Anglesey, Wales

Gottwood is a family affair. When you arrive on the festival site in the forest in Anglesey, Wales, you’re given a wristband that reaffirms that you too are “part of the Gottwood family.” Everyone greets you like an old friend — even if you’ve just met them. If it’s your first time at the festival, everyone you’re introduced to is a brother or sister, a friend from another city, a mate’s mate, a friend from uni, or a pal from last year’s edition. At Gottwood, there exists only friends, and friends you haven’t met yet.

Even since its early days, Gottwood Electronic Music and Arts Festival’s essence has been an intimate one, even as it has grown in size. It started eight years ago in the backyard of a picturesque estate in the Welsh countryside, a small festival backed by tightknit Leeds and London-based music communities like Louche, Nixwax, Hypercolour, Tief, Hit & Run, Sound of C, and Real Nice. Helmed by Tom Carpenter, Digby Neill, and Tom Elkington, Gottwood’s first edition featured only one stage and an equally close group of artists and attendees. Since, the festival has expanded to six stages featuring a slew of international (The Black Madonna, Roman Flügel, Ryan Elliott, Helena Hauff, Extrawelt, Scuba) and local (Saoirse, Andrew James Gustav, Craig Richards, Matthew Herbert) artists. Although it’s certainly gotten bigger, the vibe is still just as intimate. Ticket sales are kept to a few thousand and there are few (if any) major commercial sponsors in an effort to keep things low-key. Gottwood remains a passion project, through and through.

This year, it was the UK crews/promoters, the local artists, and the Gottwood veterans that stole the show. Leeds crew Butter Side Up warmed things up early on Thursday as residents Hamish Cole, Ciaran Hansen, Jonny Sleight and Hugh Bailey opened the Walled Garden stage in true BSU form: warm, groovy, grounded. They booked Perlon’s Sonja Moonear and Yay’s Francesco Del Garda; both are crew favourites known for their compelling selections.

The weekend brought more fun: Helena Hauff’s intense acid techno set, live sets from Mathew Jonson, Red Axes, and Extrawelt, subtle grooves from Ireland’s Saoirse, and a classic tINI and Bill Patrick back-to-back to name a few. Gottwood veteran Move D seemed to be everywhere over the course of the festival, playing, as usual, excellent upbeat house and disco at multiple stages – and appearing on just as many dancefloors. Leeds legend Dave Beer was a highly anticipated Saturday evening booking, as locals flocked to show their support. The queue to get into Matthew Herbert’s set that night was well worth the wait, as he mixed his own tunes and a sleek selection from his bag with equal finesse; his was the name on everyone’s lips as the music ended on Saturday.

But the real magic was in Sunday’s programming; it seemed they saved the best for last. The Trigon stage hosted a line-up courtesy of Louche, with Smallville cohort Moomin opening things up in the rain and mist of the early afternoon. He closed with an edit of Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams, a predictable (and cheesy) novelty closer choice in light of the day’s weather, but the crowd ate it up nonetheless. Louche boss Josh Tweek followed up next, another Gottwood family favourite who has been with the festival since its second edition. After learning that Zip was unable to make his closing set, each artist at the Trigon stage got to play an extra hour, and Tweek’s was an especially memorable one. The weekend’s highlight for me was Urguayan-born, Berlin-based Nicolas Lutz, whose set built up from clever and understated to intense and at times jarring in all the right ways. He later joined local hero Craig Richards for an impromptu and well-received back-to-back set, closing out at a respectable 3am to chants of “One more tune!” — the right way to end the weekend.