- At roughly three quarters of the way through the train journey from London to Holyhead, my travel companion pointed out that by staring at my phone I was missing an amazing view. She was right—the train was just crossing the bridge to Anglesey, a small island in Wales that 4000 dedicated ravers travel to every year for Gottwood Festival, an intimate celebration of house, techno, soul and bass music. The train ride itself was fantastic, easily one of the most picturesque I've taken through the UK, and in retrospect it felt like a fitting set-up for the weekend.
Despite not knowing anyone who had previously visited the festival, I was pretty excited to check it out. A lot of that had to do with the lineup—a thoughtfully curated assortment of underground sounds that included plenty of heavy hitters, such as tINI, Margaret Dygas and a rare UK Festival appearance from Zip. What had really piqued my interest, though, was Gottwood's aesthetic. Photo galleries from previous years hinted at some sort of beautiful woodland paradise. So when the offer to review it came around, I naturally leapt at the opportunity.
True to the snaps, the setting is simply idyllic. Centered around a beautiful country house, it felt more like a high-budget garden party than a festival per se. A lot of time and effort was put into moulding the aesthetic, from the site's projection-mapped artwork that came alive at night, to the stages themselves. One small stage was shaped like a wooden mask, another was made up of twisted branches—it all added to the overwhelmingly positive and relaxed vibe. Days were spent in the blazing sunshine, lying around a lake listening to live sets from Seven Davis Jr. and Andrew Ashong, while the family dogs bounded joyfully across the lawn.
But like any other festival, Gottwood had a few noticeable issues. Some of these were oversights—the toilets, for example, were under serious strain every night. Some, though, were totally out of the promoter's hands. Anglesey is one of the quietest places in the UK, and some locals had taken issue with the sound levels of previous years. The volume was fine throughout the day, but it did sometimes suffer at night. This, coupled with how full certain arenas got, meant that the dance floors were sometimes a little hard to really lose yourself in, especially when the bigger acts were playing.
Sure, there were people that I would have liked to see and couldn't face the scrum, but the site itself was never overcrowded. Can't get the right spot for Motor City Drum Ensemble? Just go straight to the front of the stack for Tristan Da Cuhna and Adam Shelton. No room in the dance for Move D? No matter, I headed to LZRDM, a small, pitch black geodesic dome full of lasers and smoke, to catch Scientific Dreamz Of U play hypnotic techno. It felt like I was in a nightclub from an '80s sci-fi film. These might not have been the acts I'd intended to see, but I sure as hell enjoyed myself. And when things did go to plan, it was fantastic. Ben UFO and Craig Richards' seven-hour back-to-back, for example, was a masterclass, and nestling a live set from Radioactive Man in the middle of it was a first-rate piece of programming.
When I was growing up in London in the mid 2000s and first discovering dance music, house and techno was an off-putting world to get into. Dance music was no longer counter-culture in itself, and massive clubs didn't appeal to me. Finding the right parties, with the right people to dance with, wasn't easy. I can honestly say that Gottwood is the kind of event I was searching for. Across the weekend, nearly everyone I spoke to was coming for their second or third time, and would immediately wax lyrical about their first year and the festival itself. That alone tells you all you need to know.
Photo credit: Roo Lewis