For the music aficionados, party-chasers, art-shapers and mischief-makers of the UK, the festival scene has never seemed more scintillating, and confusing. Which of the umpteen independent, ear-bending weekenders do you choose?
Gottwood festival, nestled in the beach-fringed forests of Anglesey, north Wales, offers plenty to get excited about from every angle. Again and again, it’s hats off to organisers Tom Elkington (elDOKO), Tom Carpenter and Digby Neill, three best mates who moved from the city to the countryside to set up their own homegrown festival. After seven years, they still manage to serve us up a cacophony of audio bliss, outlandishly designed stages, and a woodland dancefloor awaiting the questionable dance moves we seemed to share with several thousand kindred spirits.
From a deluge of the best deep house DJs to surprising smatterings of West African Disco; sleepy Welsh villages to skinny-dipping nuns, here are our top highlights of Gottwood 2016 – of which there were hundreds.
1. That scenic drive…
Gottwood begins as you turn onto the A55 towards Anglesey. From there, it’s all glistening sea vistas and snaking estuaries on one side, plunging cliffs and lush rolling hills on the other, and the promise of good times straight ahead of you. Once you’re through the sleepy village of Llanfaethlu and into the green pastures beyond, Gottwood awaits.
2. A canvas for artistic expression
Donning a wristband reading ‘family’, the warmth of the woods had opened up even further this year, allowing guests to fully step into another world of art installations and creations to bring out our sense of childlike wonder. We bent double and ducked through tree copses woven together with string, marveled at the view of a giant bronze hand emerging from the Gottwood lake – clutching a record. Artists sat in situ creating surreal murals, before we stumbled across screen-printing sessions. And then there were the oodles of feathers, glitter and yarn bedecking the Gottwood family, as their alter-egos came to the fore.
3. Sweating in a barn pumping out badass grime
Bodies slammed into one another as we entered the tiny cottage arena hosting Chimpo. It felt like being in a tiny, intimate (sweaty) club, and this Mancunian mash-up of grime, hip hop and bass music was just what the crowd needed to wind up for the weekend.
4. Secret sounds in Laserdome’s surreal time warp
The Laserdome was one of our firm favourite stages in 2015, so this year we were pleased to find it had almost doubled in size. At around 8pm on Friday night, the enigmatically named ‘Laserdome DJs’ played a mix so good that we got stuck in there for two hours. That, and the red lasers of course, made this strobe bubble into a time capsule where every moment throbbed like a lacerated heartbeat.
5. A banker circa 2002 spinning techno from the face of a giant owl
‘There’s always one guy wearing a suit at a festival!’ Someone commented as Alec Falconer bowled it over the lakeside bridge, dressed like a private Banking Manager circa the early noughties, pink tie swinging jauntily. We weren’t as familiar with the festival stereotype, and when we saw him in the zone, delivering his mix to a sizeable crowd at the iconic Mother Owl stage, he became our new idol.
6. Seaside romps, and swimming with biblical figures
One of the festival’s undeniable draws is its miles of natural beauty, waiting to be explored by those who venture beyond Gottwood’s gates. We made our way down to a pebbled cove with fellow festival revelers, joined by Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat, and a bearded nun wearing aviators. Like a scene from Skins, the sound of cows mooing, and waves breaking in the bay was punctuated by a bunch of 20-somethings screaming as they sloshed into the cold water.
7. Axel Boman and Hunee crafting parallel worlds in the Walled Garden
By night, resplendent with mandalas of light dancing across every corner; by day, sunkissed with blissed out beats, Gottwood’s Walled Garden stage was a mini dreamscape on its own. Entering through a hidden doorway to a winding pathway through hedges and roses, Axel Bowman met us with a set which affirmed the crisped up production quality of the festival. This was a collection of electronic music which seemed to convey the whole spectrum of human emotion; closing the set with an extended mix of Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy, which became one of the weekend’s anthems.
The following day, Hunee owned the garden, racking up three happy hours as he maneuvered through techno, disco and house; characteristically throwing in a few curve balls for good measure. Spot of Phil Collins, anyone?
8. Caravan-top tunes from Andrew Weatherall b2b Roman Flugel
Andrew Weatherall’s tandem sensual assault with Roman Flugel was an acid trip even without the acid. Standing atop a Caravan, there was a touch of the ‘90s nostalgia-fest about the set, as the writhing crowd were draped in lasers and carefully beamed luminous sprinkles. Flugel’s ‘9 Years’ was on the cards, of course; and Weatherall proved he could engineer moods with the best of them the following day, with lighter, bouncier notes being played on the sunny lawn.
9. Afternoon lakeside jamming with Awesome Tapes from Africa
Brian Shimkovitz occupied a real corner of musical interest for us over the weekend. Curating a refreshing backlog of music from (largely west) Africa heard on his travels – from high life and disco, to soul and the catchiest pop anthems – he opened a treasure trove for anyone grooving beside the lake on Saturday, unleashing a series of musical treats unheard before outside their primary markets. More than anything else during the weekend, Brian’s record sampler invoked the musical explorer in us.
10. John Talabot at the Trigon stage
Framed by a giant metal toblerone, the melodic house maestro laid out a stitchwork of euphoric moments, in the form of his own textures and those of new wave greats across the decades. The Barcelona native’s mix, with its dark chord progressions and disparate voice samples, sent several icicles down the crowd’s collective spine, and made everyone involuntarily raise their hands and faces to the slivers of strobe which danced beside the music – each of them a fleeting gateway into another world.
11. HVOB steals the show
The final night saw a range of big name acts dominate the line-up in the late hours of the night. Maribou State b2b Pedestrian went down in well in the tiny Barn stage giving die-hard fans, i.e. those prepared to que to get in to the barn, an opportunity to see big names in an intimate setting, while Craig Richards and Ben UFO played in the Walled Garden, again for those prepared to wait out the que. However, it was HVOB, playing live as a band at 6 PM who stole the show. Pulling in festival goers with their blend of the XX-style atmosphere, clean vocals, and techno tinged beats, HVOB’s sound fitted hauntingly into the mist which had descended upon Gottwood’s lake, a perfect setup for the final night of the festival.
Some of the best festivals are those you need to make a commitment for, and to see punters pouring to this remote slice of land from all corners of the UK and beyond, is a stamp of confirmation that Gottwood has somehow managed to scale up its signature ingredient of intimacy. The country’s worst kept secret in underground dance music it may now be, but it’s still the most beautiful party in Britain.