Live Review: Walt Disco / Priestgate / Voya – Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff, 13.04.22

The last time I saw Walt Disco live was at a festival at the very beginnings of their career. I had a hole in my timeline and picked their slot on the strength of what was objectively one of the best band names I’d ever heard, with no clue whatsoever of what I was in for. Within two songs of their set I was desperately in love with their music, and that love has only grown through the release of an EP and then, most recently, a full-length album that have cemented them as one of the most intriguing, most unique soundmakers in the UK (and, possibly, worldwide) right now. Another thing that early experience had already made very clear was that this band knows full well how to put on a good show. Fast forward some three years, and as Walt Disco descend on Cardiff on their Spring tour, it immediately became apparent that their sound is not the only thing that has grown since then. Their stage presence has too, and they had lots of that to begin with, so it is safe to say that it was a truly memorable night.

The scene is set downstairs in Clwb Ifor Bach, which is establishing itself more and more as the big purveyor of quality alternative music in the Welsh capital – their offering through the Spring and Summer this year is certainly something to look at, a much-needed breather after two long years of lockdown abstinence. I love this space, more perhaps than the bigger room upstairs, because of the intimacy it offers: there is no stage, so the artists perform at ground level, and the audience gets the true grassroots club experience, provided you’re brave enough to get close. This worked especially well with this particular gig, as all three acts made the best of the space, roaming through the room, serenading the audience, and creating some truly intense connections. That is, I feel, live music at its best, when the invisible barrier between band and audience falls and it is people connecting in the most visceral of ways, and all three bands taking to the stage had a deep understanding of how powerful such moments can be.

The proceedings were opened by Voya, a local act I will be certainly watching out for in the future, selected by the headliners through their own call for supports – an excellent choice, it turns out, both in the fact that they were a perfect fit for the mood of the evening and in the intriguing complexities of their music. The aesthetics as they first appeared may have been a hundred percent New Romantics, but the sound went well beyond that, injected with strands of something reminiscent of Depeche Mode and, even further than that, a deep strand of electronica which owed a lot to 90’s trance; plus, a very intriguing interplay of vocals playing in places with the operatic. They introduced themselves as performing for the very first time in this line-up, but you never would have guessed: the sound was mature, the stage presence confident, the performance deeply intriguing. For an ice-breaker, you could hardly ask for better.

Speaking of ice-breakers, there is no way of keeping any restraints when Priestgate are on stage. I was looking forward to this, as this is a band that has been on my radar and I had a feeling that they would be an absolute live powerhouse. If anything, my expectations were no match for the real thing. I have always been partial to a bit of hard’n’heavy, and Priestgate delivered that in spades, a roaring, unrestrained wall of sound which had more than a bit of the old glories of HC punk (something of GBH in that hammering rhythm section), coupled with post-punk vocals and something else that might be almost heavy metal. Everyone in this band has an innate sense of the stage and a sheer enjoyment of the act of performing which just draws the audience in – it’s always great to see an artist have fun when playing – but there is a special magnetism to vocalist Rob Schofield as he stalks, slinks, and slithers his way across the room, evoking déja-vu images of a young Iggy Pop and ramping up the intensity of the whole performance even further than its already loaded starting point. It’s not a short set, but it feels like it passes in a blink, like some kind of fever dream.

Then it’s time for the headliners, and what a spectacle Walt Disco are capable of putting on. The growth and maturity this band has achieved over the last couple years is one of the most stunning things in UK music right now. It’s a setlist that has something for everyone, from the energetic, highly rhythmic tracks from the beginnings of their career to a comprehensive selection drawn from their newly released album, Unlearning. I was very curious to see how the latter would translate to the stage, given their complexity and layering which made them such a good fit for the studio, and was blown away to see how they turn into something even more immersive and entrancing live, sacrificing none of their minutiae and adding a level of immediacy that is hard to achieve with music this technically ambitious. It’s a vortex of synths, drums, and guitars, so expertly woven that elements which went unnoticed in the listening of the studio versions all of a sudden come floating to the top, and you recognised a chord that is almost pure Bowie or a synth ripple that might be out of Neu!, blended into something that is absolutely Walt Disco and nothing else. Vocalist James Potter is in love with the room, and the room is in love with them as they step into the audience and shift seamlessly from a grand dame’s balladeering to a glam star’s energetic stride. The rest of the band, too, know how to draw the audience’s eye and are so deep in the moment that it seems like one song just flows into the next, in the most natural of ways. There are so many stand-out moments that it’s hard to choose the ones that linger the most: perhaps the awareness that something truly special was happening was strongest when the band launched into an instrumental which kept the audience completely hypnotised, a rising wave of sound growing more and more complex as it went and filling the room in a way I’ve rarely heard at a gig. To me, however, the emotional high came on the notes of the anthemic Weightless, a song that has always spoken to me deeply and which already packed a mighty punch on the record, and turned out to be absolutely liberating to sing along to, in one of the outstanding moments of my gig year thus far.

I am beyond impressed at the point Walt Disco have come to in such a short period of time. They are now, without doubt, one of the great live bands in the UK alternative scene, and there is nothing quite like them. As the tour continues and a busy festival season awaits them, seeing them live is a pleasure no one should deprive themselves of.

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