Gottwood Festival 2016: review

Gottwood proves once again why it's the undisputed champ of the small festival circuit.

Review by Jack Burns and Daniel Jones | 16 Jun 2016

It ain’t exactly easy piecing together the Gottwood weekend. No British festival assaults the senses in quite the same way. For 96 hours from Thursday to Sunday, sight and sound (and often smell) collide at every turn, which leaves little work for the imagination and plenty for the short-term memory. Let’s have a go, shall we?

As with previous years, the organisers got the set-up dead on. No wholesale changes necessary, just a few tweaks and well-placed additions here and there to bolster the setting. The Studio 89 stage, for instance, morphed into the ‘Trigon’ – a kind of metallic Toblerone hoisted high on a timber frame, complete with mezzanine cocktail shack at the far end. Here would host one of three Move D sets that takes place over the course of the weekend. Not to mention the Wine & Cheese Club.

Elsewhere, Ruf Dug and Stamp The Wax hosted the inaugural ‘Ruffy’s Lab’: a quaint spot just off the beaten track that saw Street Fighter gaming sessions and a bunch of interesting chats slash workshops (Back to Basics, Moog) by day and class action from the likes of Garth Be, Glowing Palms and Ruffy himself by night. The b3b on Saturday was pretty doggone special.

But wait. We’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. By the time the revellers poured into the woods on Thursday, Mancunia’s own Neil Diablo had already warmed the Lawn up nicely, followed by a live set from Twinkat Soul's Jackal Wyfreid and a little bit of Ruf. Letta Mbulu’s Nomalizo rang true at dusk.

Tongues soon started wagging about the badass sound pumping out of the Barn. Turns out the Levelz clan were already in fifth gear: Chimpo, Chunky, Fox, Black Josh, Truthos et al. That was the spot for a good few hours, nipping out briefly to catch a little bit of Prosumer in the Treehouse. We found ourselves back in the Barn before long. By that time people were swinging from anything resembling a rafter, shelf or windowsill and Odyssey's Inside Out stayed fixed on the brain for the rest of the weekend.

We met Friday with a swelled head and joined the procession moseying down to the Lawn, where the promise of a 22a showcase awaited. Tenderlonious, Night Owl, Al Dobson Jr. and Reginald Omas Mamode IV all lined up to set the afternoon mood right, spanning the globe to pinpoint prime bits of benga, funk, slo-mo boogie and jazz of all sorts. The chiming guitar of Dee Edwards' I Can Deal With That popped nicely, and GSH's Home Is Where The Hatred Is bit particularly hard. There was also this little wonky gem...

Then it rained. It barely rains at Gottwood, so fair play to Henry Wu for bearing the brunt of the downpour. The throngs ducked undercover for a good half hour or so and those with a naff tent rushed back to check it wasn't ankle-deep in muck. 

On return to the arena, Secretsundaze were putting in a shift over in the Curve and hopping between genres at house tempo. The perfect warm-up before Move D's late night slot, where Ian Dury came out to play...

The ground stayed soggy by the time night fell, so the woodchip covering down in Ruffy's Lab came welcome underfoot. More than that, the sounds from Harri Pepper, Al Zanders, FYI Chris and JD Twitch were top drawer – joining the dots between Mandrill, Can, Christy Essien Igbokwe and Nina Simone.

Roll on Saturday. As with previous years the festival's poochy presence remained strong, particularly during a circular game of jump-up-balloon that eventually resulted in a momentous chomp and cheer. Bona fide highlight right there.

Andrew Weatherall took to the Lawn with lighter fare following his tandem onslaught with Roman Flügel in the Walled Garden the previous evening, followed by the hotly anticipated Max Graef Band. Bit of a clash as this fell at the same time as Move D's Saturday disco set at the Trigon, which meant a bit of back and forth between the two.

The sound was a bit quiet for Max Graef but the band rattled through the jazz-funk sounds of recent album Dog all the same. It was a nice enough set, but the dynamic slowly edged towards Move D around the halfway point – perhaps not as sun-drenched as last year, but the slot more than hit the spot. Check out Moufang's Facebook for the now-annual snippets of video evidence, including this wonderfully chunky slab of Motown electro.

Haters of football look away now. With the Euros kicking off, the woodland cinema put the England v Russia match on the big screen, which turned out to be a bit of a damp squib in the end. Still, it made a nice little break from the action, despite many not quite being able to see the ball. Unsurprisingly the last-minute Russia equaliser got just as big a cheer as the England goal. We were in Wales, after all. 

The remainder of Saturday flashed by, mainly thanks to a couple of trips to the Lazerdome (pretty much a snapshot straight out of Empire Strikes Back) coupled with the antics in Ruffy's Lab. It was nice peering out into the lit-up lake around the witching hour just as somebody loaded up an edit of Madonna's Frozen. Shades of Jae got a spin too.

We found ourselves over at the Walled Garden to cap off the evening, where Axel Boman ended by throwing down an unknown track that nicked that German vocal line from Boys Noize's Frau, followed by an extended cut of Bronski Beat's Smalltown Boy. 

With Sunday came the mist. Serious mist. The woodland developed an otherworldly feel as a result, more akin to Japanese shrines than Welsh countryside. Spanky Wilson's cover of Sunshine Of Your Love blasted out on the Lawn early on, before HVOB and Khruangbin both ramped up their respective local fanbases with dazzling live sets. The former are a chugging synth-led outfit with dance music sensibilities; the latter a hypnotic three-piece tinged with soft, jazzy drums and psychedelic guitar. Both deserve your attention.

Shout out to Hunee who played an unreal three-hour set over at the Walled Garden. Phil Collins?! Come on now. As Sunday evening fell it was over to the Mother Owl stage to catch Beautiful Swimmers sewing together years of expert knowledge into a tightly crafted mix few others from the weekend could rival. Marshall Jefferson's Mushrooms stood out before Bradley Zero took the reins and also did a fine job making that Owl his b-i-t-c-h. Well worth putting the mac'n'cheese on hold for an hour. 

Meanwhile, Move D was playing his final slot over on the Lawn. This was arguably the most crowd-pleasing set out of his three, including bigguns like Fleetwood Mac's Dreams, Kenix's There's Never Been Noone Like You and the joyous effect of Fonda Rae's Touch Me.

Plenty flocked straight to the Curve for the blend of obscure 90s tech house and minimalism laid on by Nicolas Lutz, Sonja Moonear and Zip under the Louche banner. Hearing the bump of Dimensional Holofonic Sound's DHS Theme '97 kick in from on top of a giant-sized picnic table was pretty wondrous.

Toilet time presented an opportunity to catch a bit of Tama Sumo in the Treehouse, before heading back to get the remainder of our minds blown by Zip. By that point the mental and mobile batteries had depleted beyond the point of note-taking. 

And that was pretty much it, the final nail nailed. On our way back to the tent a few people were chatting about how this was more a life-changing experience than a festival. It sounds trite when you write it down but it has to be there or thereabouts. People thrive here. Cross-eyed darlings don fluorescent wigs. Chubby bald men glitter up their heads. One guy rocks a detachable squirrel’s tail while another shouts, "I can see your nuts!"

Given the god-awful events happening elsewhere in the world, we can thank our lucky stars to be able to share in this much pleasure. We've only scraped the surface here, so be sure to let us know your own personal highlights...

Gottwood, yet again we all salute you.

Keep your eyes peeled for 2017 earlybirds: