If you go down to the woods today you’re in for a big surprise…bounding down into a small valley surrounded by a tall and beautiful forest, you notice the welsh puddles vibrating, the bass reverberating between the trees and a kaleidoscope of colours glowing in the depth of the woods. Twangs of every genre of electronic music begin to reach your ear drums, teasing you into the darkness of the forest, becoming clearer and clearer and evolving into luscious beats as strange figures emerge from the twilight, stumbling, laughing, and dancing into the night.
This is no teddy bears picnic. This is Gottwood 2012, and it’s seriously good.
As we trudged to set up our tent in the absolutely tiny campsite in the rain and mud on Friday afternoon (the festival began Thursday evening), I wondered how many spirits had been dampened by the rumours of flying tents and floods the night before, wondering if it had been such a good idea to drive for hours to get here…but my fears were unfounded. After wondering about 20 steps from tent to forest it was quickly apparent that everyone was on a complete Friday high despite the inches of mud, all wooping and prancing beneath the tall trees. In the marquee named Summer Of the Wood, we caught rising stars The Other Tribe a six-piece group from Bristol (sound producing city of the year?) who combine British indie sounds and infectious electronic beats to produce dance-inducing vocal tracks including their summer anthem ‘Skirts’.
Delving deeper into the forest we found the Boxford Caravan stage at the heart of the festival, in a grassy courtyard surrounded by stables and some random sofas, swings and haybales, was a caravan converted into a DJ booth, where we experienced one of the best sets of the festival; Max Cooper. Really starting the night off (and for some climaxing it), Max is a man infamous for his intelligent techno . Yet with heavy influences from all areas he produced a genre-smashing live set, killer remixes interweaved with beautifully melancholic originals, and he completely entranced the large crowd gathered beneath the caravan, in fact throughout the festival I heard punters continue to sing the praises of the set. Playing tracks from his new EP ‘Mechanical Concussion’ which were pounding and heavy; perfect for the growing crowd, his astutely altered and steadily building festival sets are guaranteed to get the crowd sweating, and this was no exception.
We staggered off having danced perhaps a little too excitedly for the first big set of the weekend to find Tiger and Woods hiding somewhere in the woods, and where we found them proved to be the most magical stage of the festival. Under a stone archway we walked through a small passage into a walled garden, which led to awe-inspiring RFID visual dome. Not too big, very hot, and very magical, as soon as we entered we found people lying on the ground staring up at the starry night projected. This was constantly changing to stunning visuals and colours that proved a completely surreal environment, perfect for Gottwood. The set, like their brilliant ‘Through The Green’ album, was full of their classic disco vibes , combined with bass line tracks like ‘Just An Illusion’ and the encore of fun and dreamily sampled ‘Gin Nation’, perfect for the intimate space that the duo devoured.
Back to the marquee in the woods and It was soon time for what became my absolute favourite set of the festival…Huxley. This man is at the forefront of the British electronic scene, combining his perfected house with home-grown garage, which has evolved into some kind of beautiful hybrid genre that is huge in the charts and clubs right now, and from his performance at Gottwood its clear to see why. His music and remixes are infectious and incredibly danceable with a great track selection for the festival. Highlights included his popular bass driven house tracks ‘Box Clever’ and the deeper and smoother ‘Let it Go’ which has been a favourite of 2012 so far. He also dropped Bashmore’s ‘Au Seve’, perhaps the festival anthem of this year, which causes a raucous in the crowd, but not as much as his frequent samples of old school garage and early rave. Mixing Liberty City’s ‘If you Really Love Somebody’ with ‘Rhythm of the Night’, the atmosphere soared sky high and culminated in a hyper young girl performing the splits on the DJ booth….make of this what you will, but it’s safe to claim that every single person in that tent was having the time of their life – Huxley included. This is the effect of a fantastic DJ, and in fact something that Gottwood seems to bring in general– it brings out the best in both artist and crowd to create an amazing electrified feeling.
Late Saturday morning I woke to the shouts of the man with a megaphone pleading for rizzlers and other sodden necessities, which was quickly answered with friendly help. So far, Gottwood’s crowds must be the friendliest I have known, perhaps it’s a combination of it being such a small festival with quite a hippy vibe, or perhaps it’s the freshness of the line up and diverse entertainment and setting – what ever it was, it worked. New friends were continuously made, people stopped for chats with one another, everyone seemed happy to help those is need whether it be a spare rizzler, sharing warm cider or carrying an extremely messy person back to their tent. I should also mention the fact that (for once!) security were absolutely lovely as were bar and festival staff.
We decided to explore our surroundings Saturday afternoon, and semi drunk frolicking in the forest ensued. Everywhere you looked there were random little tipis and huts, artwork, a tree house, make-shift tyre wings, a shisha bar, bunting and ribbons hanging from branches, bails of hail to fall into, and even a forest style sitting room complete with hammocks, 70’s style armchairs, and glowing lampshades strapped to the trees overhead. Music started at 12.30 and we were more than happy to explore whilst listening to the sounds of rising stars and those already cemented in british electronic music, the crowds had already began to gather and dance already creating a buzzing atmosphere even within the rain, mud and hangovers of the night before. People had gone to serious effort to create a unique and fun environment that fitted with the Summer of Love theme, but it was night time where the forest really shone. The ambient lighting sent huge clusters of tree’s alive with colour, while thousands of fairylights lit up pathways and beckoned people to stages.
Night time was truly magical at Gottwood and as you delved into different parts of the woods beats would ebb and fade until you found a stage filled with happy revellers, and on Saturday, the happiest of revellers could be found at Matanza’s live set in Summer of Wood tent, who epitomised the spirit of the festival, so popular in fact they played three times over the festival. Their joyous and bouncy home-made South American beats made everyone dance and smile, influenced highly by their homeland, the band from Chile include influences from across the board of musical genres including rock and folk, which lends to the bands unique sound, building to a euphoric crescendo that sent the Gottwood crowd wild.
Later Dinky received great reviews from her set in the Dome, the DJ has released on some pretty fabulous labels including Crosstown Rebels and Ostgut Ton, and her eight year residency at Panorama Bar has earnt her some serious credit – but her success is all of her own making due to her music which combines deep grooves and gorgeous melodies with quite heavy beats and funk, perfect for the personality of the dome and crowd within.
I’ve yet to mention The Stables, where we continuously stumbled in an out of. An outhouse building that included some very talented and bass driven artists, we crammed ourselves into the tiny space, which because of this had some amazing acoustics, and some amazing artists to fill it. The duo Disclosure are huge right now with their new kind of garage and bass music, and although the set wasn’t a stand out for me, they did play some anthemic old garage which the crowd loved, and their own tracks including the great Jessie Ware remix which has really proved the incredible talent of the guys.
Heading back to Summer of Wood for Ed Solo, the man really stole the show in that place playing an intense mix of everything banged together, from hip hop and reggae with his own unique take on bass driven music including the dubby anthem ‘Age of Dub’. Holding the crowd in the palm of his hand, people went completely mental.
We also caught a bit of Groj in The Stables who had to fly back to Montreal a few hours after his set, which would have been hard after seemingly having a whale of a time ensuring punters entered a dance induced trance with his beautiful live set full of minimal and hypnotising melodies that built to a sublime climax, finishing the night perfectly, although many in The Stables seemed reluctant to leave.
Sundays can be tricky at festivals, many people are hanging on by a thread, pennyless and extremely muddy – and Gottwood was no exception to this – but the festival embraced it, brought everyone together, and happily celebrated the last day of the unique event, even managing a sunshine filled afternoon. We spent it dancing to Krankbrother artist’s WildKats who with their blend of grooving house and hints of 80’s disco, splashed with some luscious baseline, ensured the crowd fought through the impending thoughts of Monday and real life. Sunlight on faces, raising their hands and hearts with woops of delight, and the sounds of squelching dancing through the mud; it was simply perfect.
Small means beautiful really fits the bill for this boutique electronic festival, combining the setting of a fantastical acid trip fairytale and the best of underground electronica, talented pioneering producers, and heavyweight masters of the current dance music landscape. But as we know many festivals can have beautiful settings and a fantastic line up, but what sets Gottwood apart is the people and the incredible atmosphere they create; the vibes from this independent and unique event are unparalleled to any festival I have yet to attend. In the festival guide the curators invited us to “be ready to embrace a weekend of the weird, wonderful and most importantly, colourful…Festivals will change for the better when we all elect to take part, to take responsibility – if we all come together”; and this is exactly what Gottwood was all about, highlighting the type of other-worldly home we would all be part of for the weekend to come, and what a weekend was in store for each of us, coming together to lose track of every day life and reality; becoming part of something truly special.
Words and Pictures by Rosa Devlin Holmes.