A parrot, wide-eyed 'unofficial shop assistants' trying to peddle an intricately designed foil crown, and a DJ booth inside a giant wooden owl are usually signs of a decent festival. Although we've been wrong before.
Whilst summertime in the UK is often defined by negatives — shit weather, terribly organised outdoor events fueled by overpriced tickets and uninspired lineups, muggy public transport experiences — it doesn't have to be that way. Some of us need to commute, so getting sweaty on a bus/tram/train/tube is inevitable. But, when it comes to getting down and dirty in a park, field or random bit of land, it's still possible to walk away feeling enlightened, albeit not exactly refreshed.
Gottwood, Anglesey's ode to unadulterated debauchery, is a case in point. Arriving late in the evening on the opening Thursday and a few major plus points immediately elevate this above so many counterparts. Firstly, it's difficult to imagine many festivals in the world occupying such a beautiful position and site — a car park overlooking a secluded Welsh cove, stages set about a small wood ripe for exploration, a central lake making navigation easy. And, secondly, with the exception of Freerotation, which is more house party than anything else, we struggle to think of a festival with friendlier security.
They say don't judge a book by its cover. In this instance you happily have to disagree.
Of course scenery and laidback staff only count for so much. You also need spirit, and then there's the small matter of music, too. On both counts the weekend delivers. Starting with a set from Artwork that's all about bouncy, inviting tech rhythms, in an area walled in by hay-bails, things are clearly getting off to a good start. The atmosphere is tangible, which, considering the sun has only just gone down on day one, is impressive, and the sense of this being something many have waited 12 months for is omnipresent.
With so many festivals attempting to find their unique selling point, it becomes almost impossible to find any with anything genuinely unique to offer. From where we're standing a few hours later, though, in a proper building with four walls and a roof, it seems seems Gottwood has at least one string to its bow that's difficult to come by elsewhere. You can't fault the crew responsible for this shindig in terms of overall production. We hate to think how long it took them to create the 'art installations' (read: acid nightmares) that help set the scene as you maraud through the trees. But arguably one of the strongest aspects of this place is an arena inside a tiny cottage, like a makeshift intimate club.
This is also the home of some pleasingly different sounds for the duration of our stay too. Highlights include Manchester junglist Nanny Banton, here on a D&B tip (and polishing that off with a hilariously unpretentious airing of Sean Paul), along with broken beat legend Lee Coombs, and, later in the weekend, the likes of dBridge and Chimpo, who keep things rolling with refreshingly non-four four oriented stuff. To those planning 72-hours of non-stop repetition, perhaps it's time to start taking notes.
Overall, though, this one is fundamentally about house and associated genres, along with a generous dose of disco. Chilling by the lake in the daytime the pervading noises are lackadaisical deep chuggers- and, at one suitably surreal point, a selection of bird and wildlife recordings, but let's say no more about that. Cut back to the evenings, and it's possible to remove yourself from the fun, anthemic vocals for something more chin-strokey- the double whammy of Margaret Dygas on typically solid techno form and then an underwhelming Zip being suitable examples. Yet when you have people like Hunee destroying packed dancefloors with some of the best 70s-inspired beats, whilst handing out his own bourbon rider, anything too serious almost defeats the object.
Put simply then, the soundtrack is certainly strong enough to warrant the epic journey into the wilderness attendance requires (we're hours from anywhere, pretty much), and the list of stand out sets could go on. Craig Richards and Ben UFO's marathon back-to-back session on Sunday should probably be required listening for future generations of clubbers, with the ever-essential Radioactiveman live show sandwiched in the middle dropping some by-then much needed nasty electro edges onto proceedings. And it's not without good reason one of our team declares Marc Romboy as their new BFDJ — and those first two letters don't stand for Best Friend.
Ultimately, though, like a real festival should be, Gottwood is a far more immersive affair than can be summed up in terms of tunes alone. Good as they are. There's a warmth to proceedings that has long been missing from the majority of competitors, an attitude that screams 'make the most of your time before that scary car journey-cum-comedown back to reality', and, without suggesting anything life changing happened in between our most feral seconds, an elusive chance of actual escapism (four days spent sitting, lying, standing and dancing in your own filth) can definitely be found here.
So now all is said and done, we've finally had some sleep and cleaned ourselves up in a real life shower (there was the option at the campsite, just in case you were wondering), one question comes to mind. "Was it all worth it?" And the timeless words of Danny Dyer in Football Factory seem to provide the only fitting answer.
"'Course it fucking was."