Photo by Chris Kowley.
The breath-taking lakes, woodland and roads that trace in and around the beautiful valleys of northern Wales resemble scenery you’d see a twat careen through in a Top Gear special, not what you’d expect to exist just a couple of hours drive from the English border.
The long yet stunning drive to Gottwood sets the standard and the festival site certainly doesn’t let it slip. If the creative stages that sit in ancient woodland surrounding a small stately home boasting a stunning pond aren’t enough, then the campsite looking outwards over the Irish Sea (which is no more than a 10 min walk through some fields and someone’s garden) provides one of the most unique festival locations on the UK circuit – big or small.
In its sixth year now, Gottwood presented undoubtedly its most impressive line up to date with old favourites loyally returning and fresh blood making an appearance. There are few dance music festivals of this size that can match a more eclectic line up than this year's Gottwood.
Friday night was all about the Brotherhood Soundsystem take over with Om Unit smashing a 140 nostalgia set in the barn (a venue which despite often being over capacity provided a genuine intensity and boot off atmosphere), before breaking into some half time dnb and hip hop towards the end of his set which blew away the tech/house hybrid cobwebs which may have accumulated from its overplay throughout the daytime.
It was Saturday AM and talk around the campsite was dominated by the promise of a Move D disco set in the Gottwood Caravan which continues to grow in infamy each year. Next a juggling act between two different but equally engaging take overs ensued; Nottingham’s prolific Wigflex label in the forest and Manchester’s Hit and Run collective in the barn. Chimpo and D Brige covered an impressive range of genres with Chimpo switching lanes from James Blake to Grime classics as if he were merely playing Mario Kart. Overcrowding again was an issue but forgivingly the community at Gottwood meant it never looked like the angsty crowds that often pack out London venues under similar conditions.
The Wigflex residents take best in show, putting in some of the most memorable sets of the weekend, perhaps even upstaging their headliners Marc Romboy/Mind Against. Absolute pandemonium was unleashed from Gottwood's hay bails when Spam Chop (Wigflex’s creator) dropped Bedford by Stephan Bodzin.
In truth punters were spoilt for choice on Saturday night with Move D playing his second set of the festival, reminiscent of his festival defining performance back in 2013 on the other side of the lake. With the intensity of 3 nights on the trot taking its toll by Sunday, it was Australian DJ Belltowers who pulled off the most surprising show of the weekend. In front of a small audience of punters whose interest in grabbing lunch and feeling sorry for their souls soon transitioned into getting down/right back on it, an incredible set consisting of a lot of self production (from an artist who I must confess to have never heard of before) rejuvenated us all.
Having danced off some of Gottwood's great culinary options, 7pm soon came and with it came the Craig Richard B2B with Ben UFO 8 hour monstrosity. Housed in the walled garden, which previously provided space for the unimaginable visuals in the recursive dome made way for a more open (yet less inspiring) tent as part of the expansion that took place in 2014. Ranging from breaky electro to progressive everything, playing an eight hour set (minus an hour interlude courtesy of Radioactive Man) without ever appearing dull, is something only the greats can pull off and was expertly demonstrated by these two.
Wanting to see the festival off the only way I know how, with fresh air in my lungs and mud on my shoes, I spent the last hour of Gottwood unashamedly getting down to Motor City Drum ensemble amongst the euphoric dancers at the Forest stage.
My only Gottwood downer was the sound, which though great in quality consistently lacked volume.
The relative anarchy and lack of restrictions in place (or not) in Gotwood’s toddler years may have been detrimental to the new, very present, restrictions imposed on the festival now. But it’s a testament to the beauty and atmosphere that Gottwood’s organisers and festival goers have managed to create that this doesn’t deduct significantly from the experience. With numbers appearing to stay capped around the 3,500- 4,000 mark, Gottwood has managed to stay free from the market forces of expansion that often bury festivals in Carling sponsored stages and ad breaks between acts.