“I definitely got a feeling of an underground vibe at Gottwood. Not only because of the limited tickets; as far as I know it grew naturally year after year. You get a different kind of spirit that way. It draws sensitive people who want to enjoy and experience something that is unusual, in an unusual space” – Margaret Dygas.
Late Thursday evening, after rolling over yet another hill in Wales, we finally reached the Gottwood site. We were greeted by what looked like a 90’s rave scene – a seemingly random field, crowded with an assortment of cars, in the middle of nowhere.
After a quick tent pitch-up we headed down the hill towards the main site. We entered through an imposing gate with the Gottwood logo proudly blazing on top. The thing that immediately struck me was the amount of art that was around – from the little shops selling everything from the usual festival attire, jewellery or henna and massages; to pieces of art, some of which was still being worked on (and continued being worked on throughout the weekend!) It was hard to wrap my head around the care and attention that had gone into preparing this festival site – did I mention an outdoor cinema shaped as a gigantic TV?
While we were ogling the weird sculptures and enjoying the swings, I couldn’t help but notice the bass thumping away in the distance… the Forest stage. A huge arena surrounded by massive hay bales, a few of them tossed in the middle for people to dance on. We were lucky enough to visit this stage just as Artwork started his set – probably the best way to be greeted at any festival. As we danced the night away under the trees, to a fantastic mix of newer and also older house rhythms, the stage gave one last surprise to close the first night off – a large array of CO2 cannons that went off in time to the beat of the music, to cool off the crowd, and to show everyone that the party was just beginning.
The next day, after a quick recovery coffee (yep, in the middle of a field in Wales, there was actually more than one place to get coffee), we headed towards what was most definitely our icon of Gottwood – the stage by the lake. We were greeted by the Lawn stage – THE place to be during the day due to the absolutely perfect daytime grooves provided by a variety of DJs, selectors and bands (The Mouse Outfit were particularly memorable here). The music gracefully swayed from the usual offenders such as house and disco to hip-hop (live!) and towards the more abstract ambient (Ruf Dug is my new fave), always accompanied with a varied group of enthusiastic dancers in majestic attire, keeping with this years ‘gazzy’ theme.
The Caravan stage was stationed directly opposite the Lawn, which played host to great artists such as Midland, Leon Vynehall and Soul Clap (among others). This seemed to be the place for me at least for the first night, sadly the weekend did not pan out this way. At the very start of Leon Vynehall’s set, a speaker blew and despite the best efforts of the sound engineers, it never really sounded great there. Which was a shame but by no means detrimental to the festival as a whole, this then lead us to explore the rest of the place a bit more and oh, did it deliver.
A brisk walk from the Caravan stage and over a little bridge we went, to be welcomed by a small queue next to a weirdly shaped tent. We did not have a map of the site at this point and as our interest was piqued, we headed in to what we would later discover to be the LZRDM. I have been surprised by many things when entering weirdly shaped tents (some good, some… interesting…) and I can assure you that I was not expecting this. It was a completely pitch-black room, with only a handful of razor-edged lasers cutting the sweaty air. A few strobe lights would flash to show a full room of dancers in complete euphoric awe, same as we were – a truly remarkable experience.
After a little shimmy to the LZRDM resident’s set, we finally managed to find an exit (not that easy as when it’s pitch black), we headed towards the Trawler stage. Settled on a little hill on the shore directly across the lake from the Lawn, this was a night-time stage which housed (heh…) some of the very best at Gottwood; Margaret Dygas, Zip, WOLF Music and Move D, all graced the stage here with incredible performances left, right and centre with an amazing backdrop just behind (pictured below).
After getting a little peckish, we headed to the main food area, overlooked by the Mother Owl stage. The food at Gottwood in itself deserves a mention – everything we had the pleasure of trying was fantastic; the quality, quantity and the price was always on point. The variety was huge too – from the usual pizzas and burgers (My Mate’s Barbecue requires a special shout!) to toasties, mac n cheese and a vast selection of different asian cuisines. Aforementioned Mother Owl always sported a smaller, yet seemingly always smiling crowd, which was grooved by the likes of Romare and my favourite there, Luv*Jam. Next year, I hope he gets a later slot time as he absolutely killed it. While having an enormous grin on his face. Oh and I just might start training in hula-hooping!
The Barn – the bass bunker that hosted the likes of Om Unit, dBridge and 2 Bad Mice, also requires a special mention! I couldn’t shake a feeling of being at Beaver Works (Leeds) while in there with the smell of beer and sweat mixing together while everyone was jumping around to a mix of bass and grime throughout the weekend.
And last (but definitely not least) – the Walled Garden. This was my favorite stage and it was a short walk from the main food area. After squeezing through the tiny passageway through a wall (thus the name), we entered a large stretch with its own bar and a massive tent which housed the artists and the crowd. Gottwood would not be Gottwood if it wasn’t for the little touches – a few small clouds were dotted around just underneath the tent.
Night after night, I was drawn back to the stage to see tINI, Zenker Brothers (!!) and the highlight of the festival for me Ben UFO b2b Craig Richards – a marathon 6 hour madness. FaltyDL was also scheduled to play. Alas, he did not make an appearance, however Zenker Brothers took over and truly delivered.
A few other special mentions regarding the artists – a discovery for me, yet someone who I will try to see as much as I can from now on – Hunnee did a phenomenal job mixing absolutely ALL genres AND making it work. Weaving disco straight into 90’s rave and back to slower house grooves, while maintaining his explosive dance moves, was truly a spectacle. A shout to Motor City Drum Ensemble too, who closed the festival and was critical of himself as always. “I’m sorry; I’m feeling a bit shaky” – said in a strong German accent, even though he absolutely smashed it.
Honestly, I was not expecting Gottwood to be such a marvellous experience. I have heard time and time again about it, but only now do I understand. You can see the love, sweat and tears that has gone into building it through the years and how it has grown – the little touches speak for themselves. With no plans to expand as they are happy with the Gottwood family they have created (every festival band is proudly engraved with “You are part of the Gottwood family”), I am thrilled to be a part of it and I urge everyone to join. A truly magical place, in a magical forest filled with magical people. Something that I overheard and wholeheartedly agree with – “Gottwood is a place best friends go to, to make more best friends”. See you there next year, friends.