It goes without saying that you can’t let a bit of rain dampen your spirits at a festival. Unfortunately though, the scale of the weather’s effects at this year’s Festival No. 6 had to be an exception. One of the car parks flooded, trapping cars in deep mud and hundreds of us had to be towed out by tractors. A lot of waiting around and a lot of extra expense was needed, and it was a genuine logistical nightmare. But the truth is, before and after Saturday’s unprecedented downpour, No. 6 was a sophisticated wonderland. What would be a real shame is if future events were affected as a result, so I have to put this to one side to paint a picture of a brilliant 2/3 of the weekend.
Festival No. 6 has 4-5* reviews from The Times, The Independent, The Quardian and Q Magazine, as well as an array of awards including Best Small Festival at the UK Festival Awards 2015. One of the classiest boutique festivals in Europe? You bet.
It takes its name from the main character of cult 1960s TV series ‘The Prisoner’ filmed in Portmeirion – a surrealist sci fi spy fiction series following a British former secret agent who’s abducted and held prisoner in a mysterious coastal village resort known as The Village. That was quite a mouthful, but the quirky series paves the way for much of the memorable production. ‘Be seeing you’ is the event’s strapline (the characters’ eery way of saying goodbye), a floating white ball named ‘Rover’ (which coerced trapped inhabitants of The Village) appears all around the site and the quote ‘I am not a number’ is written in the sand overlooking the stunning River Dwyryd estuary as you first enter the Village (which is what Number 6 says in the first episode). Hats off to the organisers for milking the series and creating a genuinely standout theme.
Portmeirion is one of the most enchanting places I’ve ever visited. Multi-coloured buildings, winding streets, fountains and statues are the things you stumble across at every turn thanks to Sir Clough Williams-Ellis’ vision of a small Italian village. It feels like a set for a film that’s never been taken down. Now a capacity of 15,000 sounds like a fair amount for a ‘small’ festival, but with the line-up spread across 25 venues, No.6 is a pretty intimate affair.
Perhaps the most special spot of the entire site was The Stoneboat stage, set right next to the estuary. We would boogie on the cobbled stone floor to world-class DJs with no more than a hundred others, glass of wine in hand and take a few steps straight onto the beach for a bit of downtime. Such a Mediterranean vibe, and so fancy. On the Friday evening we were greeted with a mammoth disco set from Low Life’s Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton – the perfect feel-good soundtrack to the only sunset spotted that weekend… Then on the Sunday came the jaw-dropping set from A Love from Outer Space. We planned to check them out briefly, but ended up being pulled in for an entrancing three hours right til the end. Their mid-tempo tracklist weaved gently between 80’s Balearic house and deeper acid numbers – it was the most progressive and moving set I’ve seen all year.
Also in The Village we saw some leftfield visual performances, including ‘Les Compagnies des Quidams’ – some inflatable horses moving in a dreamlike way across the main piazza to classical music. A more artistic interpretation would be better but watching this after ALFOS made getting in the zone pretty difficult. It’s wonderful to know these performances are there to be enjoyed though, should you be so inclined. We also laughed along to comedian Nish Kumar and a number of relatively unknown stand-ups in a tasteful marquee called The Gatehouse. Lots of middle-class jokes geared towards the affluent crowd.
As well as the music, talks, comedy and performance art, you can also enjoy theatre, screenings and activities especially for kids. You could easily take your parents and leave them watching a talk with a ’70s icon, while you go and rave it up elsewhere. Massively stereotyping there but you get the idea.
The Village is just the start of the vast site divided up into three sections. Make your way up the hill, along some winding paths and you find yourself in woodland. There are pretty much no stewards anywhere en route, so it’s a case of picking a path, following the music and eventually reaching a secluded woodland rave among the trees.
The Virgin Trains Village Limits is the first you come to, and what a way to introduce you to the woods. Decking’s suspended over the lake, a giant disco ball hangs above it, and the music is so loud it’s almost criminal. We definitely should’ve spent more time here (but the woods were completely closed on Saturday which made options limited). The Dugout is a bit further off the beaten track – an embellished wooded stage that hosted up and coming DJs playing the heavier side of house and techno. Then there’s the Tangled Woods at the far corner of the site with the waviest tree trunks I’ve ever seen in my life, hosted by the mighty Gottwood. No compromises made on décor as you’d expect from the promoters and it really was great to see a range of ages enjoying Krywald and Farrer’s no nonsense deep house when we arrived. There’s something especially lovely about being at a festival where three generations of a family can be seen dancing to the same DJ.
The third section is Castell Gardens. On paper it’s the classic arena set-up you’d expect from a small festival, but the production value deserves more credit than that. Stage No. 6 is a generic main stage, with added pizazz from the unspoilt hilly view behind it. Then set on the terrace next to Castle Deudraeth (there really is a castle on site) is Studio 6, another dance venue under a white marquee. Leon Vynehall tore up the place late on Saturday night, treating us to some of his own tracks from Rojus interspersed with his distinctive melodic house setlist. House of Rum also looked like a cracking stage, hosting the likes of Crazy P and Craig Charles. It was designed to look like four tipis joined together, but was always full to the brim. And when you want to dance and you don’t mind who to, there’s no need to hang around.
The biggest late night venue is the aptly named Late Night Pavilion – a huge round tent open til 3am every night. Perhaps a bit soulless compared with the others, but it’s purpose-built and does the job. Maribou State brought in the younger crowds on the Sunday night, dishing out upbeat disco and refreshingly plenty of lyrics to sing along to. But standout performance in here goes to Fatima Yamaha who followed. Blurring the boundaries between a live and a DJ set, he played nothing but his signature electro instrumentals rounded off by the hotly anticipated ‘Araya’, even coming out from behind the decks to hype up the crowd in moments. Kudos to the team controlling the VJing at the back as well (the only stage to have it) – every set we watched had swirling visuals to perfectly match the artist’s sound.
From a catering perspective, the street food options are almost comically pretentious, but oh-so-good. If you’re partial to a bit of fresh salmon and squid ink conchiglie at 3am before bed, then this is the place for you (seriously). The ratio of champagne bars to people is also hilariously high, with some genuinely serving nothing but champers or sparkling wine, and bustling every time you walk past. And only a lucky few hundred got to enjoy Dinner at Clough’s – Michelin star food served banquet style under a marquee overlooking the estuary. All festival goals for the students among us.
Now No. 6 isn’t strictly a dance music festival, but we certainly met people there for that reason alone, some structuring their weekend around the high calibre DJ line-up and nothing else. But even for electronic music heads, there is a lot to be said for nursing your hangover with a bit of spoken word or poetry, given that most dance music festivals relentlessly switch on the house and techno at 12pm every day. We all need a few hours to get it together.
So a feast for the eyes, the ears, and all the senses really. Was it expensive? Yes. Was it extravagant? Quite. Was it worth the money? Absolutely. It really does all beg the question: why do people pay £200 for six tents in a field, when places like this exist?
All images: Festival No. 6