As soon as Houghton was announced back in December last year, it had the feeling of something special. The combination of Craig Richards and Gottwood was a match made in heaven. Add in a line-up of Fabric favourites alongside superb sound systems and incredible scenery and you’ve got something special indeed.
The festival itself – curated by Richards and produced by Gottwood – took place at Houghton Hall in the sleepy village of Kings Lynn, Norfolk. As you entered the festival either by car or on foot, the hall and stables were the first things you saw if you looked to your right. The site sat amongst acres of British woodland with a wide, dreamy lake taking centre stage. Immediately you could see the similarities to Gottwood’s festival site, with the finely crafted white house sitting beautifully within its surroundings.
Because of the surroundings, there were very few sound restrictions and even less signage and phone signal, encouraging festival attendees to discover and lose themselves at every opportunity. Stages were open and closed throughout the weekend with the 24-hour licencing proving to be a huge win. Music ran nonstop from Friday morning through to the early hours of Monday, meaning almost every act was given time (3-7 hours) to flex their muscles and express themselves on punchy systems that were clear throughout the whole festival. Some DJs (Adam Shelton, Andrew Weatherall, Seth Troxler and Floating Points) played two or three times over the weekend. Others stayed for the whole weekend, joining in on spontaneous B2Bs. Margaret Dygas b2b Sonja Moonear was an unexpected but very welcome treat.
Every stage at Houghton felt like its own little world. The way the Quarry was set up felt very similar to Exit Festival’s Dance Arena. Andrew Weatherall played an incredible chugging acid house set that didn’t go above 120 bpm for the whole time. Optimo closed the stage later that morning with Nina Simone’s I Feel Good in what was a very surreal moment. Tired hands hung in the air, hugs were shared and people who were sat down on the side suddenly stood up stomping around to the beat singing along to the vocals.
It was the sunset moments at Houghton that will stay with me for a long time. Raresh ditched his normal minimal sound for a more uptempo house sound, pacing his 4-8 am set brilliantly in the Warehouse. The Romanian was a definite highlight, alongside Sonja Moonear who played before him, and then again later that day (Saturday) at the Terminus Stage aka ‘The Secret Stage’ that was only accessible by train for the first two days. Unfortunately, Rhadoo failed to live to standards set before him playing a rather moody set in the sunshine.
With so much going on there was little time for sleep. The Terminus Stage (hidden away near the main entrance) was my favourite of the festival. The dance floor felt like a well-hidden bunker inside the woods. The hexagon shaped dance floor was a perfect size, with long, narrow trees towering above you from all angles. Margaret Dygas (Sunday morning) put together the set of the weekend, taking you on a four-hour journey of twisted minimal tech. This was then followed by an unannounced set by Villalobos and Richards, Binh and a majestic four-hour B2B by Nicolas Lutz and Richards (who I swear didn’t sleep all weekend).
This brings me onto the set almost everybody was curious about. Craig Richards B2B Ricardo Villalobos brought the biggest crowd of the weekend to the incredible Pavillion stage. The setting could not have been more perfect. Deep foliage surrounded the decks, with red, green and blue lights dancing in between the trees above. With the stage being on a hill, the beginning was uncomfortably busy as the two of them traded dull, unadventurous rollers that literally went nowhere for the first hour or so. As the crowd thinned and the sun came up, things started to get better. Villalobos dropping ‘The Contempt’ was a highlight, but him disappearing for a while and playing a drone sound for a ridiculously long time wasn’t. Some described the set was ‘biblical’ which at times it was, but for me there were far too many moments where you were waiting for something to happen.
Away from the big names, there were plenty of smaller names to discover. Mark Treadwell and Jake Manders put together one of my favourite sets of the weekend (Saturday afternoon), playing a soulful edit of Mr MacDonald – East Drive River in a dreamy two-hour set. It was the perfect soundtrack for the crew and me, who lay outside the Magic Carpets tent in a dazed like state staring up at ever changing sky.
Away from the music, there was also plenty to do. You could sunbathe by the lake on deck chairs, watch a crazy guitar player play music with his teeth, take photos in a purple painted moustache van, do some yoga, get a Thai massage, relax in the sauna and go on the regular Sculpture tours running by train every morning and evening. Or if that doesn’t float your boat, you could also head back to the tent with your crew, wear pink wigs and shout out Tina Turner songs – whatever works.
Yes the queues for food were long and drinks were expensive (£6 a beer) but if you collected your Houghton cups, each one was a worth £1. Six beers on Saturday cost me a £6 in total. Had it rained this review could have a totally different feel to it and Houghton could have been a totally different experience. The hedonistic feel and intimate vibe could have been lost and all my belongings would have been ruined, as I soon discovered my tent lacked some of the qualities you need for a successful camping trip. Oops!
Houghton was one of the most comfortable festivals I’ve ever experienced. There are plenty of festivals across the U.K and Europe, but few have touched people’s hearts like Houghton Festival did.
PS – big ups to the streaker – shame the security had to ruin everyone’s fun. LET HIM GO! LET HIM GO! See you all next year for Round 2.
All photography by Jake Davis (Hungry Visuals)