Former Pipette Gwenno Saunders has come a long way since her girl band days. Gone are the love songs, replaced instead by a Welsh language concept album based on a 1970's sci-fi novel, Owain Owain's 'Y Dydd Olaf'. Her politically-charged feminist debut, named after said novel, is out now on Heavenly Recordings, and finds its roots in the complex cultural identity of Wales in this post-industrial 20-year period of deep political sleep.
'Y Dydd Olaf' tells the story of a world where we are all clones, deliberately written in Welsh so the robot machines can't understand what the protagonist is writing. The novel advocates individual identity within a globalised, controlled world – echoing modern society and the ever-increasing surveillance placed upon us.
"I think it was the themes that I related to, really – the idea of a dystopian future where we all get turned into clones because we've not really been aware enough to realise that it's happening," Gwenno says of the novel, the main source of inspiration and namesake of her debut. "It's a warning really, and it's still relevant as we become more and more controlled through globalisation."
Music has always been an integral part of Gwenno's life, but her upbringing away from Anglo-American popular culture meant that it took a while for her to pursue it, instead becoming a professional dancer. A natural thing which evolved over time, she soon discovered electronic pioneers Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram, persuading her that women could make the kind of music she loved but had only seen made by men. "I think gender is still an issue, but now you can get on stage and be accepted as yourself," she says. "Growing up in a patriarchal society dictates what you do as a woman, and it's taken me up until this point to have the courage and confidence to do what I want."
Returning to Cardiff from London after eight years, Gwenno began to rediscover her cultural identity. "It was about confronting the love-hate relationship everyone has with where they're from. It was important to confront that and see the beauty, but the ugliness as well, and accept those elements that had actually inspired me over time."
This homecoming inspired Gwenno to sing in Welsh – an inherently political statement. Since the language was almost wiped out in the mid-20th century, singing in Welsh has become synonymous with defending the ancient tongue which was so nearly eradicated. "I think that any form of expression that is from a minority people, an oppressed people, is politicised," she asserts. "I think especially if you've got a dominant culture, and Anglo-American pop culture is, even though I think things are changing a lot, it's still there."
But what next for the Welsh songstress? As well as presenting a community radio show called 'Cam o'r Tywyllwch' ('A Step From The Darkness'), discovering experimental and avant-garde music from Wales and beyond, Gwenno is constantly recording new material.
"I want to continue exploring things sonically and thematically, and I think that the themes that I've honed in on I feel really excited about, and I want to develop those ideas. I instinctively write pop songs, and it's about working away and developing the sound and structures and trying to be playful with it. I want to push the boundaries of what I do."
WHAT: Welsh kraut-pop
GET 3 SONGS: 'Patriarchaeth', 'Calon Peiriant', 'Fratolish Hiang Perpeshki'
FACT: Gwenno speaks Welsh, Cornish and English. She says knowing other languages has always "made (her) feel more part of the world than anything else."
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Words: Megan White