Year eight of the four day boutique underground dance music festival in a wood by the Welsh coast. Line-up included The Black Madonna, Move D, Leon Vynehall, Matthew Herbert and a load more big ones, as well as many smaller artists and DJs from independent labels and ‘nights’ across the UK.
As we quickly found out – entering conversation with a group of eager festival-goers on the bus from the train station to its remote location – Gottwood is a festival where most of the guests have been before. On the first day, everyone we spoke to had previously visited, some saying they’d been 5 or 6 times. (Not to say we weren’t welcomed warmly though!)
It’s easy to see how people get so attached. Great attention to detail has been paid to everything – from a stage walled by hay bales (the Trigon) to a great hand-crafted wooden dragon spitting water constantly into the lake in the site’s centre. It’s a dream world. Even the woodland itself is gorgeous, huge, deep green trees towering over you as if offering you their protection.
And with a capacity of only 5,000, the festival space doesn’t cover much ground and every one of the stages is small and intimate. We bumped into some friends that we didn’t even know were going, 3 times on the first day, and again each day after that, with no prior arrangement or mobile phones used. If you make friends there, you’ll see them again – undoubtedly.
The first two days were sunny. The Lawn, a stage with a huge grassy patch right above the lake, often featuring live music (Harvey Sutherland & Bermuda, to name one), was covered in people and a never ending stream of stunning outfits. When the rain slammed down on the Friday night, it was clear that many were wondering like me, how are we going to get through this? But by the time Saturday afternoon rolled around everyone was stuck back in, ready to party and in great spirits. The mud never recovered, but the people did with little trouble.
Some of my highlights were Margaret Dygas’ loopy, eclectic techno at Trigon on the Sunday night; another at the Trigon, house grooves from the legend Moomin; a gorgeous live set by Christian Loffler – in the rain, on the Lawn – and Helena Hauff at the Treehouse, who played banger after banger of her dark, moody breed of techno.
German house DJ Move D (who played 3 times last year and hosted a wine bar, 3 times again this year and screened a film about himself) was a charm; his Saturday afternoon Q&A in the cinema surely a quiet highlight for all those who visited. He talked about choosing his record bag, his favourite parties on the continent, and bigged up the UK as the best place for underground dance music in the world right now; as the talk’s host said, ‘you’ve got us in the palm of your hand.’ Unfortunately I missed his house set on the Friday night; he played Ricky’s Disco, which was one of the smaller stages – we left it too late and the stage was already packed. We caught his disco set on the Saturday though at around 5pm, and witnessed magic as his feel good selects made the sun come back out 😉
One thing you should know about Gottwood is that it’s proliferation of stages is a little misleading. Although music starts at midday, the party is slow to get going and really starts to heat up around 9pm (going on til 4am). It sounds great, but most stages are shutting shortly after 9 and usually you’re left with just 2 or 3. Its house and disco during the day, but as it turns to night you’re left with mostly techno – so if you don’t like that you may need to pick your festival route carefully. To add to the issue, the schedule of set times is really unclear.
There’s definitely good things about having a hard to follow schedule though – as it encourages you to stumble upon acts you’ve never heard of and end up loving. On the final night my friend and I found ourselves in The Barn, a stage where Manchester bass crew LEVELZ had played earlier in the weekend, as well as ‘urban jazz’ newcomer IAMDDB (who seemed to make some waves). It turns out the Barn was taken over on the Sunday by a collective usually playing at Hendre Hall in Bangor, close to Anglesey where Gottwood takes place. Hendre Hall’s Richard Block closed that night, playing a slamming techno set that kept us on our toes for its entirety. We hadn’t heard of him at all, but loved every minute. Since, I’ve searched for Richard Block online, asked questions, and the only information I’ve managed to find is that he’s completely off the grid – he doesn’t post online, do Facebook, anything. To hear him again, I guess I’ll have to wait ‘til next year…
Gottwood really deserves its reputation – a 4 day hideaway in a stunning location with beautifully crafted art & architecture, amazing DJs both well-known and undiscovered, and so much love and good vibes, whether between friends or people who hardly know each other. I met an Italian gentleman who, whilst chatting to him, I asked why he’d come to the UK; he told me, ‘everything is just energy, you know. You’ve gotta be yourself, they don’t teach you that. And you’ll find where the energy draws you to.’ Guess the energy drew us all to Gottwood. And I’m pretty sure we’re all damn glad for it.