Head to the bottom for the track IDs playlist.
Gottwood is a haven from the real world. Isolated both literally and figuratively from real life, it’s difficult to fathom how remote the festival is until you’re there. Crossing the Swellies – the sparkling stretch of water that separates mainland Wales from the island of Anglesey – you’re struck by the beautiful isolation of the place before even getting on site.
Anglesey marks the most north-westerly point of Wales and is five hours drive from London. But the four-day festival is not only a physical haven. The immersive nature of the event, centred around the Georgian Carregewlyd House and its plentiful gardens, glades and fields, allows punters to engage in some serious imaginative escapism. This freedom from the ordinary felt more poignant given the political events that unfolded over the weekend. As the UK hung suspended between two ideologies, 5,000 dancers continued their revelry untroubled by events occurring elsewhere.
For eight years now, attention to detail has been the hallmark of Gottwood. Annually the site is tweaked: speaker stacks are rearranged, stages are redesigned and new immersive artworks appear across the lush estate. This year the most notable addition was the Nest, a floating restaurant on the lake serving food and cocktails using local produce from around Anglesey. Come Sunday, the quaint space provided run-down punters with some much needed TLC, serving small plates and juices to a tired but cheerful crowd.
Despite its growth in recent years, Gottwood still feels like a small festival. Not only because its organisers have religiously capped ticket sales to 5,000, but also because of the event’s DIY aesthetic. The festival’s largest stage, the Trigon, was the ideal setting for the gleaming minimal techno of Margaret Dygas on Sunday night, despite the fact is was constructed mostly from wooden beams and hay bales.
Gottwood places much emphasis on the various art installations and activities available across the site, yet most punters make the trip to the idyllic site for one reason: the music. At its heart, Gottwood is a house and techno festival. But this year an increased musical diversity was also noticeable. On the Lawn there were live acts like Dele Sosimi’s Afrobeat Orchestra and Harvey Sutherland & Bermuda, while the Barn, traditionally the home of grime, drum and bass and jungle, was moved to a space twice as large as last year.
Like any festival, Gottwood has grappled with issues in the past. Historically the toilets have struggled under the strain of 5,000 visitors, especially at night. The festival has also had issues with tight sound restrictions and early cut off times imposed by the local council. But this year, bar the four am curfew, all such issues were resolved. On most stages, the sound was crisp and loud, and the campsite facilities were, for the most part, appropriate to the number of campers, who remain as friendly and carefree as in previous years. I only encountered one queue: unsurprisingly, it was for Move D’s annual disco set on the Trigon.
Francesco Del Gardo and Sonja Moonear greeted arrivals to the site with sets of bubbling minimal techno at the Walled Garden, a magical space ensconced in tall, vine-covered walls. As Manchester’s LEVELZ crew worked their way through dubplates in the Barn, Levon Vincent and Mathew Jonson played synth-heavy cuts on the Trigon stage.
Saturday saw the first of Move D’s five sets across the weekend, this time back-to-back with Johannes Albert. Harvey Sutherland & Bermuda received one of the most raucous receptions of the festival as they played a set on the Lawn as the sun set across the lake. Closing with a 15-minute long rendition of their track ‘Bermuda’, couples attempted to salsa dance whilst others held their shoes aloft in appreciation. The evening’s highlight came with Berlin Club Salon Zur Wilden Renate’s takeover at the Walled Garden. Residents Peak & Swift finished with Midland’s ‘Final Credits’, an overplayed tune that would sound hackneyed in the hands of DJs less skilled than the accomplished duo.
On Saturday, Stamp The Wax took charge of The Lawn. The previous night, strong winds and heavy rain lashed the campsite and arena, but enough sun crept from behind the clouds and bodies emerged from tents to warm themselves on the lawn. Bastien Keb, the Ishmael Ensemble and Harri Pepper soothed the festival’s early risers with sounds ranging from jazz and soul to afrobeat. By the time Dele Sosimi’s Afrobeat Orchestra took to the stage at five, the sloped stretch of now-dry grass was packed in anticipation. Aaron L transitioned smoothly into the bassy sounds of O’Flynn before Antal took to the stage. The Rush Hour founder and Amsterdam resident played one of the finest sets of the weekend, towing the line between party-starters (Merchant’s ‘Tumble Down’) and more outlandish cuts (an instrumental version of Kraftwerk’s ‘Das Model’). Finishing with Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ (above), Antal insisted on playing the record in full, despite the protestations of a hovering sound manager.
On Sunday there were clashes abound. Young Marco drew for some weird and wonderful records, ranging from Syclop’s ‘Jump Bugs’ to Ben E. King’s ‘Stand By Me’. Tel Aviv duo Red Axes showcased their live show on the Lawn, a rich tapestry of techno and psychedelia, while Jayda G and Bradley Zero went head to head for five wide-ranging hours at The Curve. The Black Madonna closed the festival with a typically diverse set of euphoria-inducing disco, finishing with Bowie’s ‘Fame’.
Many things mark Gottwood out as special. The carefully curated lineup, the DJs who return year-on-year to play multiple sets, then there are the unexpected occurrences: seeing the owners’ labradors chasing each other across the Lawn, or watching a professionally trained opera singer spontaneously serenade a small crowd from atop a picnic table. These are the things that make Gottwood special, and are the reasons why those who go to the festival cannot help but return year on year.
Our dancefloor detectives tracked down 200 musical highlights from the weekend. Listen below.