Now in its 9th year, Gottwood Festival has become known as one of the best small festivals in the UK, with a loyal following who keep returning year upon year, for a lineup of the best in underground music and beautiful location. After hearing so many glowing reviews, I felt it was time that I had to experience it this year.
Setting off first thing in the morning on Thursday to reach the site at Holyhead in Anglesey, there was already a magic in the air. I travelled through tunnels and over bridges, passing sheep and mountains, before arriving at the campsite, overlooking calm seas on the Welsh north-west coast.
After pitching up the tent and getting to know the neighbours, who were Gottwood regulars and who soon became friends, I went to check out the arena where the stages lie. Walking into this area it was a joy to the senses. Initially walking through lush green woodland with tall trees, where the sun was breaking through, this plays host to lots of the smaller stages. Individual pieces of interesting, colourful, hand painted artwork are scattered throughout. The largest stage named ‘The Lawn’ is an open grassy area from the trees and is opposite an old manor house bathed in ivy; this is where the majority of the live acts and more chilled out sounds would feature across the weekend. In the middle of all the stages is a shimmering lake with lily pads and fountains, providing relaxing tranquility. With pure blue skies overhead it couldn’t have been more perfect and I spent some time just taking it in sat down next to the lake, I couldn’t think of anywhere more picturesque for a festival.
With the sun starting to drop behind the trees it was time to get stuck into some music. What better way to kick it off than with FUSE boss Enzo Siragusa and label stalwart Archie Hamilton. Playing on The Curve stage, a fairly large tent, the boys had got it filled from early on. Archie was first up playing some of his own signature tracks with distinctive percussion such as ‘Confusion’ on his own label Moscow. Enzo then took over, by which time the tent was bouncing. He played a festival party set laden with house and tech-house bombs including ‘What was Missing’ by Jamie Trench forthcoming on Seb Zito’s ‘Seven Dials’ label. To cap things off the pair then finished the night going b2b with some classic house tunes, smiles and hands raised all round. This was a great energetic start to proceedings.
Following a good sleep and with the sun continuing to glow, waking up on the Friday was made easy, with the prospect of plenty of sunshine vibes to come on the day. It became a ritual over the weekend to head to The Lawn first thing to recover, listening to some down-tempo, live electronica and dub/reggae. Ready to dance again after eating some delicious wood fired pizza, just one of many outstanding food stalls; it was time to head to the Trigon Stage.
Arguably one of the most impressive, the area is surrounded by walls of hay bales, with a wooden triangular tunnel structure leading it’s way to the DJ booth. Secretsundaze were playing, with music perfectly suited to the blistering skies, including the Dusky remix of ‘Do You Want Me Baby’ by Cloud 9. One thing worth mentioning here is the friendly attitude of everyone at the festival, it was easy and comfortable to strike up a conversation with everyone who I bumped into, including the bar staff and security. Due to the small capacity of 5000 you would often come across the same people you had been chatting to at the campsite on the dance floor and this added to a great feeling of unity and positivity that I haven’t really experienced at a festival before.
Special Request aka Paul Woolford continued the mood, moving things up a gear as it progressed into the evening, with music from his UK rave inspired album ‘Belief System’ including the wobbling bass and euphoria of ‘Make it Real’. For the night time hours it was all about the Hypercolour stage at the Walled Garden, another outstanding venue that is situated in the garden behind the manor house. It has a secret garden feel to it, as you pass under the old brick walls, through the low hanging plants, before reaching the stage that is sunk into the garden with a terraced grass area behind it. Kate Miller was playing here and was one of my surprise highlight sets of the weekend, a diverse blend of electronic music summed up by the classic dubstep anthem ‘Night’ by Benga & Coki. The legend that is Andrew Weatherall closed out the night, taking the crowd on a journey and telling a story through a progressive nature that only someone with such knowledge in the game can.
Saturday fast came round and the daytime hours were again spent with some down time in the open areas of the festival. Some amazing live music featured on The Lawn all weekend such as the stripped back meditative rhythms from the Cuban Iranian group Ariwo and uplifting worldly inspired melodies of Africane 808. This was the perfect tonic after a night of heavy raving. The night held some of the most anticipated sets of the weekend with Half Baked in Ricky’s Disco, featuring Zip and Margaret Dygas headlining and playing for a combined 7 hours. Ricky’s Disco was a great tent and felt like one of the most intimate, spherical in shape, with a large disco ball and hanging flowers. The vibe inside was probably the standout of the weekend for Margaret Dygas. She played an awe inspiring set, with long flowing mixes and plenty of unknown and unreleased grooves. A discerning crowd of Perlon and Half Baked supporters loving every moment, particularly big receptions came when she dropped the timeless classic acid tinged beat of ‘The Sun Can’t Compare by Larry Heard, the vocals on everyone’s lips. Zip continued the raucous atmosphere with music like ‘I Have You On My Sound’ by Son of Sound & Jus Ed, a peak time Underground Quality US house stomper. Cheers, whistles and hugs between friends and strangers could be seen and heard all around the tent for the duration. There was even time to catch the final hour of Ben UFO who was constructing a mix at Trigon of music without the borders usually put up by genres.
At many festivals I have been to Sunday can often feel like a downer as people are tired and ready to go home, but this was not the case at Gottwood. With radiant skies still overhead reflecting on the lake, it was easy to get out of bed to grab a Bloody Mary and get back to a spot on the lawn, where Craig Richards was playing the first of two sets, a special dub and reggae set. Wearing a trademark patterned shirt, he demonstrated the diversity of his record collection, pulling out 7 inches like ‘I Man Can’t Live Like this’ by Barry Brown. A pure Sunday afternoon ambience was being created, almost as if you were on a beach, as I sipped a drink with my toes in the lake to cool off. It felt like a real honour to be part of such a special event and it was great to see the owner of the Gottwood site, an older gentleman, walking around the site and enjoying seeing people appreciate the natural charm of the landscape around them. In the afternoon I caught City Fly Records over on the other side of the lake at the open Cpt. Cabeza stage. A label based in my hometown city of Leicester, they played a great disco and house set that even got what looked like the youngest member of the crowd, a small young boy (not sure how he passed the challenge 25 policy!) dancing.
On the final evening I was spoilt for choice with One Records at Ricky’s Disco, Butterside Up at Trigon and The Nothing Special at the Walled Garden. Fortunately due to the long set times, another great feature of the festival, I managed to catch a bit of everything. One Records had John Dimas, Voigtmann and label owners Adam Shelton b2b Subb-an playing their brand of always high quality house and techno, aimed squarely at the dance floor and with rolling beats aplenty. Over at the Trigon it was a slightly different affair to the daytime flavours, as Nicolas Lutz went b2b with Binh. Another highlight of the weekend, the pair made their way through a devastating set of some of their cosmic electro, spacey house and garage tinged minimal tracks on vinyl, from their respective My Own Jupiter and Time Passages labels. This included the forthcoming ‘Tschuss’ by Draculas Lutz & Omar. The Trigon at its best underneath the dark red lasers and smoke cannons, with the crowd going for it and using every single last drop of resource in their limbs. The anthemic reach for the sky ‘Atmosphere’ by Luca Lozano came out the stacks and provided another boost. Sonja Moonear maintained the high intensity, producing another all vinyl masterclass of house and techno.
To close out the weekend it only felt right to catch the end of Craig Richards hosting The Nothing Special all night at The Walled Garden. A far cry from his earlier set, this time he was in the midst of a high octane mix of techno and electro. A DJ that is arguably one of the most experienced in underground music, with his long running residency at fabriclondon, where he has played before so many names. He crafts together mixes that include multiple genres and records that you may never have stumbled upon before.
Also painting abstract art outside of DJing (some may be fascinated by his label artwork) his expression through music is always mesmerising to watch and the tent was a carnival of warm emotion as a chant of DJ Otzi’s ‘Hey Baby’ rang out on top of the serious music, bringing a smile to Craig’s face. As the last track was played and I made my way back to the campsite, I was immediately thinking of when this enchanting, all-encompassing musical and arts experience could be absorbed in again. My mind was on Houghton, Gottwood’s sister festival, curated by Craig himself and where many of the people I had spoken to over the weekend would be heading to next. Four days had taken place where we were blessed with outstanding weather, an extraordinary location and you become part of a community brought together for the love of great music, the Gottwood family as it is described. You return with new friends, inspirations, favourite artists and a yearning to taste what is a truly unique environment once again.
Words by Tom Warner
Pictures by Here & Now