Over the years Gottwood has built up a solid reputation as one of the best small festivals around – gaining plaudits for its serene setting, intimate party atmosphere and forward thinking line ups. Being my first time at the weekender in North Wales I was keen to wet my feet. Over 250 artists played over the course of the weekend across a selection of original stages scattered around a scenic lake and woodlands. Offering a good variety of mainly disco, house & techno it was impossible to catch everything on offer however a few special moments certainly stood out.
At the Trigon stage, one of the larger open air dance floors, Moscoman could be found teasing the crowd with long drawn out trippy breakdowns and quite dramatic tempo and style changes strutting through bleepy techno and chuggy dirty house. One of the highlights of the festival for me and a pleasant surprise as I hadn’t put the Israelian DJ down as a must see. Later on the same stage DJ Tennis could be heard playing the kind of emotive house I did expect from him and later on triumphantly closing the night with a selection of tougher deep house bangers. When the heavens opened on the dancefloor around 2am, hands in the air the dance floor stayed strong. This reaction was testament to the groove that the ‘Life and Death’ founder had us locked into.
The rain continued to pour for most of the weekend and coupled with torrential winds there were dishevelled campers and blown away tents strewn around the campsite as far as the eye could see. Taking sanctuary in the ambient tent for large parts of the storm at one point Move D (now a Gottwood staple) could be found answering questions from the crowd. The weather can play a big part in music festivals and while the setting of the festival is ideal, especially the lake and various art installations dotted around, I couldn’t help but imagine how much more beautiful it would have felt had the sun been beaming down all weekend.
After the worst of the storms had passed it was a joy to witness Matthew Herbert expertly mix together summery house and old breakbeats to the Saturday night crowd, probably the busiest night of the festival. Herbert exudes enthusiasm and it’s impossible not to smile watching him dance around behind the decks. He was clearly in the mood even enjoying some turntablism mid breakdown to the crowds delight. Unfortunately however ‘The Walled Garden’, a covered dance floor tucked away through a small archway, wasn’t big enough to house the masses and a queue snaked out for most of the night. A queue that ultimately denied me access to enjoy Roman Flugel’s set later on that night.
Luckily at the same time Helena Hauff was playing dark and deep slamming techno to a lively crowd in ‘The Treehouse’ an elevated DJ booth at the front of a large dance floor enclosed by high walls of hay bales. Despite the volume being too low for the duration of her set and her experiencing some fairly severe needle skipping due to the wind her form didn’t falter. Noticeably irked at times she didn’t let it distract her. One of the most consistently reliable DJ’s around she unsurprisingly concluded her set with a barrage of electro, a genre not heavily represented at the festival.
Elsewhere I found myself accidentally stumbling across and pleasantly surprised by Tini playing b2b with Bill Patrick billed as Rolls ’n’ do, Leon Vynehall playing b2b with Erol Alkan, a collective of DJ’s from Frankfurt holding down the ‘Mother Owl’ stage and York favourite LuvJam all playing to full or almost full dance floors. With so much on offer it’s certain that highlights will be missed, I heard great things about both Peak & Swift’s set and Antal closing the lawn stage on Saturday. Missing out on Ryan Elliot playing for the Jaunt crew was perhaps my biggest regret of the weekend.
While wandering around the lake, through the market street with its hippy shops, winding along the paths in the woods and strolling across the lawn it was clear to see just how loved Gottwood festival is. The young, mainly British, crowd were getting well stuck in and people had come from all over the country to attend. While a bit of ‘lad culture’ was evident it wasn’t overpowering and a few older heads dotted here and there balanced the vibe. The food on offer wasn’t overly impressive and the generously described ‘reasonable’ drink prices will have only felt like good value for those used to London nightlife. Personal booze wasn’t allowed, except for on the campsite, although most of the bouncers were happy to turn a blind eye. The security presence was strong but friendly enough, mostly more than happy to enjoy the festival and have a laugh with the crowd. Overall the vibe was as expected fun, friendly and relaxed.
Out in the middle of nowhere on the scenic island of Anglesey the production team have a task and a half on their hands to keep everything running smoothly and, despite the odd oversight here and there, overall they’ve succeeded gloriously. The fact that people come back year on year pays tribute to the intimate vibe Gottwood have created and, while there are easier place to get to, you’d be hard pressed to find one as unique. UK festivals that pay equal attention to both the line-up and the venue are few and far between and in that respect Gottwood deserves all the plaudits.
Looking into the near future Gottwood’s experienced production team paired with Craig Richards expert curation is a mouth-watering prospect and points to great things for Houghton Festival later on this summer. If the team can somehow conjure up some sunshine in Norfolk it will only be the very least that they deserve.