Located right at the furthest most northern tip of Wales is a festival like no other, and last weekend reminded us of why Gottwood is revered as one of the best underground festivals in the UK.
A festival is a journey. You arrive still hard-wired to a 9-5 monotonous existence. As we’re now only at the start of the summer, it may well have been a year since your last festival, and with that comes a level of uncertainty as to how the next four days of debauchery and sleep deprivation will pan out. But essentially, you’ve arrived at this human gathering for one reason – escapism. It’s ingrained in our western culture: the drugs, the heavy alcoholic consumption, and, before long, pornography streamed directly via bluetooth to your personal Oculus Rift. Escapism can occur through countless formats, but it’s the heightening of our senses (as opposed to the numbing) that leaves the most distinct lasting memories.
Last weekend, city folk nationwide abandoned their structured lifestyles and headed towards the northern tip of Wales. Traversing through the rolling meadows of the Welsh mainland and passing crystal clear rivers and sleepy village communities, we then crossed a small passage-way onto the island of Caerglywd, Angelsey (one of the 800 British islands accessible by foot).
I first experienced Gottwood in 2011. I was there with my brother who, at the time, was spray painting a caravan with the face of an owl. Gottwood places as much emphasis on music as it does on art. I remember walking through the woodland area and seeing suspended footpaths built amongst the trees, large obscure paintings, and an enormous hammock. I remember the big planetarium dome that when viewed from outside looked like the Eden Project meets Tarzan.
Made up of nine stages enveloped within a woodland enclosure, the festival also boasts a neighbouring campsite dwarfed by towering trees. There’s much to be celebrated in being able to bring your own booze and kick back with the 4000 other revellers under the summer sun. We pitched camp, and got acquainted.
Gottwood’s mystifying aesthetic induces reverie from the moment you step into the woods. As previously mentioned, the heightening of your senses as opposed to numbing them will ensure lasting memories – and the festival’s organisers really understand this. At night time you enter the woods, with a canopy of brightly lit leaves creating a tunnel into the bowl of the woods. This is so pleasing to the eye, and it certainly induces some subconscious hypnotic chain reaction in your synapses.
Year after year, Gottwood continues to pioneer in forward-thinking house music. When speaking with one of the festival organisers, Dibgy, he explains to me how emphasis is placed on both ensuring the capacity is capped at 4000, but that the programming is drafted for a delivery of alternative, left-field dance music.
Much can be said for the programming. Having FlatyDL, Midland, Marcellus Pitman and Leon Vynehall all playing on the same night made for quite a chaotic evening of orienteering. But Friday was all about the disco.
This objective was indubitably met very early on, with Marcellus Pitman showering the crowd in feel good vibes and chugging grooves. Hunee’s two hour closing set on the Friday night delivered heart rendering disco edits and pumped up house jams – Marlena Shaw’s “Touch me in the morning” being a particular crowd pleaser.
During Saturday daytime I headed deep into the woods for some temporary R&R. Gottwood is hosted on private land, and when you’re relaxing next to a vast lake nestled amongst 30 foot tall trees it’s very easy to forget this. It’s also very easy to forget that other people actually live in the surrounding fields. With Angelsey being one of the quietest places in the UK (having an ambient background level of 43db) it was no surprise that in 2010 the festival organisers were administered a noise abatement notice from Angelsey council. Neighbours shouldn’t be able to hear anything after 11am, and with such low ambient noise levels in the surrounding hillside the weather can have a huge knock-on effect on how far the sound carries. The organisers have really paid attention to this, having installed remote sensors around the festival’s perimeter, which continually monitors sound levels so that engineers can change the db metre according to conditions. Moreover, this year they used a Martin Audio MLA sound system (usually installed for capacities of 10,000) with cellular technology for higher front-of-house sound, and greater control. However, despite these great efforts to curb noise complaints I do feel this drawback was a noticeable one, and often at times I found it hard to really lose myself in the sound. It is something I really hope the organisers continue to work on.
On the Saturday I returned to the caravan stage my brother had painted all those years ago for a turbulent performance by Tristan Da Cunha. This was followed by a frenetic disco set by Move D, which had the audience in awe. On the lawn, Andrew Ashong’s hotly anticipated live show delivered soulful licks, again successfully followed up by a sensational live performance by Seven Davis Jr. It was a great shame to hear that Cottam had problems with his train and was unable to make the festival. However, our good friend Lorcan Mak was on call to nourish our deprived thirst for sonic nutrition with jacking house and indefatigable groove.
Sunday came with a noticeably more mature sound from all nine stages, with psychedelic and textured house records seemingly taking precedence over the woodland, forcing introspective onlookers to revel. Craig Richard’s marathon B2B with Ben UFO attracted a long waiting line to get into the walled garden, and quite rightly. Their selections of throbbing Chicago house and heavily swung plates sent even one guy into a comatose, with paramedics clambering in to the scene. The tent erupted that night. Other notable performances from the final night included Hesseltime B2B with Sisterhood, Soul Clap and Motor City Drum Ensemble’s iconic closing set within the forest compound, which again had a waiting line running the whole way through the woods.
It’s always funny to observe the transition in people’s behaviour throughout a festival. By the final day, straight faced zombies deep within the rabbit hole of their own psychie moved in packs, carrying all their belongings in a rucksack whilst heading back to the cities from whence they came. Gottwood is journey into Alice’s Wonderland. It’s a place that touches on some of our most primal senses: nature, community, the elements.