Gottwood Festival is very much a festival of two halves. By day the mystical woods of the Carreglwyd estate fill with the glitter covered festival fairies that the boutique label promises; lounging by the lake, swinging on hammocks, basking in glorious sunshine and tucking into various varieties of pimped up loaded fries, veggie sausages and creamy mash.
By night all innocence seems to evaporate and the woods descend into an intense techno and disco rave. Lasers and strobes ricochet through the branches of the trees and reflect off the surface of the lake, inducing one giant psychedelic trip.
This year the sunshine was the main event. Compared to previous years, which have experienced typical Welsh downpours, 2018’s revellers could be seen queuing at the taps and constructing makeshift parasols to escape the relentless rays.
Once camps were set and bearings were gathered, Jackmaster and Grain kicked off Thursday night’s antics on the Trigon stage with the perfect weekend warm-up set, blasting out classic crowd favourites such as Floorplan’s ‘We Magnify His Name’ and Lil Louis’ sensual ‘French Kiss”. It was the perfect mood setter and put the Gottwood groove train firmly in first gear.
Though it was only the first day, Gottwood wasted no time in showing off the calibre of this year’s lineup. Thursday’s headliner, Avalon Emerson, delivered not only one of the best sets of the weekend but a set easily contending for the best set of the festival circuit this year. If Jackmaster and Grain put Gottwood in first gear then it’s fair to say that Emerson sent it into overdrive. ‘Masterclass’ is such an overused word these days in DJing commentary, however the way in which Emerson faultlessly delivered such an outrageously diverse catalogue of musical genres was nothing short of inspirational. Rarely do you hear a DJ move so effortlessly between the fast heavy beats of artists such as Artwork and DJ SS to, in perhaps the most surreal moment of the whole festival, an edit of Sean Kingston’s ‘Beautiful Girls.’ Emerson’s sensational ‘One More Fluorescent Rush’ triggered every bit of euphoria I had been hoping for and the Gottwood crowd were left that night with the bar set dangerously high for the remainder of the weekend.
There were less must see acts on the Friday so I was happy to casually wander between stages and soak in the sunshine. There was a somewhat inappropriate daytime set from Special Request which was far too heavy for both the heat and the time of day and thus was rather unappreciated by a rather sweaty and lethargic Gottwood crowd. The atmosphere during the day on the Friday was most definitely at its best on the lawn; with Gottwood residents serenading recovering hungover sunbathers in the morning and Mr Scruff setting a steady lazy bop into the early evening.
The highlight of Friday emerged from the intimate and secluded Walled Garden stage from the mysterious DMX Krew. Perfectly timetabled, DMX’s alien synth grooves were complimented by the low level sunlight retreating behind the trees and the Walled Garden’s psychedelic laser show slowly coming to life. DMX’s “Space Eyes” made for a special moment and secured itself a place in my top tunes of festival.
Aussie DJ, Kate Miller, did a stellar job at following up this act and kept the Walled Garden atmosphere at a high. However most eyes were already being pulled towards The Curve tent where Palms Trax was warming up. Palms Trax delivered a typically fun and lively set well into the early hours to a huge crowd that remained spilling out into the woods until the night was called to a close.
DJ Nomad and Crazy P were amongst the highlights of Saturday. However there was a rising tension in the air throughout the day as the anticipation built for the arrival of Hessle Audio legend, Ben UFO.
Rather than face the inevitable crush however and try and secure a good spot for Ben UFO, I decided to hit up Ricky’s Disco, a much smaller tent, tucked away on the far side of the lake with a huge glitter ball hanging from the roof. Panorama bar resident, Margaret Dygas, and founder of the label ‘Perlon’, Zip, delivered two back-to-back unexpected festival gems. Anthems such as Larry Heard’s ‘Sun Can’t Compare’ and Mad Rey’s ‘Quartier Sex’ set the tone and made for a strong contending party to the UFO madness happening over the lake.
I could not disregard Ben UFO entirely however and joined the fro halfway in. It was a sensational set without one recognisable tune, as one would expect from a digger as thorough diligent as he is.
The final day of a festival is always a strange one as a combination of exhaustion and dread set in at the thought of returning back to reality.
Rival Consoles had been one of my most anticipated acts for the weekend however when it came to it, I couldn’t help feel, for the second time that weekend, that a timetabling error had been made. Although a flawless set from Ryan, the crowd on the lawn weren’t quite ready for the intensity his music brings and the overbearing sunlight and Sunday fatigue put an unfortunate damper on what should have been a festival highlight.
The Curve stage however on Sunday night delivered everything it promised with Willow, San Proper, and Hunee all delivering spectacular sets. Along with ‘Action’ by Alfredo and Dj Meme’s classic mix of ‘A Greater Love’, Hunee made an unforgettable Gottwood moment when he brought out an edit of ‘This Must Be The Place’ by The Talking Heads in his closing set.
In its now ninth year Gottwood has done remarkably well at maintaining its intimate, friendly and amateurish appeal. But year on year it feels increasingly at risk of falling prey to commercial expansion. There was certainly a slight shift in the crowd this year with a few less music heads and a couple more waving smartphones. For now however, Gottwood seems to be in safe hands and the Welsh magic is still very much alive.
Words: Oscar Lister
Featured Images: Michael Njunge, Jake Davis for Here & Now