Arranged by third-year music students at the University of South Wales, Immersed! Festival offered an insight into the wonderful music scene of Cardiff. The organisers honoured Cardiff’s musical landmarks, offering attendees a chance to relive their days at Gwdihw Cafe Bar or their halcyon nights on Womanby Street.
Tramshed’s Waiting Room was transformed with relics from Gwdihw and adorned with sofas and beanbags. Upstairs, the cocktail bar was minimally decorated with bright colours and thus dubbed the “happy bar”, or Womanby Street Room to the rest of us.
Kicking off the festival there was Dan Ham (8.5). His sound was an eclectic mixture of rock, pop, and spoken word. Opening with his debut single ‘Work Hard’, Dan Ham pulled quite the crowd. Vocals from Meg Franzen were the perfect contrast to Dan’s cynical words, offering a tuneful complement to the music.
Dan Ham was cool on stage, chatting effortlessly to the crowd between songs. From ‘Coffee and Cake’ to ‘Coffee and Cake (Again)’, he highlighted an eclectic taste in music. The three songs he prepared offered differing sounds, some infused with rock, another radiating a relaxing vibe. Dan Ham’s set at Immersed! Festival was his first - not that we could tell! His songs filled with quippy lyrics really set the tone for the rest of the day, and his sound left the audience excited to hear more.
Following Dan Ham’s set on the Womanby Street stage was Church Place (7). On hearing these classic rock bruisers play, our thoughts initially but ignorantly went to “generic”. However, they proved us wrong with their diverse, experimental sound. The Welsh four-piece played expertly together and easily joked between songs. They offered the crowd big riffs and catchy choruses, flying through their set. Their latest single ‘Vulnerable’ was explosive, serving up grunge-rock riffs, and it even got a few people singing along.
From here was a quick dash to the Gwdihw stage to settle down to watch Otto (7.5). His sound perfectly fit the vibe of the room: peaceful and relaxed. Otto’s vocal was stunning and his backing band brilliantly rehearsed. With songs sounding a little like Passenger, Otto managed to take us on a journey through the past with his stories.
With upbeat pop riffs and bright-sounding guitars, Otto played a heartwarming set. His lyrics showed care and attention to his community, sharing the stories of his friends and neighbours. Each song he played had a story to precede it, and the heartbreaking ‘Something She Never Knew’ closed his set. His summery sound and thoughtful disposition combined to make his music beautiful. Otto provided the perfect chill-out tunes, taking us worlds away from the busy festival.
Blackelvis (7) were next to grace the Womanby Street stage, filling the room with their chilled-out alt-rock sound. As a unit, Blackelvis played excellently, with frontman Levi offering an impressive presence. Their description of their sound is “wavy rock” and after hearing their brand of music live, we can confirm this is true.
Their brand of alt-rock took us back to summer, giving us the impression of lazing in sunny festival fields, letting the sound of a new band wash over us. The four-piece were completely at ease on stage, bassist Josh Evans offering some funky riffs. ‘Don’t See Drama’ flew the flag for their Welsh heritage, as Levi switched between Welsh and English lyrics. Blackelvis gathered quite the crowd too, and fairly so. People around the room were bopping and enjoying their relaxed sound.
Downstairs on the main stage, it was time for Bloom (9) to shine. Frontwoman Sophie Bryan and drummer Rhia Greer were suited in shades of pink, while bassist Max Theobald was dressed smartly in black. The band’s dress-sense was enough to capture attention, but if anyone could ignore Rhia’s neon pink suit they were instantly grabbed by Bloom’s huge sound.
‘Advantages’ got many people bopping, as Sophie’s powerful vocal and catchy guitar riffs wowed us all. The trio showed no hint of stress caused by their later-than-expected set. In fact, they looked perfectly at home on the big stage. They even got the crowd clapping in time to their tunes. New track ‘You’ was a wonderful surprise, and all too soon Bloom’s set had finished. Our only complaint about their set would be that it was nowhere near long enough.
Next, we caught one of the festival’s three headliners. Bad Sounds (8) filled the stage, the five-piece playing together in a seemingly effortless way. With two frontmen bringing different influences to the band, Bad Sounds’ set was almost as eccentric as Ewan and Callum’s clothes. They pulled the largest crowd of the night so far, interacting effortlessly with them.
Their latest single ‘Permanent’ offered a stunning depth of sound, got the crowd dancing and singing along. While they weren’t the big headliner, it felt as though they were the ones everyone wanted to see. ‘Banger’ offered a new groove as singer Callum prowled around the stage. His brother, keyboardist Ewan, danced in place while the rest of their band were bopping along, clearly enjoying themselves.
With so many people on stage to watch, the performance Bad Sounds put on was truly exhilarating, a whirlwind of riffs, synths, and different sounds. ‘Sympathetic Vibrations’ closed their set, their sound dissipating into the crowd as they left the stage.
Tom Grennan (7) took to the stage next, opening with a new song. His vocal was soulful, and his confident demeanour meant the crowd immediately gave him their attention. Despite debuting a new tune, the crowd bopping along with him, enjoying every second of his time on stage.
Grennan and his band ensured they kept attention on them by playing crowd favourites. Some of them were quiet and understated like ‘Little By Little Love’, while others including ‘Make ‘em Like You’ were bold and catchy. Each one got his fans singing along, swaying or sitting on shoulders to wave at the stage. Grennan was certainly an enchanting frontman too; he interacted with his crowd happily, getting us to sing with him.
Grennan fit the vibe of Immersed! Festival well: he worked the crowd, riling them up as he closed his set with his most popular song. ‘Found What I’ve Been Looking For’ sounded larger than life, the crowd singing every word and riff back at the stage. Tom Grennan may not be quite to our taste, but there’s no denying his presence at Immersed! was a good experience.
As the evening ran into the late hours, it become strikingly obvious that the students of USW went to an immense effort to put on Immersed! Festival. As with any event, things ran behind and they encountered issues but these were handled professionally and with grace. The aim of the festival was achieved, too. They truly immersed us in the music scene of South Wales and some new favourites and ones to watch have been found from our time there.