Despite still being relatively new to the game, the organisers of Gottwood have proved over the last three years that they really know what they’re doing when it comes to putting on a festival. Not focussing merely on the music – although the line ups are always on point – each June they host a celebration of life, love and creativity with a stunning display of artists and installations, carefully constructed deep within the Anglesey woods. With rave reports from previous events combined with a line up boasting some of the most exciting acts on the circuit right now, I couldn’t possibly pass up the opportunity to visit the magical Welsh woodlands to see for myself just what all the fuss is about. After all, you don’t get nominated for Best Small Festival 2012 and Best Dance Event 2012 for nothing! With that in mind, a small group of us packed our bags, loaded up the iPod for the trip and set off…
Following an arduous five-hour car journey, we finally arrived at the festival site, where a somewhat confused girl attempted to chaperone us into a parking space. After having our bags searched by the surprisingly cheery security, we discovered that the actual festival site was around a fifteen-minute walk away, although a pick up truck would shuttle us there for just a tenner a group. There was no chance our flimsy plastic bags filled with supplies would survive the walk, so we happily accepted the offer and piled in along with another group of enthusiastic Mancs, the excitement mounting as we passed more and more eager revellers flocking across the gorgeous landscape, overlooking the sea…
We arrived at the campsite to find plenty of space left to set up in the ‘overflow site’, despite only arriving mid afternoon on the Friday. The sun had finally come out after a good few hours of rain, and in no time at all we’d set up a little village and started cracking on with boxes of cheap wine to catch up with those already in full swing. Eager to get going, we made our way towards the main festival site to kick things off with Zoo Look. It was on this journey that we got our first taste of just why people seem to cherish this festival so much; everything about the area is enchanting. Walking through the grand archway, you’re transported to a land usually restricted to dreams and acid trips – but there was no need for drugs as we drank in these sights. This year’s theme was ‘Wild Things‘, and with each step came a new surprise; whether it’s a giant multi-coloured spider web, makeshift swings hanging down from backlit branches, or a massive sofa draped in whacked out hippies. There was a real sense of unity radiating between everyone as we revelled in the mystical atmosphere, and with the entire forest cloaked in a sea of lights and colours, you couldn’t help but smile.
The archway entrance
Zoo Look were playing at The Barn, and despite having a relatively early set, the atmosphere was electric as they pumped out a set of playful deep house that saw the room fill up in no time. Glowing lights hung down from the ceiling, illuminating the crowd, and it was clear that many had already started tucking in to some pretty potent narcotics. As of yet I had seen nothing but amicable exchanges from friendly strangers, but there was one particular incident which really dampened the mood when a couple started laying in to someone for the fact he was ‘shuffling’ – literally tugging at him and sneering ‘you can’t do that here mate…’ Granted it was an isolated incident, but it’s become a sad truth that this sort of snobbery has started to infiltrate dancefloors everywhere. Isn’t dancing meant to be about about freedom of expression?
Detroit Swindle were next up. By now, the room was packed to the brim as the duo threw down some serious heat, and the crowd literally erupted when they dropped Todd Terje’s summer anthem ‘Strandbar (Disko Version)’. We used a trip to the bar as an opportunity to explore the Boxford Caravan, where Richard Rowell was mid-set. Being open air (and raining again), there was a lot more space to move; a welcome change to the packed out barn, and the crowd were drinking in the smooth and funky mixture of organic house tinged with disco flavour.
Gottwood is famous for its legendary ‘Walled Garden’, where 360-degree overhead visuals provide one of the most captivating experiences you’re likely to witness at a venue. We made our way through the twisted pathway shrouded in reeds and vines, the sounds of Christophe becoming ever clearer as we approached the entrance. Even after all the hype surrounding it, nothing could have prepared us for what we saw upon entering. Almost everyone was gazing up at the ceiling as sequences morphed into each other, before transforming seamlessly into a vast robotic head (that was to become somewhat of an emblem throughout). Before long, Crazy P Soundsystem took to the stage, filling the room with their sexy brand of funk infused disco that never fails to impress, with Ron Basejam laying down the beats whilst Danielle Moore provided the vocals – always a powerful combination, my personal highlight being their performance of Stop Space Return.
It was a difficult decision, but there was no way in hell I was missing out on seeing Extrawelt, who unfortunately happened to clash with Crazy P. With one final gaze up at the roof, we made our way over to the Wild Thing stage. Despite the rain, anticipation pulsed through the crowd like electricity, a sea of colourful umbrellas acting as a makeshift marquee that bounced along to the rhythm. Playing a live set, Extrawelt’s distinctive melodic techno couldn’t have been better suited to the festival, and fists were flying up with every track he dropped, a highlight of the festival for many without a doubt!
Soaking wet and minds completely blown, we ambled back over to the Walled Garden to get down to the Futureboogie All Stars. I’ll be honest… things were becoming a blur by this point but my god did those visuals look awesome! Someone dropped Paris Dub 1 by Paranoid London and the magician behind the visuals cast a blanket of white over the entire dome, lighting up the whole room to reveal hundreds of (quite literally) ecstatic faces! There are always certain memories that linger long after any festival has ended, and this was one of them. There was nowhere in the world I’d have rather been, and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t alone in feeling that. As the night drew to a close, Ryan Davis took to the Wild Thing stage, eventually closing the night with his anthem Zodiac, to the delight of many. The clock struck four, and the music was over for the night. We trudged back to the campsite, ears ringing, legs aching, but all grinning from ear to ear.
Friday night had really taken it out of me, so by the time we managed to venture out of the campsite towards the music it was getting on a bit to say the least. We lounged around on the giant sofa to the smooth sound of Louche’s own Josh T warming up the Boxford Caravan, before realising that Tom Demac was about to start his live set at the Walled Garden. His set was packed full of energy and the crowd were really feeding off it, including my group of friends who seem to have mustered up energy out of somewhere… It was a nice surprise to see my shuffling friend from the day before getting down; evidently shrugging off the comments from yesterday’s snob to enjoy the DJ he’d travelled all the way up to Wales to see. That’s one of the things about Gottwood – being such a small festival, there’s a real feeling of community that only grows as the days go by… something which lacks from some of the larger events in the country.
Back to the Louche stage, and Brinsley was pumping out some real gems, although sadly the music was too quiet! Disappointed and bemused, I discovered that they’d had to cap the sound after a council official had gone round with a noise level tester. This didn’t faze Brinsley, and he made up for the lack of volume with a brilliant selection, my personal favourite being Kerri Chandler’s iconic System remix. After the initial shock, the volume became irrelevant as the crowd pushed towards the front near the speakers, the atmosphere more than making up for it.
Move D was closing the stage, and as the clock struck one, the house veteran stepped up to the platter to show us how it’s done. To anyone that has yet to experience one of his sets… they’re about as deep and raw as they come, and crafted with the sort of creativity to put most other DJs to shame. No fads, no crowd pleasers as such – he seems to play music almost for himself – lazily raising a fist every so often, with a cigarette hanging nonchalantly out of his mouth as he plucks out another record. It’s fucking cool to watch, and a joy to listen to… I just wish it was louder!
Wanting to explore the festival a little more before the site closed once again, the woodlands were beckoning us. After meandering amongst the trees, we stumbled upon ‘Happy Hookah’, a cosy shisha lounge serving a selection of flavoured smokes and tea. We opted for an apple one, made a little nest amongst the pillows and enjoyed the opportunity to take a moment’s time out, one which Gottwood have got covered without a shadow of a doubt.
It seemed to have crept up on us far too soon, but the final day was upon us. Although, being out of fresh clothes and with only half a pack of biscuits and about a fiver to get me through, it was probably for the best! The fact that everyone is usually in the same boat is usually enough to console, and such was the case at Gottwood. Joonipah did a great job of getting the party going at the High & Dry Lake stage, playing a hard hitting mix of house, techno and bass to a crowd caked in face paint and glitter, all eager to make the most of the last day. I took a moment to look around and drink in the whole atmosphere. Bubbles floated above the patchwork mob, a dog weaving around legs to chase a balloon – getting more attention than the DJ at times. The backdrop to the stage – as the name suggests – was a glistening lake, providing that extra touch of serenity that helped the festival stand apart just that little bit extra from normal life.
Over to the Gottwood stage at The Barn, the Mancunian’s Alex Lewis & Willow, decided to mix things up a bit, splitting their two-hour set into two separate parts – allowing each to really get into their own groove. Alex Lewis was first up – effortlessly throwing down one of the best set’s we’d seen with a quintessential blend of underground house and techno oozing with style, and a healthy dose of acid thrown in for good measure – all vinyl only of course. The room was filling up by the second as people piled in, ears pricking from the roars that could be heard from outside in the courtyard. Willow followed up with ease, her signature selection of equally refined house and techno, coupled with the way she toys with her audience, culminating in a final hour that really did the duo justice, my highlight being when Die Vogel’s ‘Maikaferbenzin’, a stripped down, ultra smooth roller completed with a typically Vogel brass section.
Alex Lewis & Willow
Tief were supposed to be hosting the Boxford Caravan, but in light of the sound issues due to the council, the organisers made the decision to move them over to the Wild Thing stage… a decision that didn’t really bother me as I wasn’t really feeling the Boxford Caravan anyway. We headed over to catch KRL, one of the lynchpins of the Wolf Music family, and proudly showing the love with a wolf tee. The first half of his set was largely disco orientated, much to the appreciation of the substantial crowd that had gathered for the final showcase… although later he delved into his own unique style of garage infused 4×4 music he’s so well known for.
Following them were Wolf Music themselves and then finally Bicep, who ke
t things light hearted, reeling out classic after classic. The atmosphere was perfect, everywhere you looked people were laughing and getting down with the sort of ene
gy usually unseen of t
ree days into an event. Even the security guards were dancing on top of the wall of hay bales –causing the crowd to erupt in waves of clapping and cheering each time. As tends to be the case when you’re having the time of your life, 3am came along way too fast, much to the dismay of everyone. Everyone had got so lost in the magic of the festival, no one had really prepared for the end. But in a flash, it was over.
Stumbling back up to the campsite, we reminisced over the last few days – swapping stories and highlights, stopping every so often to waste a bit more money on laughing gas (which seemed to be in constant supply throughout). Proving they really had thought of everything, a huge ‘chill out’ tent just opposite the main archway acted as a haven for those not wanting to face another night in a freezing tent. A friendly stranger handed me a cider and I sprawled across the floor, eyes starting to droop as someone tapped away at a bongo drum to the faint sound of house music coming from some portable speakers. I was filthy, exhausted and could feel the mother of all comedowns beginning to creep in… but in spite of this, nothing could wipe away my grin. See you next year!