Review: Gottwood Festival 2016
From Weather‘s concrete jungle straight into the mystical woodland of Llanfaethlu’s Gottwood (not forgetting Glasto shortly after!) – June has been quite a ride for camp UE. A few days worth of TLC in rural Ruthin provided respite after a panic-stricken race through a chaotic, strike-affected Paris. Fully sated and sloth-level napped, the anticipation for another headlong dive into festival hedonism was palpable. What strikes me now looking back, is just how fantastically different the two institutions were despite operating within the broader sphere of House and Techno Weekender. Weather appealed to the extreme of big-room, ‘intergalactic’ techno with functional aggression – did Gottwood manage to suceed in marrying the aesthetic warmth of its bookings with logistical stylisation in a similar fashion?
We entered the fray after setting up camp on Friday afternoon with regret for missed sets from Prosumer and Mr G the previous night to Cassio Kohl, who was basking the picturesque Lawn stage by the lake with Red Rack’em‘s infectious ‘Wonky Bassline Disco Banger’ and then Ajukaja‘s wonderful afro-techno hybrid ‘Benga Benga’ – two tracks that were emblematic of a weekend that was to be filled with sunshine vibes and rugged zeal in equal measure. After taking in the fantastically myriad sights, stages and paths we stepped into the Treehouse stage for a superb two hour slot from one of London’s finest promoters of recent times – Make Me. The boys packed in a huge variety of music across their two hours: from skeletal futuristic beats and early Chicago house a la Black Ice Productions‘ ‘Men On Drums’, to smatterings of psytrance psychedelia and new-school deep house – Call Super‘s anthemic ‘Migrant’ providing a fitting and frankly beautiful finale to an extremely classy set. Their adventure and precision matched the tasteful quality of their bookings (I mean seriously, have you seen these two lineups in August? Superb effort); and set the bar impressively high straight off the bat.
The sunshine was making it impossible to stay away from the Lawn’s idyllic green, and the music was perfect to a T as Awesome Tapes From Africa stepped up. Working through the tempos gradually with rugged lo-fi club sounds eventually replacing buttery-smooth licks, the impracticality of tape-deck mixing made for a set that focused purely on tune selection over precision mixing – and boy did he select. The majestic rawness of the music was omnipresent; a pair of butterflies floated across the stage to Ata Kak‘s ‘Bone Nnwom’ as if in appreciation of the blissful sounds on display. What an absolute pleasure it was to catch Peckham’s finest, Rye Wax mainstays and general all-round sick guys FYI Chris later on in the day too: cruising through sunshine riddims on the Mother Owl stage with a beaming enthusiasm befitting of their music and demeanour, the two were the highlight of Bradley Zero‘s Rhythm Section showcase – and playing one of my all-time favourite tunes, D Train’s ‘You’re The One For Me’, was the icing on the proverbial.
One DJ who has quickly become one of my favourite DJs on the planet is Felix Dickinson. For me, he doesn’t just bring the party, he is the fucking party, spinning a potent mixture of erotic disco, jacking house and dreamy psychedelia with a charming, infectious abandon. I have a soft spot for acapellas and in this respect Fix did not disappoint – I Feel Love and French Kiss‘ orgasmic vocals layered over seminal sleazy old-school such as the Murk classic ‘U Got Me’ by Intruder; a trademark acapella-on-instrumental blend that is a force to be reckoned with. However, one recurring issue began to raise its head at this point. The speaker volume was painfully low at times, particularly at the Treehouse stage – partly during Felix’s set and deal-breakingly so during Jane Fitz‘ shortly after. Perhaps this area was most affected because of its proximity to the campsite, whose late-night noise levels had a consequential knock-on effect on stage levels from surrounding residential complaints. Sadly most of the burden fell onto Jane, who looked visibly stressed for an unacceptable amount of time whilst the crowd partied on and made the best of the situation as possible to roughly half the required speaker-volume expectancy. Much respect to Jane for powering on during difficult times. Having read of similar issues at Found Festival (check the comments shit-storm) and Field Day (check the ominous locked thread) over the same weekend, hopefully this recent trend will level out as promoters continue to battle, and hopefully conquer, the middle ground between escapism and red-tape. For now the nationwide situation remains a cause for concern – what happened to live and let live, all you erstwhile residential folk? Don’t even get me started on Brexit…
By Sunday it had become an exercise in futility trying to see every act we were interested in at once: be it Khruangbin‘s infectiously dreamy live band, or Hunee laying down his sunshine vibes to a packed-out Walled Garden… think Alice In Wonderland meets Beatrix Potter with dancers bursting at the seams and an impenetrability that lasted most of the weekend; we did however manage five minutes in there to catch Ben UFO dropping neinzer‘s 2016 anthem ‘The Beacon’ (big shouts to the Yumé Records crew)…….. or Ruffy’s Lab, Ruf Dug‘s curious campervan-cum-80s living room kitted out with a retro games corner accessible at all times, home to Dream Catalogue‘s ethereal brand of Dreampunk and Move D‘s delectable ‘Wine & Cheese’ showcase on the Sunday evening – which, by the way, was Move D’s fourth set of the weekend, having apparently informed a steward that if Gottwood footed his alcohol bill he’d be happy to play every day of the festival (you can’t make it up). Bloomin’ hindsight ay? The most memorable festivals are those that dare you to be at two places at once. Thank you Gottwood for exercising the Gemini’s indecision in me, you loveable rogues.
And to that extent, Gottwood’s charm offensive was impossible to not get swept away by. A fantasy world as stunningly pretty as it is cohesive, every stage had a unique identity and every path was lovingly crafted making the journey just as adventurous as the destination. Isn’t that what festivals are all about? Abandoning a strict self-imposed schedule for a carefree, ad hoc detachment worked wonders within a setting as delicately contrived as this. With the welcome news that Gottwood will continue to expand its stages rather than its capacity moving forward, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where the festival will slip up next year on its quest for musical and harmonic perfection… and just exactly how soon it will continue to sell out each year from now. Either way, we’ll be one of the first in line for ticket batch ’17.