With a new 17,000-capacity arena having been green lit as part of Cardiff Council’s ongoing music strategy, the arrival of the 6 Music Festival in the Welsh capital was seen as another key moment for the city. Access assesses its impact

“I’ve been asking BBC Live Events to bring the 6 Music Festival to Cardiff since the first one,” says BBC Radio 6 Music presenter Huw Stephens.

The BBC 6 Music Festival was staged for the first time in Manchester in 2014, and the annual event has since visited Glasgow, Bristol, Tynside, Liverpool and London. Its Welsh debut in Cardiff may have been a long time coming but it is timely.

“It is a very positive time for the Welsh live music industry.”

“It is a very positive time for the Welsh live music industry,” says Stephens. “I was working at the new Swansea Arena recently and that’s a great new venue – having bands like Royal Blood and Kaiser Chiefs coming to that part of Wales is a huge step forward. From the opening of big venues in Swansea and Cardiff to festivals being supported by Creative Wales, the Welsh Government takes live music very seriously and that has really helped.”

The Welsh radio and TV presenter became the youngest DJ at Radio One when he was aged just 17. His career has been entwined with the festival industry; over the years he has been heavily involved in many of the UK’s best known events including Latitude, where he curates the Lake Stage, and the Reading Festival, where he comperes the main stage. He was a co-founder of the Cardiff-based grassroots music event Sŵn Festival, founded The Welsh Music Prize, and is a key player in grassroots music initiative BBC Introducing.

“The 6 Music Festival has come at a really exciting time, there’s a real energy here, post-Covid, not least among talented Welsh song makers,” he says.

Around 160 Welsh acts performed at the event, which included the 6 Music Festival Fringe. Created in partnership with Creative Wales, Cardiff Council, Creative Cardiff and the University of South Wales, it involved a series of events including the Immersed! Festival that saw 50 acts play across five stages. While the Fringe event ran from 28 March to 3 April, the main 1-3 April festival saw live performances, DJ sets and Q&A sessions featuring acts including Pixies, Little Simz, Khruangbin (pictured below), Idles, Johnny Marr, Cat Power, Gruff Rhys, Gwenno and Wet Leg.

Among the venues involved were St. David’s Hall (cap. 2,000), The Great Hall (1,600), Y Plas (1,200) and Tramshed (1,000). The shows were broadcast on BBC Radio 6 Music, which has a reach of 2.6 million listeners, along with BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru and BBC Four. Cardiff Council leader and chair of the Cardiff Music Board, Cllr Huw Thomas, says the event was another step on the road to the Welsh capital establishing itself as the UK’s leading music city.

Says Thomas, “It’s a fantastic opportunity for Cardiff and Wales-based artists, so when the BBC approached us to do the festival here we grabbed it with both hands.

“We have had a music strategy in the city for a couple of years to be the UK’s music city and that is why we are investing in a new indoor arena in Cardiff, among other things.”

Plans were recently approved for the Council-owned, 17,000-capacity, arena at Cardiff’s Atlantic Wharf. Once complete it will be operated by Live Nation and Oak View Group.

Among the other key projects in the pipeline, says Thomas, is the delivery of an annual, multi-venue Cardiff festival: “The next step is to make a reality of what we are calling our ‘signature music event’, which has been delayed for two years because of Covid. We are trying to build a homegrown music event in Cardiff next autumn, which we hope will grow and grow and become the place to be for live music at that time of the year.”

He says around 12,500 people visited the 6 Music Festival, and while that is nowhere near the 70,000 attendance achieved by a rugby match or concert at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium, the event had a significant impact.

“To have the 6 Music Festival come here, with all the focus and attention that brings on a UK and international level to Cardiff, is a hugely important step – it is a great platform not only to promote some exciting Welsh talent but key developments in the music sector here,” he adds.

The event was overseen by BBC Live Events, with BBC head of live music & events Rhys Hughes (pictured) at the helm.

“We’re a relatively small team for the job we do,” he says. “I work closely with Antonia Kyte, my deputy, and the 6 Music producer Lauren Brennan – who booked the artists for the festival. The team also includes representatives from marketing, press, radio production, ticketing, digital and socials.”

The festival’s production was handled by a mix of in-house BBC staff, external freelancers and operators including EnTEEtainment MD Dick Tee.

Hughes says the team started working on the 6 Music Festival a year in advance, and the long run up was essential in order to successfully secure venue time, with the huge amount of pandemic-related show postponements meaning venues had become very congested.

While the broadcast of the festival brought Cardiff to the attention of 6 Music’s millions of listeners around the world, Stephens says that on the ground the live event was a perfect fit for local gig-goers.

“6 Music is the perfect station for somewhere like Cardiff, which has a lot of different age groups who love live music– it’s not just students, there’s gigs for all ages in Cardiff,” he says.

This article was published in the latest edition of Access All Areas magazine  – subscribe for free here