Review: Festival No 6 – slightly surreal and so very Welsh

September 2016

It's arguably one of the most idiosyncratic festivals in the world. Here are six reasons why.

Lose your mind in a bizarre rave in a forest that has its own microclimate. Find it again with an Indian head massage, Lavazza espresso (martini optional) and stand-up comedy. Repeat three times, and you’ll get an idea what Wales’ best-kept secret, Festival No 6, is all about.

Few people have actually been there: it’s only in its 5th year and holds about 15,000 revellers. Converts say it’s magical. Tales told about it often end with “…but you really should have been there”, as even the most accurate verbal accounts don’t do it justice.

I will, however, try.

 

1. Juxtapositions

There’s an equal amount of indulgence for party-seeking hipsters from the depths of Dalston as well as middle-class suburban families (occasionally, these two overlap). You rave alongside tiny babies with gigantic headphones, gracelessly aged townies, polysexuals with glittery beards and jolly local farmers in their wellies. When hunger strikes, you can opt for a sit-down banquet dinner with white table cloths, or a greasy curry from a cardboard box. The day feels oddly healthy and wholesome – until it irresistibly turns into a dirty, debauched night.

It doesn’t make sense, but it works.

 

2. Eclectic line-up

Hot Chip delivered a solid Saturday night show on the main stage, but as with many festivals, the most interesting gigs tended to happen elsewhere.

A cheerier version of Elliott Smith, ex-Coral guitarist Bill Ryder-Jones enthralled a small yet dedicated crowd on Friday afternoon in the woods. Crazy P’s house-infused disco goodness filled the air with unadulterated, soulful joy, while their frontwoman Danielle Moore radiated pure fabulousness like a unicorn in wonderland.

London’s legendary DJ Andrew Weatherall slid smoothly into his Saturday night closing set with a fat joint on his lips and smashed the final hours with style as well as substance. Glasgow’s notorious duo Optimo went even further. Their remixes of Prince, Bowie and Neil Young, to name a few, mercilessly squeezed out every last drop of sweat and brain matter from the surviving Sunday night soldiers. There was raw euphoria.

Throw in Echo and the Bunnymen, some twee folk, Roísín Murphy’s Icelandic coolness, Tim Burgess, African female rap by A.W.A, Super Furry Animals and a bunch of endearing, fresh-faced indie rock ensembles – the genre is not dead, just resting – and voilà, you’ve got yourself a winning mixtape.

 

3. Portmeirion

It all takes place in and around a little makeshift village, home to 60′s cult tv-show Prisoner, in the furthest corner of northwestern Wales. Needless to say, the backdrop is nothing short of unique. Alas, so is the weather, which this year neared disaster. The only complaint about the weekend goes to non-existent mud management. Luckily, just the simple fact that you can watch ominous clouds rolling over the hills of Snowdonia while walking on dry concrete past jam pot shops and pastel-coloured facades towards an afternoon house music session by a stone boat (think of poor man’s Ibiza) makes everything alright again.

 

4. Welshness

After a summer of depressing nationalist uprisings, Brexit malarkey and Trump’s hair, there’s something comforting in the way the Welsh celebrate their heritage. With its language classes, bi-lingual signage and local talent, FN6 oozes Welshness, but in an inviting and humbly proud manner. Each night at 8.10pm the 60-strong Brythoniaid Male Voice Choir performs on the steps of the town plaza. If you can listen to their version of New Order’s Blue Monday without chills down your spine, seek help. Hynod o hyfryd.

 

5. Extracurriculars

Cabaret, comedy, spoken word, Sunday papers, vinyl workshop, open air barber chair, torchlight parade, gin and tonic masterclass… Like another culturally curious festival, Helsinki’s Flow Festival, FN6 boasts an impressive selection of extracurriculars. This menu certainly pleases the glamping hipster but, in its impressive breadth, includes unexpected treasures for everyone.

 

6. Microclimate raving

Last but not least, let me tell you about the forest.

The first thing you see is a pond with a floating stage and disco balls. You’ll hear soothing tunes which progressively ease you back into the mayhem. Perfect transition at about 3pm in the afternoon.

Wander deeper into the woods and you’ll come to a small stage decorated with antique picture frames and fairy lights – the place for some of the most memorable gigs of the weekend.

Continue trekking. You’ll pass a handful of fist-pumping hardcore technoheads as well as a small circle of hippies singing folk songs. Separately, that is.

Walk past the dog cemetery sign.

Follow the distant beat and in ten minutes you’ll end up at ‘Tangled Woods’. As the name suggests, it’s a small area covered by literally tangled trees. A wooden little DJ booth feeds into a surreal mini-rave with the happiest crowd you can imagine. A small path takes you to a cliff with breathtaking views of the Atlantic. Someone casually drops the fact that you’re now inside a microclimate. Music changes from swing to house and back. People start climbing trees. A man dressed as golden stallion is busting some serious moves on a stump.

You really should have been there.

 

Words MARIA KIVIMAA

Photography FESTIVAL NO 6