Reviewed: Gottwood Festival 2019
The location and/or setting of a music event play a crucial part as to how it will be received overall by its attendees. Especially with festivals. It determines and encaptures the whole experience of the individual/festival goer. Whether it be a club or outdoor space, we remember and associate our memories with firstly the music and secondly how the setting we’re in, enhanced and impacted our time at the event. Writing this, I am already visualising the Gottwood Festival grounds…
Though set in an isolated and unknown location at the top of Northern Wales in Llanwehtu, it did not deter those from travelling from across the UK to attend this scenic welsh haven. This is the last place you’d expect to find the biggest names in underground music playing b2b sets throughout the day and night.
Its reputation as a UK dance festival has augmented rapidly over the past couple of years especially, with many students from Northern England and Wales attending and spreading the hype. One thing that I had repeatedly heard from attendees from previous years was the implausible setting in which the event takes place. Having heard it being described by a friend as a “mystical land”, I was highly intrigued to see the visual efforts of the festivals production team.
The drive from Leeds to the festival shocked me. Setting off a tad later than planned due to the typical last-minute pre-festival panics, the two and a half hour journey in itself was mind-blowing. To my right lay the vast Irish sea and to my left, the endless hills and cliffs of Northern Wales. These views created anticipation and excitement, as we cruised along the scenic motorway in our packed-out car, listening to a Margaret Dygas Sunwaves set from 2017. We couldn’t’ wait to get there! Having seen all of my friends, friends of friends and everyone’s grandmas photos from the previous year, I was intrigued to see the Carregylwd Estate that hosts this marvelous boutique festival, to see if it was just as beautiful in person.
Arriving at 6pm on the dot after a stunning journey, we parked up our festival-ridden car. Looking over the passenger seat and copious amounts of unnecessary festival gear, I only then realized that we were in fact on a cliff top overlooking a descendant sun, slowly sinking into the horizon over the Irish sea. I tried to capture this using my iphone camera, but the photos just didn’t do it justice. It was absolutely breathtaking. To think that was the view from the carpark, we could only expect that the main grounds were going to be even more notable.
The queue system seemed a little disjointed, however, it didn’t take as long as expected to enter the festival. As a group, we were keen to set up the camp quite sharpish, as you can imagine. Having pitched up our rather glamourous and unnecessary TP tent/home for the weekend, everyone seemed to be chasing the sun, advancing into the main arena.
After a quick settle in, we explored the grounds for the first time and we were not disappointed. The infamous Gottwood Festival mansion that Move D supposedly stayed in for the weekend with his family, overlooked a stunning lake, which was aesthetically heightened by thousands of luminous green lily pads, with the Gottwood Festival 10 year anniversary feature centered in the middle. It felt like we were in someones garden, which I think we quite literally were.
This reinforced the boutique nature of the festival with around 5-10,000 people attending each year, making Gottwood Festival one of the most renowned within the UK.
Food stalls, vintage clothing shops and various independent brands all laid within one big enchanted forest, which you had to walk through to get to the main stages. This was a nice touch, as they encouraged independent and local brands to showcase their handmade goods and reworks. This added a sense of uniqueness to the grounds and offered something else to do in the day when feeling a little ropey!
Standing out from the rest of the lineup on the first night, I was keen to witness Enzo Siragusa delve deep into his old-school vinyl collection, for his much anticipated jungle set. With this, he attracted his avid followers to The Barn stage, where this small, intimate dance space quickly turned into what one could only describe as a sweaty, warehouse rave. The crowds were going crazy and Function 1s sound system complimented his class mixing skills and heavy beats. This set the bar high for the rest of the artists performing the following days of the festival.
Despite the days almost merging into one, for me personally there were particular artists that highlighted my weekend musically, through their impactful sets. Sonja Moonear was the one that completely wowed me over the course of the four days. This being the third time I’ve seen her, I made sure to be at the Walled Garden stage a little earlier than her set time as this stage hosted some of the biggest names in minimal and micro-house including, Nicolas Lutz and Craig Richards.
This meant that the queues before these big sets had to be controlled by a one in one out system. I managed to carve my way through the impending crowds, to the front of the stage, as I love to actually be able to see Moonear in the mix. Seeing a DJ as passionate about their music as she is, is just so great to watch. There is something about the way she interacts with her music and the crowd she is playing to, that is so endearing and captivating.
Saturday’s weather took an abrupt turn for the worst, with torrential downpours causing flooding to both the campsite and the main festival arena. This, however, didn’t dampen anyone’s night, though I did hide in the tent for an hour or so, waiting for the worst of the storm to pass. I couldn’t wait to get back out there, despite being covered in mud and being soaked through 5 layers.
Slightly hungover from my couple of hours sleep that night, I decided to make a trip to the lawn on Sunday afternoon as the sun was shining and I could hear the harmonious beats vibrating through the tent, (despite being at least 100m from the closest stage). I don’t think I was the only one feeling slightly spaced out, as everyone lay there on the grass, tinnie in hand, slowly bopping to the funky house beats, trying to escape their hangovers and lack of sleep.
Despite feeling rough, hearing Krywald and Farrers notorious ‘Persie Edits’ made me get up and dance involuntarily. The lawn was definitely the place to be when the sun was shining in the day. Even when the rain fell, this stage was the most communal out of them all, with people interacting as if they were one big family. It was the main hub of interactivity – bar the endless food stalls, chilled areas and of course the campsite. In particular over the course of the weekend, one of the busiest times on the lawn was during Crazy P’s live set, which saw people in the rain macs and hoodies on others shoulders to get a glimpse of the man himself, in his natural habitat.
Although all of the stages boasted their own unique and individual experience to its crowds, the stages mentioned in particular seemed to always be attracting the crowds. Contrary to this, one stage that always seemed to be a little empty was the treehouse stage. A little more isolated from the main grounds and other stages, it was situated halfway between the campsite and the main arena. This changed on Sunday afternoon, as I saw a huge crowd beginning to surface. I stuck around to see what the fuss was about and I then realized why. Up high in the tree house, Seth Troxler had emerged for his 3 hour set.
On Sunday night, at the Walled Garden stage watching Craig Richards and Nicolas Lutz, I heard some suspicious bangs coming from afar. I wasn’t the only one left curious, with people from within the tent peering outside, to be surprised by an expected firework display coming from The Lawn. Although wanting to stay and watch Lutz do his thing, a group of us ran towards the lake to catch the last of the display. It was heaving, as people gathered to enjoy this immersive visual spectacle. This was such an amazing way to end the festival… and what a high this was. Despite rumours that this unique sight on the coast of Northern Wales will no longer lend its beautiful grounds to the Gottwood Festival, this year marked its 10th anniversary and what a birthday celebration it was.
I’m sad that the iconic Gottwood Festival grounds will no longer be in use, but I am excited to see what the team have up their sleeve for 2020. A statement was released shortly after the festival last week, stating that information about next year’s event will be released soon!