“The diversity of genres allowed attendants to shape their experience of the festival and find a dynamic that suited their mood.”
It can be difficult to define what makes a music festival special, but one thing’s for certain: your experience of one will be influenced by more than just the acts themselves. Stepping off the train at Holyhead station, the final stop en route to Gottwood festival, I met a couple of guys from a town near Bangor who asked if I wanted to share a cab with them to the event. After offering me a beer and chatting to me about the line-up, we decided to camp in the same area. Later, when my mate from London arrived, I introduced him to the duo. Across the weekend, some of our happiest moments involved dancing alongside a pair of guys who had been strangers to us just days before. This welcoming energy could be felt everywhere at Gottwood, and it’s what gave life and personality to the festival from the onset and throughout.
Hidden deep in the remote woodland of Anglesey, North Wales, is the Carreglwyd Estate, where Gottwood is based. First conceived in 2010 by Tom Carpenter, Tom Elkington and Digby Neill, the event has made a name for itself as a one of the UK’s best-known boutique electronic music festivals. Gottwood attracts about 250 electronic artists spanning a wide array of genres, and is capped at 5000 attendees, which ensures that the event never loses its intimate atmosphere. Escapism is central to the Gottwood ethos; its nine stages surround a lake encircled with fairy lights and neon lamps, creating a supernatural aura in the forest as day turns to night. For Carpenter, festivals can stop people from being “reminded of the stresses of the normal working nine-to-five life.”
Whether you’re a newcomer to electronic music or a dedicated aficionado, you could get a taste of an exciting variety of genres at this year’s edition of the festival. Urban flavour came courtesy of the Mancunian UKG artist, Interplanetary Criminal. Move D spun warm and nostalgic disco throwbacks during his daytime set. Job Jobse crafted a set replete with elated crowd-pleasers, ranging from deep house to trance and beyond. Meanwhile, Eris Drew and Saoirse teamed up to unleash a menacing torrent of acid house and techno.
The diversity of genres allowed attendants to shape their experience of the festival and find a dynamic that suited their mood. Chilled-out tunes on The Lawn stage were met with crowds that often sat down to soak up sunshine for hours on end. A stone’s throw away, thrashing industrial techno pulled in mobs of topless ravers at stages like The Barn. The sound quality was generally great. One small criticism is that, earlier in the day – when the main festival site wasn’t quite as busy – there was some minor sound bleed that could be heard spilling out from The Lawn onto The Lighthouse stage.
The stage designs at Gottwood went well beyond what you’d expect from a small festival. At night, the angular frames of the Trigon stage lit up to transform it into a surreal, sci-fi pyramid. For a more club-orientated feel, there was The Barn: a sweaty indoor venue with speakers that could’ve split the walls in two. A personal favourite was the Walled Garden: a grizzly pit sunk into the earth that stayed active late into the night.
Some stages were problematic. The angle of the dancefloor at The Curve was at a slight incline, which could wear your legs out quickly depending on whereabouts you stood. The Lighthouse had the opposite issue: I wasn’t the only one losing my footing as I slipped around during a couple of sets. The festival was well laid-out overall. However, clearer signposting of stage locations would’ve been helpful for those searching for particular acts; there was no map of stages, either online or on-site, that I could find during my time at the event.
The Gottwood founders believe that money should never be a guiding factor in putting on a festival, and that allowing it to do so can damage its success. “It’s so important not to be greedy,” Carpenter explains. There was a massively broad range of brilliant food on offer at Gottwood, all of which was well-priced. If you planned on taking things up a notch, a floating restaurant called The Nest offered stunning views, table service, and an inventive menu.
Wait times at bars were minimal. But by about midnight on Sunday, some of them ran dry in certain areas. It was a shame considering it was the big finale of the weekend, but blame here shouldn’t be placed on the bar staff, some of whom had apparently worked shifts that extended far beyond what they’d originally signed up for. Nevertheless, all Gottwood staff were uncompromisingly welcoming and friendly; they showed eagerness and enthusiasm when they spoke to you, and often wanted to hear about your experiences at the festival so far.
For Carpenter: “Gottwood, we never want to change, [but] simply keep tweaking it to make it as good as it can possibly be.” At £180.00 (the price of a standard 1st release weekend ticket), Gottwood is in the same ballpark as competitors like Dekmantel. Whilst the latter is a more impressive festival overall, Gottwood remains an exciting option for anyone keen to rave off the beaten track on a secluded and smaller scale. Gottwood felt special not only because of the astounding natural beauty surrounding it, but more importantly, because of how inviting it was. The festival seemed completely devoid of posers, and crowds were expressive and carefree both in what they wore and how they acted. As a result, no matter where you chose to dance at the event, you always felt part of a unified community.