August 3, 2013

The entire time at Gottwood, there was an infectious, intangible atmosphere that pervaded everything and everyone. The festival had a peculiar feel, as if your mates who own a bit of land have put on a particularly large party which has spilled on for a couple of days.

Word-of-mouth hype can be a powerful thing; you’ve probably heard plenty spouted from glassy-eyed GOTTWOOD disciples, dying to pack their bags ready for next year. It was the passionate nature in which people spoke about the festival that had us wanting in, and the promise of seeing the likes of Ben UFO and Bicep in a forest less than 2 hours away ensured it was etched on our calendars. For a number of people, the Carreglwyd estate seems to have attained the sort of status Lourdes has amongst Catholics, and this year, again, WAXXX made the pilgrimage.

Rose Pearett-Douglas - The Wild Thing

The approach to Gottwood, whether by rail or road, promised stunning scenery. Bombing down the A55, you pass the Clwydian Hills, the Great Orme and Snowdonia before crossing the Menai Straits onto Anglesey, a flat, square of an island, with very little on it except for wind farms and the ruins of windmills that turned before them. Anglesey exports wind; it was easy to see why it’s such a reliable generator of sustainable energy on our journey to the festival as sunshine and blue skies gave way to gales and torrential rain on the far side of the bridge. Visibility was shit. You could just about make out a cow living a truly miserable existence or a gnarled tree which couldn’t be arsed to grow anymore. Half our camp had already made it down on the Thursday – getting a fair dose of the sunshine – and had been giving us hourly updates of how incredible a time they were already having. For the rest of us 9 to 5’ers, keen to make up for lost time, we weren’t going to let a bit of precipitation dampen our spirits.

Soon enough, the blue triangle of our Sat Nav shows we’re approaching Llanfaethlu, home village to Gottwood. Crawling over the last cattle grid and down into the field designated car park for the next few days, the churning sea is visible a few hundred metres away, but looks less than inviting. There’ll be no boat parties this weekend. Dead ahead, a gravel path disappears over a hill – and a dark, thick woodland is visible in the hollow beyond it. We make our way down to the single caravan stationed on the very edge of the forest, grab our passes, and shuffle quickly into the trees.

Upon passing through the gate, past the refreshingly polite and relaxed stewards, you step onto a winding path; illuminated trees rising high above and various hideouts, hammocks and treehouses appear to either side. People are already strewn across them in blissful relaxation, intoxication, exhaustion or all of the above. As you pass art installations, the usual festival stalls and graffiti walls, the Gottwood owl totem slides into perspective like The Wicker Man. And you’re there, in the thick of it. No painstaking hike past endless unfamiliar tents, no need for signposting – everyone meanders in along this same path, bumping into familiar faces and people already far gone, deep into their Gottwood experience, as we crack open the first of many.

Hungry Visuals - Install (1)

As we arrived for the first time in the festival’s equivalent to a main arena, the first thing to catch our eye is a 10ft high, 10ft wide couch on which we clamber to survey the scenes as we wait for Waze & Odyssey. The small size of the site and everything in it helps to create a village feeling, with the main square only a couple of hundred feet across. In terms of facilities, there are only a handful of food vendors, but this posed no problem due to the small capacity and with everything from homemade cakes to curried goat on offer, we weren’t complaining. It’s also worth noting that we didn’t queue for the toilet once, portaloos for everyone.

A significant element of Gottwood’s charm comes from its unregimented nature. While many larger festivals with packed programmes throw up clashes which mean the promise of seeing all those favourites soon becomes a pipedream, at Gottwood, the vibe is as relaxed as it gets. Safe in the knowledge that Move D is on at this time and Tom Demac at that, everyone is content to hover in the meantime, explore their surroundings and give a previously unknown DJ a chance to impress.

After Waze & Odyssey’s riotous set of house and garage, we made our way to The Walled Garden where Hypercolour’s finest were running things. Navigating a corridor of greenery, we came to what appeared from the outside to be similar to a burial mound. It is in fact a tent, though one unlike any other; the canopy serves as a screen for giant visual projections, which fill the space above and around with morphing shapes and patterns. Many lean against the walls or lie on the ground mesmerised, before the tent starts to fill up towards the end of Bareskin’s set. The young DJ warmed up for Hypercolour boss’ Alex Jones with a mix of robust acid-tinged techno and his own melodic productions. Later on, Tom Demac took things to another level with a muscular live set, the highlight of which was always going to be his own ‘Critical Distance Pt 2.’

Hungry Visuals - Dome

Knowing our penchant for grime, a friend later pulls us in to The Barn, where the sounds provided by a clearly intoxicated Chimpo juxtapose all the house and techno played outside. The thick walls and wooden beams further separate the experience as he unleashes Eskibeat-era Wiley cuts, garage classics and to the rapturous delight of dubstep purists, Coki’s ‘Tortured’. The set finished with a rendition of the Home & Away theme tune, the grinning crowd more than willing to join in the sing-along. In general, there was a noticeable lack of pretentiousness or posing across the festival that meant moments such as these seemed to be embraced by all.

As darkness fell, we made it over to the hay bale fortress known as The Wild Thing, curated by Eton Messy for the night. Maribou State’s remix of Fatboy Slim’s ‘Praise You’ conjures a magical moment with the 10ft high walls of hay bales that surround the stage penning the crowd into an almost rustic-club hybrid, unlike anything experienced before. Trees seemingly stretch hundreds of feet above the crowd, and with the rain unrelenting, the effect is Amazonian. Pedestrian joins Maribou State to round the night off with a back-to-back set that suits the party mood perfectly, Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Move On Up’ ensuring everyone is beaming from ear-to-ear by the end of Saturday.

The highlight of Sunday was already written in the stars, as Bicep demonstrated their abilities as inspired selectors of old-school house, pulsing techno and Italo flavours. They were supposed to be playing at the Boxford Caravan, but had been moved across to the hay bales as a result of noise restrictions which had apparently hampered Move D’s set the night before. The move was satisfying, as the switch from the open plan Boxford Caravan stage to the moat-like Wild Thing concentrated the revelry in a smaller space, in which everyone was in their element. Even the security guards could be seen pumping their fists above the crowd, noticeably helping people climb up on top of the hay stacks. A welcome change from the overzealous aggressiveness we’ve come to expect from bouncers across the country.

Jim Stewart - The Wild Thing (1)

The entire time at Gottwood, there was an infectious, intangible atmosphere that pervaded everything and everyone. The festival had a peculiar feel, as if your mates who own a bit of land have put on a particularly large party which has spilled on for a couple of days. Though it lacks the huge lineups other electronic music festivals can boast, Gottwood makes up for it in its spirit and the overall quality of the experience. The organisers even went as far as posting a lost property list on their Facebook group, which highlights the friendliness and welcoming atmosphere at the festival, while The fact someone’s car was on this list (Peugeot 206, anyone?) is testament to how much people can lose themselves at this festival. To conclude with a list of improvements that could be made would be a little insulting to the team behind the festival, and in truth, there is little that could be done to make it better. See you there, among the trees in 2014.

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