Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
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Returning from a festival, as you slump down, bleary-eyed at work, you’ll often get the same question. “Sooo…”, they’ll say, surveying your haggard face for a glimmer of misery, “How was it?” The response to which will invariably be ‘fantastic’ or some such synonym. You’ll talk about how X, Y and Z ‘smashed it’ on the Friday and about how mental the Gatorade Stage was all weekend. Returning from Gottwood, it feels a bit different though. It’s as if you’ve just spent a weekend at party put on just for you, as if all the indescribable art and installations were something imagined, the feeling that you’ve crawled out of a rabbit hole very real.
Set in the grounds of a small farm, on the banks of a lake, surrounded by trees aglow with a shifting spectrum of colour, Gottwood did feel like a kind of wonderland. As dusk fell each day, the beckoning night would be preceded by deep orange sunsets casting their light across the Welsh hills. In the forest, constantly evolving artwork sat dotted about the stage. By the lake, the lawn was a welcome place to sit in sunshine and, across the water, the Trawler stage gave an opposing view of the house and the floating Gottwood sign. The Road to Nowhere stage always had room to move, no matter how popular, while the Barn throbbed nightly with a its weighty system and heaving masses.
It was in there, in the Barn, that we spent much of our Thursday night, the bumping jungle set from 2 Bad Mice feeling like a better alternative to Artwork’s set in the forest. Perhaps it was down to our late arrival that night, which left us a little behind the rest of the baying mass, but the frequent reloads and crowd hyping did make it feel a little like Friday night in a Tiger Tiger made of hay bails.
By the light of the following morning, the festival and its surroundings really came into focus. The bravado and eagerness of Thursday’s warm up had given way to a sense of intimacy that connected the festival and its 4000 attendees. Everyone had become a friend of everyone else; a conversation would strike up just as easily with the stewards as it would with those camped next door. By the time Tom Demac started pushing the buttons in the Walled Garden, every element of the festival began working in harmony. Any first impressions that the set had come a little early in the night were soon dismissed, the crowd quickly warming in his capable hands. Following that, news of FaltyDL’s cancellation came as a disappointment, as did the sudden drop in sound during Leon Vynehall’s set. That said, in a Friday night line-up crowded with names, Marcellus Pittman came as a happy alternative, his usual blend of house and disco bangers thrilling his lively audience. Closing the night, Midland played a fantastic set, apparently enjoying himself just as much as the crowd below.
Going b2b, the jazz cuts and instrumental hip-hop of 22a mates Al Dobson Jr. and Tenderlonius came as a welcome soundtrack to a lazy Saturday afternoon spent by the lake. With the sun continuing to shine into the evening, Move D’s disco set at Road to Nowhere was a highlight of the weekend; tunes like Sylvester’s You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) and Maze's Joy and Pain were a few of the favourites.
Later that night at Trawler, after a surreal hour spent in the LZRDRM, which at least at the time, felt alarmingly similar to the cantina in Star Wars, Move D made his second of three appearances at the festival. As expected he took revelers on a journey through deep, mellow house and then, an hour in, transitioned into The Streets Has It Come To This? to much surprise and joy. Justifying his reputation as a top class selector, the track, as he knew it would, injected new life into the heavily Mancunian, thoroughly thrilled crowd. It was at this point that somebody behind me conjectured to his companion that the moment had been, without doubt “the best thing to happen all year”.
By the final day, when levels usually begin to dwindle, Soul Clap did well to reinvigorate the crowd so early on. Although fantastic, the sounds provided all day by Rhythm Section’s Bradley Zero and friends like Romare, Ruf Dug, and Andrew Ashong at Mother Owl would have worked better had there been more room to dance, or sit, nearby. Later that night the crowds swarmed into the forest to see Motor City Drum Ensemble bring the festival to a close with his usual blend of house and disco. Sadly, as was the case a few times during the weekend, the sound suffered and things felt a little too overcrowded to really get moving. That said, it made the decision to pop across to see the close of Ben UFO and Craig Richards, all that easier.
It’s this, the utmost attention it pays to the toing-and-froing of whims, that Gottwood does so well. Other than perhaps a drink of water, rarely throughout the weekend did there come a point at which it felt like anything was missing