d pretty much been building a colossal following due to their beguiling riffs and melodic vocals and relatable lyrics. They’ve played with the likes of Lostprophets, Funeral For A Friend, Hiding With Girls and McLusky and as well as playing all over the UK, they’ve also toured Japan and Australia. Influenced by the likes of Nirvana, Rage Against The Machine, Dashboard Confessional, Glassjaw and even Lionel Richie, the band play a sound that’s about as diverse as a spotted zebra. 

Unfortunately, though, things have been quiet for the band for the past few years due to different projects taking off, life moving on and jobs that actually help pay the rent, rather than drag you further under. This was a gig that was going to be special; and so it was.

The guitars were polished and sleek, the drumming well-structured and added an undefined rhythm that crept behind the vocals like a Vietcong in the jungle undergrowth and the vocals and lyrics really perked up your attention after the seemingly long wait since the end of Continents’ set. Long-time fans were obviously there, and loving it, there was one guy stood a few feet away from me who knew the lyrics to every song – hanging onto his mate’s shoulders for support for his weary lager-induced legs – and there were new fans there, too. As was evident in the group of young girls who weren’t too sure about the band at first, having audibly said to each other ‘Do you want to go? I’ve never heard of these,’ it wasn’t long before they were moving to the music and cheering with the majority of the crowd.

It was a fine set by Dopamine and I can only hope that they won’t go quiet for a few years again as it’s nice to pretend I’m 17 once more. (They soundtracked my 6th form.)

Straight Lines

Firm favourites amongst the Welsh scene, Straight Lines headlined the YMCA but there wasn’t a big an audience as expected. I think everyone left either to get a train home – as we know Valleys lines can be temperamental – or headed down to Clwb Y Bont to soak up the acoustic atmosphere or to get ready to throw some shapes to the tunes the DJ was playing. Me, I wasn’t going to miss Straight Lines and they ensured my decision was the right one.

Even though the crowd wasn’t as big for a headliner as it should have been, when Straight Lines came to the stage the remaining loyal fans made a rapturous noise: clapping, shouting, hooting, whistling and the band, after giving a quick mention of thanks for sticking around, kicked straight into their set. 

Each time I’ve seen the band, they’ve always been a pleasure to watch as they engage with the crowd as much as possible and their enjoyment of playing seeps into the crowd – making for a personal, close-knit and friendly atmosphere that’s hard not to revel in. They played new material, which sounded as if it was going to develop more on recordings rather than in a live environment, but it was encouraging to hear the band pushing their sound. They also played favourites such as Say It For Your Sake and Antics, which were both eaten up hungrily by the crowd. In fact, the whole set satisfied all of the crowd’s appetite, and a conga line even started to show the band their appreciation.

*

Ponty Fringe was a great event that showed that some of the smaller, alternative bands who were a part of Ponty’s Big Weekend deserved as much – if not more – recognition as the bigger names. Even if some of those who went to Ponty’s Fringe were hoping to see Jessie J on the Friday, they can say that the Thursday was a success, anyway, and that no bands pulled out at the last minute. But I’m not naming names.

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