Unless you’re blessed with some sort of Satnav device, Gottwood proves to be a bit of an enigma – its lack of signs (save a solitary flag before the carpark) make it hard to find. This little festival, nestled in the heart of rural Welsh woodland, could have easily gone unnoticed by unsuspecting tourists and locals. Driving from Leeds took us about 3 hours, crossing the Pennines, the English and Welsh border and ending up in the sheep-infested hills of the Island of Anglesey. Unmarked and situated so remotely in one of the most far flung corners of the UK, you get the feeling that the Gottwood organisers – who have capped ticket sales at 5,000 despite its growing popularity – are trying to keep Gottwood one of the festival season’s best kept secrets.
After only two wrong turns, we arrived about 20 minutes before the gates opened. Arriving early paid off, saving us 1-2 hours of queuing as the small security team struggled to cope with the back log of festival-goers that began to build — an annually recurring problem so I’m told. The queuing however, failed to damped people’s spirits as they streamed into the festival and then into the arena to soak up the atmosphere and take in the fairy-tale surroundings.
The festival itself is based on the grounds of an impressive country estate, which I was reliably informed belonged to the organisers’ parents, with stages dotted around their boating lake and the surrounding forest. Throughout the festival, particularly the primary wooded area, there were a number of art installations and activities such as swings, a ping pong table (though the balls all sadly disappeared quite quickly) and a piano- thoughtful and creative gestures from the organisers which added to the all-encompassing experience. It’s clear that Gottwood owes a great deal of its success to its stunning location and unique atmosphere, which brings together the intimacy of a garden party and the excitement of a four day bender. Gottwood invites a subset of people more used to hanging around dingy basement clubs and cavernous warehouses, out into the Great British countryside and gives their partying antics the beautiful scenery it deserves. The weather was equally impressive, with 4 days of near uninterrupted sunshine, despite threats of rain all weekend. Most days were spent lounging in front of the ‘Lawn’ stage, situated on the actual front lawn of the estate, and occasionally wandering into the woods for some shade to browse the various independent boutiques, or to the numerous food stalls for some delicious ‘Mike ‘n’ Chaz’ (mac and cheese).
As there were no scheduled acts on the Thursday night, Friday was really the first night to experience what Gottwood had to offer. Upon entering the arena, it quickly became clear that it was offering the House and Techno- and lots of it. Boasting a stellar lineup of the best in electronic music across its various stages, it was evident that the team behind Gottwood had worked hard to execute their vision. The same could be said for the innovative and unusual stage design; at ‘The Lawn’ a twisted display of twigs and branches and in the corner of the estate a pitch black hidden tent, showcasing a laser display overhead. Every aspect of the festival was well executed, and the attention to detail didn’t go unappreciated. Once our House music tolerance was completely saturated, we headed over to ‘The Barn’ which was hosted by Leeds based/Manchester born ‘Brotherhood’ alongside Om Unit as he kicked off his world tour.
Saturday night treated us to a breathtaking sunset sinking beneath the rolling Welsh hills and rousing a number of us from our camping chairs to watch in awe. As the sun dipped below the horizon, Saturday night began. My personal highlightwas once again to be found in ‘The Barn’, and came from the Manchester’s very own, highly anticipated, Hit ‘n’ Run, with acts such as Chimpo and Black Josh delivering a high energy, Drum & Bass set. Bringing the best of underground Manchester to the Welsh countryside, the set provided a welcome island in the ocean of House-Techno that is Gottwood. With MC’s swinging from the rafters and a queue of up to 40 minutes to get inside, the converted barn was undoubtedly the place to be on Saturday night.
On the final day things got off to a slower start as people began to contemplate the end of the festival and the effects of the previous 3 days made themselves felt. But by the time The Mouse Outfit took to the Lawn stage a 6:30pm the good time guys and girls had applied their glitter and glitzy garms to remerge for an energetic but seamless set. The Mouse Outfit have been working hard touring the length and breadth of the country playing festivals, clubs and all things in between for the past year or so, building up a dedicated following that came out in full strength on the last day of the festival. With a selection of enthusiastic front men and a talented and tight band at the back, their chilled out vibes suited the laid-back atmosphere of the Lawn stage. The more enthusiastic spectators stood at the front, whilst the other half of the crowd reclined on the grass, soaking up the last of the day’s sun. Later on in the night the buzz around the Gottwood was in anticipation of Radioactive Man’s set slap bang in the middle of a marathon 7 hour offering from Craig Richards B2B Ben UFO in ‘The Walled Garden’. As the clock struck eleven, Radioactive Man came on stage to an already packed crowd and by 10 minutes past there was little or no chance of making it through the narrow doorway leading to the garden. The lucky ones who made it underneath the canopy covered stage were treated to a set that crossed boundaries, cheekily flirting between House, Techno and Drum & Bass and always managing to be intelligent and just that little bit different.
Sunday’s DJ sets from Move D (twice due to popular demand) provided the audience with a welcome dose of Disco, and were easily two of the festival’s most celebrated performances, stealing the crowd from Motor City Drum Ensemble’s headline set. Acoustic problems in the large open arena and sound licensing curfews made for an unfortunately anti-climactic set, for which Motor City apologised afterwards.
My festival experiences over the years have ranged from Glastonbury to Big Chill to Boomtown, but it was Gottwood that really made me appreciate the magic of intimacy. The small capacity of the festival truly makes you feel like you’ve been part of something special, and its sense of community is something most other festivals struggle to compete with. Hats off to team Gottwood for such a well-executed and down right electrifying event.
Photos: Roo Lewis