Even the best festivals can have a short lifespan. Once word spreads after a successful first few years, capacities often increase, booking policies change, and part of the magic is lost forever.
Gottwood, the intimate forest party hidden away in the Welsh coastal town of Anglesey, is now in its 7th year, but you’d have a hard time finding anyone complaining that things have changed since its inception. Many of Gottwood’s attendees have been trekking to the picturesque countryside estate since it started, while the stages are routinely hosted by some of the country’s best promoters in disco, house and techno. There were also several improvements I noticed since visiting only last year – from expanded stages to louder sound systems to new visual additions, there was a sense that they’d really ramped things up a gear for 2016.
My weekend started with Daniel Avery rinsing techno in the newly added Trigon stage, where effects like dry ice had also been added to disorientate the early evening revellers. Later that evening, Tristan da Cunha cut up disco and house on a stage enclosed by hay bales. Just along the pathway on the other side of the lake, Move D closed out the night for the first of one of his many sets across the weekend (similarly to Welsh festival Freerotation, whom Gottwood doubtless take inspiration from, he’s pretty much become part of the furniture here).
Saturday started at a slower pace. With the sun making its first appearance of the weekend, Awesome Tapes From Africa showed a sizeable crowd just why he’s blown up so quickly with African disco and soul on the lawn overlooking the site’s sprawling lake. Hundreds turned up to watch England’s disappointing Euro 2016 result in the cinema area of the woods soon after, but that didn’t sour the vibe across the site. Later that evening, Nick Höppner delivered punchy house selections from inside a huge carved wooden owl booth inside the food court.
The line-up was impressive all weekend, but it was almost overwhelming just how much had been packed into the final day’s action. As soon as I was getting into Craig Richards and Ben UFO’s back-to-back marathon, I knew that I was missing Nicolas Lutz and Jane Fitz elsewhere in the forest. Their set was discerning – spanning electro, minimal, house and techno, above all showing an undying flair for versatility. Craig’s selections just about tipped Ben’s – OCH’s ‘Whalesong’ was a nice surprise, while John Tejada’s ‘Valbaara’ was one of the most euphoric moments I saw weekend. I haven’t even mentioned the stage they played their 6-hour set from – the Walled Garden, an enclosed tent at the bottom of a slope totally hidden by trees and greenery on every side.
I ended my weekend in the larger tent beside the lake, where Sonja Moonear sliced up house rollers like Amir Alexander’s ‘Sonic Weaponry’ with more techno flavours at unrelenting pace. Zip followed with his usual mindboggling routine; the first hour saw him stitching headfucky house and breaks records together with clinical precision, before he started caning more of his US deep house cuts to close out the weekend – Kenlou’s ‘Gimme Groove’ got some of the biggest cheers (this one never leaves his bag), but it was the rarer ones I didn’t know that I wish I could hear again.
No sooner had it started than it was over, with everyone stumbling back to the melee of tents as the sun slowly rose over the Welsh coastline on the horizon. For the first time all weekend, I grabbed some proper sleep ahead of a long journey back to the city, although for others campsite antics ran well into Monday morning. It’s little wonder people were so up for it here: thanks to its gorgeous setting, unique stages and excellent curating, Gottwood is a standout highlight of the UK festival season.
Words: Chris Williams