Located deep in the forests of Anglesey, Gottwood festival - now in its seventh year - is North Wales's mystical hideaway of garish colours and characters, a twilight zone of unbridled hedonism and underground sounds for the more discerning festival connoisseur.
Billed as an ‘electronic music and arts festival’ there seemed to be a bigger emphasis on the (some hidden away, some in-your-face) visual art at this year’s event. “The forest is our live canvas,” exclaimed a spokesperson for the festival prior to the weekend itself. “Street art has always played a big part but this year we’re really going to push things forward.” It’s a great concept and we just had to investigate; here’s what we found...
Anyone who’s attended the festival in the past will know that after leaving the campsite and meandering through the forest, the first place you encounter is the Treehouse Stage. This proved to be one of the best attractions of the weekend, playing host to riotous house sets from the likes of Ralph Lawson, Crazy P, Tristan da Cunha (the backtobasics crew are currently celebrating their silver jubilee in style), and PBR Streetgang.
Behind the straw bales that make up the walls of the intimate arena you could find London-based visual artist, painter and illustrator Mikey Brain working on a bespoke piece – an abstract blend of conventional character and figurative techniques. Mikey rose to prominence in the music world after creating all the artwork for Lee Foss and Jamie Jones’ label Hot Creations. He told me that he takes inspiration from the themes that link the earliest of human tribes to modern man: “such as: love, ritual, violence, sex, mortality, morbidity, faith, and spirituality”. He’s a big fan of Gottwood too telling me that he found it “an inspirational place” with “the right amount of art, music, sound; people culminating in a certain magic”.
The next piece that caught my eye was being worked on by street artist Stedhead. It’s a vivid, trippy and alluring portrait which was inspired by the crowd at the festival. “I drew a sketch for this piece straight from my head in my tent on Friday morning whilst feeling a little rough from Thursday’s late night,” she told me. “I've been drawing characters like this for a little while but I guess I was inspired by the beautiful make-up and the colours of the festival goers that were dancing about the grounds the night before.” Her statement highlights the symbiotic relationship between the artists and the festival.
Right next to Stedhead’s work, in the forest next to the lake, stood the work from London-based ‘pen and pencil assassin’ Jeba. “The influence for this piece simply comes down to the environment,” he told me. “We’re literally surrounded by great forestry and sound through electronic devices - hence the speakers and USB. There are actually wooden mushroom sculptures lying around in bushes on parts of the site, that's where the mushrooms came from.”
It was his first year at Gottwood and he was more than a little bit impressed. “It’s a pretty dope festival. The setting is bloody well beautiful for a festival of that scale and the production is really impressive. Really good crowd too.”
This funky, hip-hop-infused surrealist graffiti by Alley Kats was located at the back of the Walled Garden stage and was a backdrop to experimental sounds from techno aficionado Andrew Weatherall to the raw, stripped back tunes from Mr G.
“It’s inspired by Gottwood; the people that go there and the music,” the Bristol-based artist explained when I finally managed to get hold of him. “It’s an all-round beautiful experience on all levels so I wanted to create something to fit in with that. As well as being slightly psychedelic of course.”
Gottwood would not be complete without the iconic ‘Mother Owl’ stage, where DJs spin inside a 12 ft tall wooden owl. Why? Why not.
VINYL FIST & SPITTING DRAGON
The site was packed with murals and installations making getting lost from your mates in the woods an adventurous rather than arduous experience.
Ah, the LASERDOME, a one-stop destination for all members of the Gottwood family that want to increase the intensity of their trip. It’s the brainchild of LASERDOME collective and is a dark, blacked-out tent filled with vivid, flickering red lasers designed to deprive your sensory deprivation from all normality and send you into a state of flux. It works.
And if you were as off-your-tits as me (note: this is a joke; I maintain meticulous professionalism at all times) you can play a game with your own twisted mind where you frantically gyrate your body across the room in all directions because if a laser touches a limb you die - just me? Ok, let’s move on.
AND FINALLY, THE CROWD
The colourful, frolicking crowd, hailing from an eclectic mix of subcultures, didn’t falter all weekend. Seeing that glitter-smeared lot converge in the forest each day was without a doubt a piece of art in its own right. It was a welcome break from the monstrous selfie-obsessed, shuffle-infested culture that has leaked into some European festivals of late.
With its breathtaking surroundings, this festival is the perfect place to showcase some live art. There is something surreal and alluring about walking past a giant canvas hung in the woods and witnessing a piece of art being developed as the weekend goes on. Seeing the creative process in action and having the chance to walk up to the artist for a chat about the work is also a nice touch: a live art exhibition, if you will.
This isn’t just a festival; it’s a celebration of all inventiveness, an opportunity to suspend all rationalism and celebrate originality. Yep, the secret is out – Gottwood is a playground of imagination and creative indulgence.