The festival scene in the UK is a double-edged sword at the present moment. On one side it’s incredibly healthy. There are a number of established festivals where you know that you’re going to get great bookings and top vibes. But that same scene is also very competitive. There is so much choice for festival goers that it can be hard to stand out.
However, Gottwood, now in its ninth edition, has become almost a right of passage for festival goers in the UK. A festival that you have to ‘cross off the list’. However, once your Gottwood experience is all said and done, it’s anything but a festival ‘just to be crossed off’.
From the get-go on Thursday, there was no toe dipping to start off the festival, girls and boys were plastered in glitter as well as boys and girls alike downing cans. Archie Hamilton was first up on Trommel’s to-see list, playing on the curve which overlooks the stunning lake on the estate. When you see a member of the FUSE contingent you can be sure of one thing, you’re going to have a good time.
Archie selection focused on getting the crowd going as one of the first big names of the festival. East End Dubs’ edit of Kelis – Milkshake received a rapturous reception as did the almost forgotten DIGWAH02. Enzo followed Archie and stayed on a similar path to his labelmate, albeit more focused on groove.
With all respect to Enzo, my ears were pulling me over to the Walled Garden to catch a rare UK sighting of the Traffic Records trio, comprised of Martyne, Bodin & Jacob. Being a huge fan of the label I was suitably enticed. Walled Garden is an intimate venue that is reminiscent of a horse stable. However, with those three behind the decks, there was no horsing around.
Music from the Traffic Records is always incredibly hard to pin down, both musically and descriptively. Throughout their set, they chopped and changed effortlessly through house, techno, breakbeat, acid and everything in between. As their three-hour set progressed, they opted for harder sounds and Etienne – Rez from Traffic Records’ recent release was the perfect peaking point.
Since it was the first night my curiosity of how what the other stages entailed was gnawing away at my thoughts. Enter Trigon. The vibe of Trigon is more Sahara Desert than Welsh campsite, with a dusty setting and a long triangular structure stretching down the stage. Manning the decks was Berlin-based Avalon Emerson whose eclectic track selection was a perfect match for an incredibly open-minded Gottwood crowd.
The perfect match was best summed up with Emerson’s garage edit of Eurythmics – Sweet Dreams before closing the night with the equally head-scratching Shawty Swing My Way by KP and Envyl. You could see the slight confusion on the crowds face yet people were still dancing away and dancing away hard.
On Saturday London party hosts Half Baked was hosting their stage under the hut fo Ricky’s Disco. Samuel Padden started the day off at midday before residents Sam Bangura and Greg Brockmann played individual sets before teaming up for a two hour back-to-back. The pair has become staples in the London party scene and for good reason, they’ve become masters at the art of the warm-up but weren’t afraid to kick up a few gears when required.
Just before 8 pm, a small blonde haired woman poked her head around the cloth tent of Ricky’s Disco, grinning from ear to ear. It was, of course, Margaret Dygas who was about to embark on a four-hour set, by far the longest I have seen her play. Most likely not a coincidence, it was also the best I’ve seen her play. The Polish-born DJ went back and forth through almost every genre of music, venturing into sounds I haven’t heard her go into before.
Larry Heard presents Mr White – The Sun Can’t Compare received a rapturous reception once the tent recognised those acid-tinged beats and euphoric vocals. Speaking of euphoric, Mad Rey’s Quartier Sex provided a wholesome moment halfway through the set, whilst Dygas chopped and changed the journey of the set with tracks like Joe’s Tail Lift, providing vibes of the tribal kind.
On the stroke of midnight, it was Zip O’clock. After some chatting and laughs with his Perlon labelmate, Zip’s signature grin grew wider as he put his first record on the turntable.
There isn’t much to be said about Zip that hasn’t already been said. He is a master of technique, reading a crowd, conducting the direction of a set and track selection. Almost every single track I tried to make a mental note of because my thoughts were consumed with ‘What IS this track?’. The bouncy yet menacing ‘I Have You On My Sound Side’ by Jus-Ed and Son of Sound led the tent into a frenzy and all Zip provided was that signature grin.
The last day of a festival is always bittersweet. You’re thankful for the memories over the past few days but you’re also thinking ‘Please. Do not let this end.’ However, this feeling of melancholy oddly generates an unbeatable atmosphere on the last day.
As a Leeds resident for the past three years, Leeds based promoters Butter Side Up hosting the Trigon stage captivated me for pretty much the whole day. The Butter Side Up contingents have well and truly mastered the art of the warm-up set. They know how to steadily guide an audience over a period of time but they also know when to ramp it up and keep the set driving forward.
Before I can blink it’s time for what promised to be a thrashing on my eardrums with Nicolas Lutz going back-to-back with Binh. There was no slow build-up from the pair of friends, it was pedal to the metal. Whether it was the menacing hi-hats of Tschuss – Draculas Lutz & Omar or the broken beats of DJ Para’s Shadow Boxing, Trigon seemed to be immersed in anarchy throughout the full four hours of their set.
Then up stepped Sonja Moonear for a two hour set on the final night of the festival. Competition for the closing set of the day was fierce, across the festival site there were the likes of Craig Richards, Hunee, Adam Shelton B2B Subb-an and Dominik Eulberg but my ears were so glad they stayed at Trigon.
Following on from Lutz and Binh was always going to be a challenge for Sonja’s bouncing sound, but it seems as though the Swiss DJ was more than prepared. The swarm of unreleased material that accompanies her sets can often devalue her ability as a digger. Tracks such as Roby J’s – Public Domain Age, an acid-tinged beat with repetitive vocals and a fierce drum pattern, showcased Sonja’s darker side.
As mentioned, following on from the previous set was always going to be a challenge, but she took the torch and carried on the same track. It was the darkest and heaviest I’ve ever heard Sonja play and it was completely and utterly delightful.
As the festival came to a close I expected the mood around the campsite to be more melancholy, alas it wasn’t. There was still laughing and joking, people asking for IDs and still absolutely no sign of people getting some sleep.
Festivals are expected to be a smooth and operation throughout their duration, and after nine editions you’d expect Gottwood to be smooth as you like. Even so, it runs impressively smooth for a festival located in the Welsh countryside.
Promoters curating their own line-ups gives the festival an astounding amount of variation but also aides a lot of the festival goers curiosity. Walking around Carreglwyd Estate, I discovered an abundance of new promoters, DJs and tracks. For someone with a morbid curiosity for finding music, Gottwood felt like a little piece of heaven.
You can like Gottwood festival on Facebook to stay updated with 2019 announcements.