- Last Friday, as I passed through the lush woodlands surrounding Carreglwyd Estate, I found myself amidst soft Welsh accents and a blazing sunset that burned like an orange mirage over the Irish sea. It was my first time at Gottwood Festival, and I was awestruck by its natural beauty. "The land is said to be connected by sacred ley lines," explained a jolly volunteer who told stories while I set up my tent next to an ancient stone circle. Things felt very mystical.
The biggest star of Gottwood 2018 was the weather. The sun shone brightly the whole weekend, and I constantly heard festival staff remarking on how much better it was than last year. By day, punters covered the lawn by the lakeside stage, grazed at the floating restaurant or, if you were feeling adventurous, took strolls to the nearby beach.
Though in its ninth year, Gottwood still presents itself as a family affair. The crowd is incredibly friendly and the artists stick around for the fun—Move D was seen carrying a toddler around on Saturday afternoon. I was struck by the overwhelming feeling of unity among the punters, the organisers and the artists, a reflection of the warmth and love that is pumped into every aspect of the festival. The attention to detail was meticulous and the production, at times, breathtaking. (One stage was a giant owl carved from wood). That said, I couldn't overlook the fact that the site felt overcrowded. At night, the crowds were overbearing at many of the stages, while trash levels across the site were high. With a thousand less people and some more staff, Gottwood 2018 could have been idyllic.
Here are five key performances from across the weekend.
Commix was the first act I caught on Friday night. Since Guy Brewer departed to become Shifted, George Levings has taken the project on solo. I hadn't seen him play before, but I knew the drum & bass star was going to win over the loose, fresh-out-of-university crowd that Gottwood attracts. I wasn't wrong. By the time I stepped into The Barn, everyone was losing their shit to an onslaught of breakbeats. There were bucket hats, tracksuits and inflatable animals. The scene felt quintessentially British, not unlike the vibe at the now-defunct Bloc. Weekender.
Moving through the sleeker, colder realms of UK drum & bass, Levings had the room jumping to tracks like Dillinja's "Nasty Ways." There was one speedcore cut with a euphoric chorus that sent shivers down my spine. Two MCs joined in to egg on the crowd, blurting out things like "the 0, 1, 6, 1"—the Manchester dialling code—over rolling liquid basslines and experimental breakbeats. Up the front, someone waved their crutches triumphantly through the air.
When I think of Andrew Weatherall, I think of one thing: chuggers. He played two sets at Gottwood—one closing The Walled Garden on Friday night, and another at the large outdoor Trigon stage on Saturday afternoon. Dancing to Weatherall sums up everything I love about clubbing: people smiling and grooving to slow, uplifting tracks that you feel like you know, but most likely don't. Incense wafted through The Walled Garden on Friday night while the psychedelic melody of Autarkic's "Bongos & Tambourines (Simple Symmetry Remix)" filled the space. The crowd fell into a hypnotic stomp.
Saturday afternoon was more of the same. At Trigon, which features several wooden triangles lined by stacks of hay bales, ravers kicked up clouds of dust from the earthy floor. Hard-hitting tunes like James Rod & Chris Massey's "The Disco Sound (Harvy Remix)" and The Grid's "Crystal Clear" had the festival's older contingent rocking in the early afternoon heat. As the latter track's didgeridoo sounds rippled from the speakers, a muscly Welsh man dressed like a crocodile hunter came out of nowhere, dancing and laughing maniacally.
Kiara Scuro are an emerging DJ duo who have recently been making ripples in London. They take their name from "chiaroscuro," a renaissance painting technique that involves the treatment of light and shade, which essentially sums up the duo's sound. The first hour of their set at The Walled Garden on Sunday was relatively quiet until the afternoon sun hit its peak at around 2 PM, when people came pouring in from the lawn to fill the cool, covered space. I looked around and saw a lot of kids in standard summer festival attire: bucket hats, fanny packs and those oversized white sunglasses made famous by Kurt Cobain.
Their performance was like a breath of fresh air after the intensity of the crowds and queues for Ben UFO on Saturday night. Dancing room was in abundance. The ravey breaks and dreamy chords of Melatonin Man's "My Head Is A Tornado" was a highlight, as was Global Goon's "Craehrzhd," which whipped the crowd into a whooping frenzy. They closed with Three Drives's "Greece 2000," a trance classic that will forever have a special place in my heart.
Free Love (FKA Happy Meals)
The last day of a festival is often the loosest. At Gottwood, everyone got down to the lawn extra early for Bloody Marys and a final blowout under the sun. This came to a climax around 5 PM with Free Love, the Glaswegian duo of Suzie Rodden and Lewis Cook. I've seen them perform three times in the past six months, and each time it's been electrifying. This has a lot to do with Rodden's arresting presence as a frontwoman. She screamed, climbed all over the stage and ran through the crowd barefoot, resting her mic on a nearby swing as she lay down next to a starstruck girl. Meanwhile, members of the audience tried to use the cable as a jump rope.
They performed a mix of old and new material, their sound a fusion of electronic pop, acid, happy hardcore and psychedelic weirdness. They closed with a forthcoming track, "Sweet Surrender," which went down an absolute treat with everyone on the grass.
San Proper's reputation is as an eccentric and unpredictable party starter with a larger-than-life personality. But recently when I've seen him DJ, he's seemingly been on the straight and narrow. At Gottwood, he played before Hunee at The Curve, the festival's largest tent situated on the other side of the lake. Proper gave the perfect Sunday night performance, touching on uplifting acid house, Italo, electro and rave. They were some of the most banging tunes I heard all weekend, with S Express's "Theme From S'Express" a massive highlight.
In last year's review, Holly Dicker said that "as the weekend rolled on everyone naturally gravitated towards their favourite stage." I did exactly that with The Curve, first for Proper and then for Hunee, who brought it home in typically dynamic style.
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Here & Now