Our verdict from Gottwood in words, photos (by Lewis Khan) and 150 track IDs (split into two playlists – by day & night)
Any festival with the sheer volume of plaudits and critical acclaim that Gottwood received for the 2015 edition would struggle to improve on what is already a near perfect event, and live up to the hype in a heavily saturated market for boutique festivals. All the boxes were being ticked in the months building up to the festival. The lineup boasted a wide range of textures, from the disco and funk of Awesome Tapes From Africa and Max Graef to the deep acidic sounds of Andrew Weatherhall and Jane Fitz. For those not just satisfied by music, there were also announcements for innovative stages such as the Lazerdome and Ruf Dug’s pop up garage based on Wayne’s World.
Regular patrons at Gottwood have been complaining about the rising ticket prices but, given the extra step that the production crew took for this year it was definitely worth the money. Walking into the arena, the first thing I saw was the Mother Owl stage from 2015, cast aside and degrading back into the woodland from whence it came. But, coming round the corner past the barn, an even bigger owl was unveiled, beautifully hand crafted, and a glorious sight.
Venturing further into the arena the little additions were very noticeable, be it the wooden bird fountain over the bridge towards the other side of the lake, oversized park bench that could have been plucked from a Roald Dahl book, or the bronze sculpted hand raising a huge Gottwax vinyl out of the water (shout out to the design students who crafted that). Gottwood is a tiny festival, but they still manage to create a world of escapism that seems to keep unravelling the further you delve into it, with mind-bending installations around every corner.
In a festival market where events rarely last more than five years, the competitors who stay on top of the game are ones who strive to improve and take on constructive criticism. Gottwood opened up their website to comments and certainly responded to the biggest gripe people had last year, which were the temperamental sound systems. The Martin Audio rigs, while being clear and crisp, didn’t project far enough and were far too quiet for large parts of the night programming, especially for the Boat Stage which Dygas and Zip performed on, and the Hay Bales stage where Leon Vynehall was barely audible.
Both of these dancing spots had been completely reborn for 2016. The boat was disused and the stage moved further down the woods for a LED Curve stage with stacks in each corner. The Hay Bales stage was reinvented as the Trigon stage, again with 4 hefty stacks in each corner with a triangular prism of lights extended out through the middle of the dancefloor. The Walled Garden was also enhanced with the stage being elevated and rotated, giving the crowd more room to dance and better engagement with the DJs. All the other stages remained more or less the same as previous years, each with their own character and atmosphere.
These revamped stages saw some of the highlight sets of the weekend, with the Curve hosting a magnificent showcase from Louche on the Sunday, who brought Nicolas Lutz, Sonja Moonear and Zip over for a master class in electro, minimal and house music. Zip in particular made up for last years disappointment with a set that had the tent pulsating with every new click or bassline, and classics such as Kenlou’s ‘Gimme Groove’ and CiM’s ‘Bias’ giving the receptive crowd plenty to cheer about.
Earlier in the day at the Walled Garden Hunee played the set of the weekend, whirling through his typical mix of disco, funk and house to start. Working the crowd is Hunee’s forte and the elevated stage played to his advantage, as everyone could see him putting his heart and soul into every track, which in turn created the best atmosphere all weekend. When DJs attempt to be versatile without reading the crowd it can make for a flat atmosphere but, by the time Hunee reached his third and final hour, the arena was at fever pitch. Having played everything from acid house to techno by this point, the set was his to take in any direction. Instead of continuing to pull out the party records, like many DJs would have done, he slowed things down to 110bpm with an acid chugger, setting the stage perfectly for him to draw for the the biggest curveball of the weekend: a remix of Phil Collin’s ‘I Can Feel It in The Air Tonight’. There are very few who would have the gall to play such a record to such a niche crowd but then again, Hunee is one of a kind and can make nearly anything look classy in the right context.
The excitement of Hunee’s set made hard work for Ben UFO and Craig Richards to continue with the same energy levels, despite being such seasoned selectors, but they both eventually got into a flow to set up the way for Shackleton’s live set. This, sandwiched between two sessions with Ben and Craig, again cemented Gottwood’s knack for clever programming that looks to provide an experience for the listener, rather than cramming a bunch of artists together because they got listed in Resident Advisor’s top 50 of the year.
Unfortunately, Gottwood suffered from Found Festival and Parklife occurring on the same weekend, which led to the Sunday programming being heavily laden with some of the biggest names on the lineup. Louche, Tief, The Nothing Special and Rhythm Section all clashed meaning some difficult decisions had to be made. However, the great thing about Gottwood is that indecision can often lead to you having a great time in a spot you didn’t expect to find yourself and the near-illegibly small print on the timetable gave a palpable sense that the Gottwood organisers wanted people to unknowingly explore and enjoy whatever stage you happened to stumble into. This certainly worked on the Saturday night when I stumbled into Ruf Dug’s lab to find residents from Ruf Kutz and Wet Play rinsing it out a tiny garage build out of chipboard, illuminated by old TVs playing vapourwave Streets of Rage and Mario Kart on Sega Magadrives. The music was as playful as the setting, swinging wildly from Italo and techno through to UK Garage and Jungle, only adding to the house party vibe that Ruf Dug was aiming to create in his lab. The previous evening had seen Stamp The Wax take over for an Autonomous Africa fundraiser with JD Twitch, FYI Chris and Al Zanders b2b Samir – we raised £60.34 from dancefloor collection so thanks to all those who put charity over an extra beer and donated!
An enduring draw for the festival is that they cultivate relationships with their crews, and often the best vibes are found away from the headliners, be it Brotherhood Soundsystem and Levelz turning the Barn into a sweatbox akin to FWD on the Thursday and Friday night, or Rhythm Section playing beautiful records to a small but knowledgeable crowd on the Mother Owl on Sunday. Musically, there is not much to fault at Gottwood though the Saturday programming definitely felt as though there could have been more variation, with the only main stage not playing tech house being the formidable Trigon where DJ Deep played a first rate selection of Chigaco house and Berlin techno, and the Jaunt residents caused a ruckus by closing the arena with Faithless’ trance classic – ‘Insomnia’.
The daytime selection was well put together, as in previous years, with Awesome Tapes From Africa delivering a glorious set to a large crowd on the lawn, Max Graef showcasing his live band with all the skill and versatility of a great musician and Move D’s now customary daytime disco set was undoubtedly one of the most joyous few hours of the weekend. Unfortunately, the England game on Saturday meant Lauer and Peak & Swift played to near empty crowds at the Treehouse and Walled Garden, which was a shame given their sets were both very accomplished. Unsurprisingly, England drew, so the electric atmosphere created at the woodland cinema for the match felt wasted.
Gottwood had a lot to live up to in 2016 and managed to deliver, with its small crowd maintaining a knowledgeable feel despite its widespread plaudits and coverage the previous year. Despite the bars running out of keg beer on the final night, they can be excused for the food being as nourishing and delicious as ever. But, most importantly, it retained its uninhibited sense of fun. Where else could you play Street’s of Rage in a pop up garage, or go and sample free wine and cheese at a bar curated by Move D? The sense of adventure was also reflected in the DJ’s music, as I don’t think you will find another boutique festival where the crowd will go wild for Faithless, Phil Collins or Motorhead, then be brought to tears over the beauty of Flugel’s or Beautiful Swimmer’s records in the same evening. Gottwood doesn’t take itself too seriously, and as long as it stays like that, it will continue to flourish for years to come.
Thanks to the STW ID crew: Alex Theodossiadis, Ben Croft, Raoul Rechnitz, Matt Blair, Gavin Rappaport, Amber Williams, John Loveless, Theo Gentilli, Henry Murray, Sam Hall, Rosie Cain and Chud Emeagi. Pat Forrester sadly hadn’t woken up from Gottwood til after we finished the list.
Gottwood By Day
Gottwood By Night