Gottwood festival: the UK’s best kept secret

For many flocking to Carreglwyd Forest on the Isle of Anglesey, Wales last Thursday, this occasion was something of a pilgrimage. Like the steadily growing 5000 strong group of festival goers, we had travelled for 5 hours to get to this little patch of paradise on the British coastline, via winding roads, past rocky hills and through fertile fields and chocolate-box villages, to reach this promised land of eclectic electronic music and happy people.  

Expectations were high, and Gottwood festival 2015 far surpassed them. There was something about the experience – beyond the line-up – which weirdly left us lost for words. It was the ideal mix of festival ingredients: infectious, organic, significant and surreal, with a sprinkling of sunshine and a generous splash of sea.

Entering the canopy of trees, the festival grounds welcomed with vintage shops and art installations which worked in harmony with the woodland environment: coloured spider webs wound around the trees to create a forest room complete with piano and table tennis set-up, and psychedelic paintings and wood carvings lined the pathways. Gottwood was surreal from the very first step, and took the whimsical idea of falling into a fairy tale to a whole new level.

Then there were the 8 stages of really good music spaced out in a route around the forest, most of them around a lily-strewn lake in a clearing. Like many music festivals engaged with all the arts, each stage took on a different theme; a converted barn, a ship bow, a wooden owl, a carefully constructed nest, a carved demon monster creature, an addictive and trippy laser-dome, and a favourite for atmosphere – a simple DJ booth underneath the gently swaying branches, patterned spotlights dancing off the leaves.

The hand picked line-up helped to drive the rhythm of the festival; the likes of taste-maker Ben UFO, Craig Richards, Maxxi Soundsystem, Midland and Seven Davis Jr, brought a powerful mixture of house, electro and techno to carry the crowds along. Om Unit surprised us and set the Barn stage audience off with a set of old skool UK garage classics, at bizarre odds with the barn room, which resembled a local community centre. Zenker Brothers were an unplanned treat, a thumping duel masterclass of techno tracks at the Wall Garden stage which had us sweating and throwing our limbs around. Seven David Jr’s lakeside performance set off the early evening with some beautifully crafted live soul and funk.

Gottwood wasn’t really about the line-up, though: Tom Elkington (formerly producer elDOKO), who lovingly curated the music along with directing the series of art exhibitions and just about everything else, managed to create an intangible sense of love and natural euphoria around his family home, which sits at the centre of the festival. Despite the fact that Gottwood has evolved into a comparatively large 5000 strong event over its seven years compared to the 1000 who made the trip when it first started, it still manages to feel like you’re drinking a cider and dancing with a big group of your friends, in a parallel world where time loses its significance.

The fact that the mood varied from stage to stage but was consistently infectious, meant you could be on the way to the Wall Garden, and end up guided by some invisible force to the Caravan stage on the way, instead being enveloped by a friendly Londoner in a sheepskin coat, invited in by gangs of mythical creatures draped in LEDs or befriended by an Italian girl with a third eye plastered to her forehead. It didn’t matter. No one cried because they’d missed Nickelback’s last ever gig, they laughed because they’d found someone new they liked instead.

The weekend was a happy haze melding all the key festival ingredients. Jawdropping scenery; if you’re not sure whether you prefer escaping to the beach, the forest or the countryside, here’s all three. Delicious food – gutted not to have tried the Vietnamese baguette from Bánhmì/ don’t regret having two slices of stone-baked pizza. Art blended with nature, art to challenge and art to amuse. And the music. It will be a long time before any moment manages to overtake that Sunday afternoon, the sun beating down through a blue bowl of sky; blissed out, melodic hip hop spun out into a small, appreciative audience sprawled out on the banks of the lake.