Gottwood Festival (2018)

Entering Carreglwyd Estate in North-West Angelsey immediately invoked a sense of escapism. For as far as the eye could see there were fields and trees for miles. You only had to look beyond your campsite to see the sea in the distance. Walk further toward the arena and you come across a huge country home, facing a lake lined with fairy lights and surrounded by trees. Gottwood Festival was truly remote, intimate, and beautiful. Residents and friends of the estate wandered freely amongst the largely youthful festival-goers, enjoying the music and the atmosphere just as much as everyone else did. Capping the festival at a modest 5,000, there was little to no overcrowding. Given the high demand for tickets, this speaks volumes about the organisers’ commitment to keeping Gottwood the small, sustainable party that it is. There were ten unique stages spanning the arena, some hidden in secret gardens, some hidden behind stacks of hay bales, and others boasting a beautiful lake-side view. True, the toilets could have been better and the beer cheaper, but that’s true of all festivals so we can forgive them for that.

Arriving with an open mind for the music I would see over the weekend, I was impressed to find such a huge range and quality of talent. The music was only made better by the perfect weather that accompanied it. Walking past the Lawn on the Thursday night I caught the beginning of Wayne Holland’s set, entertaining an excited crowd with funk and house as everyone anticipated the night ahead. Then heading in to Ricky’s Disco, it was hard to leave. Magic Door hosted the tent as Waifs & Strays, who had returned for a third year at Gottwood, put everyone in the right groove for the weekend. A giant disco ball shone above the crowds and wide smiles were plastered on all faces.

The first full day of the festival, Friday, was buzzy, as people fluttered from stage to stage in a desperate attempt to take everything in. It’s such a novelty to be able to walk around the whole site in a matter of minutes. My first encounter was with emerging DJ Ross Roberston. After making movements in Leeds and Liverpool in the last year, he opened the Treehouse on Friday afternoon for the Abandon Silence takeover, automatically attracting a considerable number of early risers, who were heading into the arena. Playing a blend of house, funk, disco and jazz, Robertson brought in eLDOKO’s “Woodworm Blues”, which was not only memorable but also brilliantly done, as well as Popka’s “Disco Thang”. When he faded in Fabrixio Mammarella’s remix of Sunmantra’s “When You Bite My Lips”, this really kicked off the day. With less than a year of DJ experience under his belt, Robertson’s performance definitely warrants attention for the coming months and years as he is bound to progress.

Returning for her second year at Gottwood, Renata perfectly judged the Friday afternoon mood with a blend of disco, house and funk, transgressing genre boundaries. From start to finish her style and pace were perfectly matched to the mood of the afternoon, and crowds of festival-goers were lured towards the Lawn. Her performance really stood out for me, and it is always great to see a female DJ at front of stage. Drawing in tracks from various genres, a personal favourite was Asphalt Jungle’s “Freakin’ Time”. In that moment I could not help but fall in love with the festival. In the hope that she will return for a third year, she is a must-see.

Another memorable performance was Manchester’s Mr Scruff alongside MC Kwasi. As always, Kwasi brought a new level of life as he burst on to the stage calling on the whole festival to get ready for the weekend fun. Playing an eclectic mix, Scruff brought to Gottwood funk tracks like Fruit, “If you Feel It, Say Yeah”, to Aretha Franklin’s “I Say A Little Prayer”, to his own “Music Takes Me Up”, and ending on The Charlie Calello Orchestra’s “Sing, Sing, Sing”. The whole performance catalysed anticipation for what many people considered the first proper night of the festival. The performance was made even better by the weather, the stunning lake view surrounding the Lawn. Often showing his face in Leeds, I’m definitely not a stranger to Mr Scruff’s talent, but given the surroundings and the general magic of Gottwood, this was definitely the best performance of his I’d seen. Wanting to have the best of both worlds, I fluctuated between Mr Scruff and DMX Krew, who was playing in the magical, tree-lined Walled Garden. He showcased an extremely well received live set. Playing a range of acid, electro and breakbeat with a face of complete concentration that was a little mesmerising, he humbly left the mass of cheering fans who went mad with applause. Friday night also saw noticeable shows from Palms Trax at the Curve and Move D, who closed Ricky’s Disco tent on Friday night.

Friday was a hard act to follow, but Saturday saw Rosie Ama at the Stamp the Wax takeover on the Lawn. Standing behind a sign that declared ‘Open Ears and Borders’, her brief Saturday set showed the versatility of her talent as she fit in a variety of tracks and genres in her half hour slot, dancing happily along to her music. She also impressed with fellow DJ Nadia Anderson in a trance set at the Walled Garden on Sunday as part of the emerging Kiara Scuro collective. Move D played various stages and times, and as always, attracted the masses. Brilliantly, his Saturday evening disco set was epitomised by the well-documented moment he brought in Boney M’s ‘Daddy Cool’ while carrying his young son in one arm. The energy in the crowd was ecstatic. Little moments such as these are what make Gottwood both memorable and unique. Ben UFO‘s performance was highly anticipated, and was only weakened by the large queue to get in and out of the Trigon stage. Nonetheless, the queue was worth the wait. Lukas Wigflex had just warmed up the stage with crowd-pleasers like Brandy and Monica’s famous “The Boy Is Mine”, building tensions for Ben UFO‘s arrival. Upon arrival, dancing sticks, umbrellas and flags plunged into the air as his sophisticated mix of Lemonick’s “Wheelspin”, LSDXOXO’s “Burn the Witch” and Sound Stream’s “Bass Affairs” filled Trigon with an energy that only Ben UFO seems to bring. Leaving the stage you couldn’t help but overhear the songs of praise from attendees.

Saturday’s madness was followed by Sunday afternoon’s rejuvenating performances. The bustling Mother Owl stage surrounded by various food stalls (Paellaria was a personal favourite) saw Tom Haisman on Sunday afternoon blasting out not-so-guilty disco pleasures as a sparse but nonetheless content crowd (myself included) dance, especially to Stevie Wonder’s “As”, putting hungry campers back on the right track for the final night. Other than the general sad feeling of the fast approaching end to the festival, Sunday evening I seemed to hear nothing but talks of Hunee, who was closing The Curve for the night and ending the festival. Safe to say I had learnt my lesson from the swarms of crowds at Ben UFO the night before, and arriving in plenty of time, I managed to take in the whole performance. Opening with hands-in-the-air house, Hunee progressed from heavy piano and saxophone instrumentals to light techno and of course, he included the disco classics that he does so well. The general mood was full of life, as always on the last night of any festival. Every half an hour someone would climb up the pole in the middle of the dome and slide back down again as the crowd screamed, particularly so when Hunee brought in “This Must be the Place” by Talking Heads and with Dorothy’s Fortress’ “Enter Castillo”. This was something special. The efforts put into the light display noticeably aided what was already a brilliant set. Everyone had gathered all in one place for one last time before they had to head home. All in all, Hunee closed Gottwood well, and in his retreat he left everyone wandering aimlessly around the arena craving for that extra hour of fun.

Without a doubt, Gottwood is a dream. Every corner of the arena was brilliantly organised, created and cared for with the kind of attention to detail that deserves special recognition. There were no half-attempts or neglected spaces. Beauty and brilliance existed at every twist and turn. The range of talent and quality of performance was beyond anything I had seen at a festival thus far, and there was near to nothing I could suggest to change it. I would not be surprised if post-festival blues last long after the summer is over. Ultimately, Gottwood is an overwhelmingly impressive festival, and I will no doubt be returning for many years to come.

All images by Here & Now.