Portmeirion, North Wales | September 14th-16th
Based around a TV show half the crowd are far too young to remember, Festival No. 6 is a curious but pleasant new date on the festival calendar.
Located in North West Wales, on the southern shores of Snowdonia, lies a truly beautiful, if a little difficult-to-reach setting. Surely one of the most unique and original locations around, Portmerion is an Italian inspired village completed in 1975.
This festival takes its inspiration from the cult 1960s series The Prisoner and from theatrical re-enactments of iconic scenes to the unifying message that we are ‘not just a number’; its influences are clear to see.
British Sea Power set a high bar to an intimate crowd overlooking the beautiful River Dwyryd on the Estuary stage at sunset of the opening Friday night. From this peaceful setting we made our way back through the quaint cottages and central Piazza of the village to the lively main festival site comprising four main musical stages. The main No. 6 stage boasted an impressive line-up for the opening night with Richard Hawley getting a resounding thumbs up from the crowd; a perfect build up to the captivating and nostalgic sound of Spiritualized.
The festival was characterised by a friendly and diverse crowd. Although the pull of the 90s heavyweight headliners was clear to see, teens, families and some more seasoned revellers were all seemingly well catered for.
The largest and main stage later morphed itself into a Late Night Pavilion, for those whose evening is still young when the headliners are tucked up in bed. Horsemeat Disco and Derrick Carter provided the perfect end to a great opening night, satisfying any restless disco dancing legs.
We were reminded of the rugged setting as we woke to chillier temperatures on Saturday. An appreciative nod however goes to Splashh, who were ready to rouse everyone from their slumber with some catchy, grunge-tinged toe tappers at the i stage.
What else was on offer at this unusual festival’s debut? Plenty. Wandering back through the fairytale like village (which if camping is not your thing you could chose to stay in) we pulled up some deck chairs on the Piazza’s lawn; a truly surreal backdrop for the brilliant barbers from Barcelona, Osadia, who, to an operatic soundtrack, created works of art from the barnets of lucky festival-goers, while giant bubbles fell from the pavilion above. This was also the setting for human chess games (which anyone could chose to be a part of), a further reference to The Prisoner. Other non-musical entertainment (if only there was more time!) included twice daily films about various musical legends, comedy and even a nature quiz. For those looking for a really refined festival experience then the Castell gardens is the place for you. Overlooked by the Castell Deudreath, you could sit and enjoy chilled out tunes from classical and contemporary artists, complete with a fish deli and champagne bar.
Back to the main stage to kick off the evening was the brilliant Gold Panda, who dropped an eclectic electronica set with some original sampling. Next we caught Death in Vegas, thrilling a by now packed out tent with their dynamic and atmospheric sounds.
Primal Scream were as fired up and powerful as we’ve seen them in years. Confidently dropping some newer material in with the classics, this was a reassuring display showing without a doubt that there’s fight in the old dog yet. We later found ourselves recovering in the fairy lit Alfresco Ballroom, where The Chicken Brothers whipped up a frenzy with their 20s swing. Making our way into the Clough Williams-Ennis stage to see Mr Scruff was sadly like from lightness into the dark, as an uninspiring set was played to an over packed crowd.
Erol Alkan however delivered a solid set back in the Late Night pavilion, keeping the remaining ravers moving through the early hours.
On Sunday wind and now rain tested the resolve of the camping party people. Nonetheless, with wellies and waterproofs the hardier of the crowds took the hit to watch up and coming bands at the i stage. Of note were Zulu Winter, who got a very soggy crowd moving, their slot having been rearranged from headlining on the Friday night.
What should not be (but easily are) missed at this festival are the hidden trails throughout the Gwylit Woodland, great for a stroll before the music starts, and peppered with oddities, such as Tarot card readers, improv musical groups, riddles on washing lines and even an authentic dog cemetery. These trails took you through the woods, past swamps and up onto the cliffs for a beautiful (although weather dependent) view of the estuary. They were interspersed with colourful and creatively decorated clearings designed for pop up raves throughout the afternoon. It’s just disappointing they couldn’t be enjoyed at night, as the woods closed at 7pm.
With the day falling increasingly foul of that trademark weather we’d felt lucky to avoid for so long, searching out musical treats proved more testing alternative to more relaxed, and drier alternatives. Certain lures proved irresistible though, namely a typically hyperactive showing from Mackem brothers Field Music, and (relatively) local boy Gruff Rhys, given the rapturous reception he deserves. And as finales go, British royalty New Order brought a sense of drama, spectacle and a bucketload of hits, culminating with some timeless Joy Division classics, to end proceedings on a huge high.
Catering for a part of the world often overlooked, and showing remarkable levels of organisation and ambition for its debut year, Festival No. 6 proved an exciting continuation of a growing trend in smaller festivals. A unique setting and overall experience proved the key to a genuinely immersive weekend unlike any we’ve had before.
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Words: Lisa Carter