Since 2010, a mixed group of friends, DJs and music heads have gathered in a Welsh forest for a few days every June to celebrate electronic music away from the city and civilisation. The event is called Gottwood…
Although their line-ups have been strong since its inception, this year, which marked the sixth edition, was the first time they really pushed the boat out – with names like Move D, Motor City Drum Ensemble, Leon Vynehall, Craig Richards and Ben UFO bulking up the programme as one of the summer’s best.
But as significant as such names may be, the music is only a small part of the festival experience – you only need to spend a day at Glastonbury to realise this – and Gottwood’s location has been just as key to its success as any DJ on the poster.
The festival is hidden away in the woods on privately-owned land (the house, in the middle of the site, belongs to the organisers’ parents), which means you’re partying in an idyllic setting centred around a lake, where few restrictions – noise or otherwise – apply. It’s also the right side of intimate, with a capacity of only 5000, so stages were rarely overcrowded, and the same familiar faces would pop up across the weekend.
As well as being in the woods, the site is also only a short walk away from a beach, so anyone wishing to escape the madness for a few hours (or maybe just take a much-needed wash) had a panoramic view of the Welsh coast in sight. Ideal, I would imagine, for those indulging on a psychedelic adventure (of which there were many).
Another unique facet to Gottwood is its use of UK promoters and labels to curate the line-up – Nixwax were one of the best offerings on the Owl stage, a hand-crafted structure built entirely from wood, while Butter Side Up, who throw one of the best parties north of London, played classics like Herbert’s ‘Thinking of You’ and Ricardo Villalobos’ ‘808 The Bass Queen’ on a bigger stage filled with hay bales. It was the perfect kind of thing for early afternoon dancers. Another surprise came from the Percolate stage’s first guest on the Friday, a mulleted character playing sleazy bangers to those who wandered by early enough in the day. The schedule would reveal this to be Dan Beaven – a name worth looking out for in the future.
Friday night had almost too many options to choose from, though I spent the whole evening at the Trawler stage, which was a kind of makeshift boat by the lake surrounded by trippy glow in the dark artwork. It meant I missed Midland and Marcellus Pittmann, but unsurprisingly Perlon brought a sense of class and intrigue to the weekend. Margaret Dygas (subject of a recent Hyponik interview) played with groove and continuity for two hours, utilising sparse beats and breakdowns to create moments of uncertainty, before allowing stray kick drums and melody to send the crowd in another direction altogether. A notable example of this was the Villalobos remix of Wareika’s ‘King’s Child’ towards the end of her set.
She was followed by the weekend’s main event. Across two hours, Zip stuck to subdued minimal – for the most part there were few standout moments, but rather consistent rollers backed by eerie soundscapes, all weaved together with his usual inexplicable finesse. He moved into more obscure 90s House for the last hour – unidentifiable tracks which demonstrate the breadth of his collection, only to be met with the usual headshakes of disbelief from friends and I (while Zip, undoubtedly, grinned to himself). The one track I knew was Todd Terry’s ‘Jungle Hot (Drum Drum Remix)’, though the set was filled with other gems I’ll probably never find out (or hear again). Zip finished at 2:30am, with music running till 4am, though I saw little reason to catch anyone else following his set. ‘Masterclass’ is one of the most overused clichés in electronic music – but with Zip it’s actually the most apt way to describe how he plays. This would explain why Midland stood watching in awe from the side of the stage towards the end of the set.
There were few outstanding options on Saturday – I fancied a change from the 4/4 to catch dBridge playing moody Drum & Bass in the barn, a tiny sweatbox that would’ve been guaranteed fun, though the lengthy one-in one-out queue meant I stuck with the whole of Move D instead. As standard with Moufang, there were endless classics; ‘Otaku (Atypic)’ – Black Dog Productions, ‘My Soul, My Spirit (Mr G’s Freedom Train Mix)’ – Mike Grant, ‘Lady Science (NYC Sunrise)’ – Soul Capsule, ‘I Can’t Kick This Feeling When It Hits’ – Moodymann, but the standout moment of the whole weekend was from one of his more daring choices. Mixing The Streets’ ‘Has It Come to This?’ into ‘KHLHI’ – Percussions out of nowhere doesn’t just demonstrate his ability to read a British crowd; it also shows his understanding of what makes UK festivals so special.
I was unconvinced by most of Sunday’s daytime offerings, so headed to the beach to recuperate and prepare for the final slog. When I returned, Radioactive Man was banging out fucked-up Electro to a packed tent for those still standing, as part of Craig Richards’ The Nothing Special showcase. It was seriously mindbending stuff for anyone who could endure it. As he closed out at 11pm, Richards paired up with Ben UFO for a head-to-head of old versus new generation. It was rarely clear who was playing, but the mixing was tight, the tracks were slick, and the overall result superfluous. A few notable ones were Gemini’s ‘Where Do I Go? (1997 mix)’ (undoubtedly one of Craig’s), ‘Oh Jabba’ – O B Ignitt, and Paranoid London’s ‘Light Tunnel’.
But these details are all just a smaller part of a much bigger picture. The perfect festival is one that transcends space and time, where real and imaginary worlds collide, and where friends for life are made. All of this is possible at Gottwood. Whenever I navigated my way through the woods, ravers in fancy dress carried wonked-out friends arm in arm, lovers covered in glitter were sprawled in nets being held up by trees, and campsite antics ran well past 10am every day. A message painted in wavy font onto one of the many art installations in the arena summed up the atmosphere best – it read “what was I just saying?”
You get the picture. Gottwood is a mess. But it’s a beautiful mess, and those who were lucky enough to join this year, myself included, will be the first ones back in the woods in 2016.
Words: Chris Williams