Live Review: FOCUS Wales 2023

By Emma Walker
By May 10, 2023 Live, Music, Music, Reviews

As far as festivals go, FOCUS Wales is always one of the best.  A whole festival devoted to newly emerging artists from around the world, it’s completely unlike any other music festival in the UK.  In short, FOCUS Wales has a reputation for opening its doors to the strangest, most diverse artists in music.  In the small city of Wrexham, music thrives amongst its string of venues, pubs and creative spaces that are transformed into FOCUS Wales once a year.  Ryan Reynolds and his over-achieving football club have sparked a new level of interest in the city, but it’s FOCUS Wales that confirms Wrexham’s importance as a creative and cultural hub in the Northwest.

Although providing a space for international music, at the heart of FOCUS Wales is the promotion of their own Welsh music.  Wrexham’s own Gallops, an experimental rock, and electronic band, took to the stage under the big, blue tent to play their psychedelic inspired music to a home crowd.  Psychedelic, but boardering on the dark and heavier end.  Gallops manoeuvre between tracks without vocals, only vivid visuals lighting up the dark tent around us.  Their music is multi-layered with a lot happening on stage.  There’s an intensity that can’t be easily shaken and it lingers in the air until the end.

With a bit of luck, I arrived just as the Portuguese Hause Plants begin to jangle through a set of lively indie pop.  Having driven three hours this morning from London and on their opposite side of the road, Hause Plants demonstrate how important FOCUS Wales is to international bands.  Their rhyme comparable to The Strokes and a joyfulness present amongst the melodic guitars.  They look happy to be here.  Telling tales of Lisbon summers and conversations with friends, before announcing they’ll be back in London tonight for their headline show at the Windmill Brixton tomorrow.  This is dedication that FOCUS Wales truly deserves!

The goth-glam Glaswegians Walt Disco performed a late-night set for all those that stuck around after headliner The Coral.  The extremely theatrical post-punk band is a testament to the exciting music that’s come out of Glasgow over the last couple of years.  It’s infectious, gothic pop you can’t help but love.  They play with a devotion that only comes from a band starved of playing live, this is their first show in over six months.  A 30-minute set doesn’t do them justice, they are one of the best bands of the weekend.

It’s not a festival without its headliners.  Post-punk Billie Nomates has a stage presence that makes up for what she lacks in company.  Just her and the music, Sleaford Mods style!  A lyrical genius and vocals to match, Billie controls the stage.  She grooves to the sound of her own voice, swishing her hair as she goes.  High on her energy, the anticipation that follows is too much for Friday night headliner Squid to live up to.  At this point Squid are post-punk veterans, but lack of fan favourite ‘Houseplants,’ leaves the audience restless.  They’re professional, no one doubts the musicianship of each of the five band members.  Live they sound identical to their studio releases.  But it’s the elongated instrumentals and random long pauses that lose the crowd tonight.  They want to sing, dance, and have a good time – which is exactly what The Coral bring to the table on Saturday night.

The tent is bursting at the seams with people pushing and shoving to get as close as possible to The Wirral legends The Coral.  There’s a confidence in the air as they churn out indie classic after indie classic.  Unlike Squid, they know what the crowd want to hear.  It’s the all familiar bassline of ‘Dreaming of You,’ that sends the place into chaos.  Inhibitions are lost as everyone around me attempts to sing louder than the person next to them.  FOCUS Wales really couldn’t have chosen a better headliner to close the festival this evening.

As FOCUS Wales draws to a close for its 12th year, it really does confirm how important a festival it is for international and Welsh music.

I love Wrexham, I love FOCUS Wales and I cannot wait for next year!