Feature – Gottwood Festival 2016

Feature – Gottwood Festival 2016

In a small crest of North Wales’ coastal extremities lies a festival, whose annual popularity frequently belies its size. A place where people from all corners and demographics of the UK – students, promoters, DJs, label bosses, young and old – all venture to in mid-June to wave goodbye to their worries and lose themselves in the woods for the weekend. This festival is of course Gottwood, which will be returning to the festival calendar for its 7th time on June 9th 2016, with a line-up that includes none other than house connoisseur Move D, long-time Panorama Bar selector Prosumer, the prolific Max Graef (responsible for sample-heavy jams) and the return of one of last year’s best acts, a b2b set from Ben UFO and Craig Richards. Respected DJs, particularly in the fields of house and techno, fill the rest of the programming and demonstrate the consistent quality of bookings which has been such a common feature since Gottwood was established.

Their most recent edition last summer, seemed to be the organisers’ biggest achievement to date. Over the following month Gottwood was lovingly soaked with praise and congratulations from not only festival-goers but also from a broad range of dance publications: Resident Advisor lauded that it was ‘a near perfect mix of ingredients…and long may it continue,’ whilst Thump asked the rhetorical ‘Is Gottwood the most beautiful party in Britain?’. Yet, despite praise coming from all quarters of music press, it remains impossible to aptly describe Gottwood in all its glory.

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Undoubtedly it is a place which is hard to sum up, from my own personal experiences of festivals it is completely unique and one-of-a-kind. The North Wales Estate has a sense of Alice In Wonderland about it, including a few punters being as bonkers as the Mad Hatter by Friday afternoon. Both Tom Elkington and Tom Carpenter (two of the team of festival conjurers) have recognised this too, acknowledging that the site has a ‘really magical feeling’ to it. Whilst the line up comes out in force in the evening, some of the most enjoyable moments are had exploring the magic of the woods during the day. You can find yourself people-watching atop a large haystack taking in all the weekend’s best attire (including last year’s 8-foot bride) or hammock-bound, snoozing in the shade of the woods or blissfully feeling your hangover evaporate lying next to the picturesque pond. Of course if you ever get the urge to return yourself to music during the afternoon you can always get grooving to the sound of Soul Clap, Tristan Da Cunha or Move D playing disco-tinged, sun-kissed sets.

The beautiful environment is combined with an incomparably fun and friendly crowd. It’s an atmosphere where everyone is in it together: the whole site having fun with no threat of any party spoilers. It’s feel is entirely natural and yet much credit must go to the organisers who have fostered it.‘We stuck to our guns kept things small and intimate (which has been our ethos ever since)’: their commitment to their particular ethos and rejection of suggestions to expand (Gottwood will remain at 5,000 capacity) has been vital to them being able to capture the event’s magical feeling, and reproduce it year in, year out without detrimental additions from sponsors or enlargement. When asked about this, Elkington and Carpenter understood that it would be hard to recreate the special moments of the early editions if it was enlarged, ‘we are proudly 100% independent…we designed the festival around our own ideals and we just much prefer small festivals.’

Such an ethos has reaped its rewards too, not just in the atmosphere created, but in the bookings this small festival can add to their impressive programme. ‘Generally most the artists ask to play,’ the two explain, ‘it makes a nice change from having to beg agents.’ Elkington and Carpenter both believe that the artists see the festival as a break from their touring schedule and ‘a chance to let their hair down.’ Certainly more than any other event, at last year’s Gottwood you would frequently find artists soaking in the atmosphere with the rest of the crowd, putting a real meaning into the idea that the festival is for everyone, where the divide between artists and festival-goers is non-existent. This provides a nice change where not only a relationship between the organisers and the festival-goers develops, but where the artists too actively contribute to the festival more than just playing a set and collecting their cheque.

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Indeed one of the important relationships created by the festival has been with Zip, who in fact was a key inspiration for the establishment for the festival itself. Last year, the Perlon boss played the Lake Stage on the Friday which Elkington and Carpenter point out as a highlight of the seven years of Gottwood, but stress that it was even more special as he provided a key motivation to start the festival. ‘We had all been in Berlin for the weekend about 8 years ago and on the way back (after being part of an amazing Villalobos and Zip party at a man made beach outside the City) we decided that we wanted to throw a one off party for close friends and extended friends bringing a bit of the love and attention to detail we felt over in Berlin back to the UK’. Working with an operating contribution of £1500 each from the Gottwood team they went for broke. This was ‘a very dangerous game to play but it paid off,’ fortunately, they sold out their first year’s allocation of 998 within one month and the rest, as they say, is history.

Yet, the widespread praise for the festival and the contentment with its current organisation has not led to the team resting on their laurels: ‘Every year we will build on the previous and hopefully we will still be here in years to come’. A glance at this week’s line up announcement will show how it is the best grouping of artists, promoters and labels that has been compiled together so far. The most respected selectors from the dance music community will feature along with the Gottwood ‘family’ of parties and labels including Aus, Percolate, Secretsundaze, Wolf Music, Rhythm Section and Leeds’ own Butter Side Up, Brotherhood Sound System and Back To Basics. An emphasis on live acts has also been established more than ever before. ‘I personally am really excited about the extension of our live music offering,’ this new effort will see a full live band from Crazy P along with a showcase from one of 2015’s freshest acts, Thai-funk outfit, Khruangbin. Clearly, Gottwood continues to go from strength to strength.

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In the coming months other festivals of a much larger capacity will no doubt look jealously upon the feat that Gottwood’s team have achieved for its next edition. But it is not something which can be easily replicated. Elkington and Carpenter explain how they had one simple goal for the annual bonanza: to create ‘a celebration of underground dance music in a beautiful setting.’ This has undoubtedly been achieved and their efforts to foster and maintain such an independent, unique festival must receive its due credit. Once a year they provide a weekend of partying in an extravagantly decorated estate in North Wales, soundtracked by the world’s best DJs in a co-operative collaboration with the nation’s best parties and labels. To top last year would be an impressive accomplishment but you can’t help but feel they’ve got up their sleeves.

Only final tier tickets are still available – its absolutely worth every single penny: http://www.gottwood.co.uk/tickets/

Chris Caden

(Photo credits: Gottwood)

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