Driving through the beautiful Norfolk countryside to Houghton Festival on Thursday afternoon expectations were high. Despite it being the first edition the event had sold out well ahead of time – testament to how well respected the promoters are and with Fabric main man Craig Richards curating the line-up I was expecting a classy affair. As with all things new I wasn’t quite sure exactly what to expect but with the sunshine beaming down and rumours of a 24 hour music license I was anticipating something special.
By the time I arrived around 8pm on Thursday the campsite was pretty much already full to the brim – with shouts of ‘Lets ave it’ booming out clearly everyone else was just as keen. After getting quickly set up and having a couple of drinks I headed towards the main arena to explore the never used before section of the Houghton Hall grounds. Some slight teething problems meant that the lake area (which included 4 of the 9 stages) was still under construction and could not be accessed. The lake was eventually opened on Friday afternoon however ‘The Warehouse’ a barn like building housing a huge dancefloor didn’t open until late Friday night where Deadbeat warmed up for Sonja Moonear. The Swiss DJ churned out groovy minimal to an enthusiastic crowd sneaking in smooth cuts like ‘Robag Wruhme – Wolluwe’ before the Romanian duo of Raresh & Rhadoo played back to back until late Saturday morning. Clearly for minimal fans this was a real treat worth waiting for.
With the lake closed this gave everyone the chance to explore the rest of the festival and so I headed to ‘The Quarry’; a subterranean bowl with impeccably crisp sound and mind blowing lazers. Across the different stages the sound was clean and clear, the bass thumping and the visuals were a treat for the eyes. Without a doubt amongst the best sound I’ve ever heard at a festival I descended into the quarry just in time to catch Leeds hero Ralph Lawson closing his set with a selection of house jams. Move D followed with a splattering of quality acid house before transitioning into vocal house and disco, a genre well represented across the weekend. At the same time ‘Hammer’, one half of Bicep, was busy hammering out the bouncy house and electro in ‘The Old Grammarphone’ a small tent decorated with comfy sofa’s, coffee tables and an old piano. One of my favourite stages it had a great house party vibe complete with ravers dancing on the furniture – an excellent way to end the first night of a festival. Walking back to the tent ‘Nathan Fake – The Sky Was Pink (James Holden Remix)’ echoed around the campsite providing one last moment of euphoria just before the music finished around 4am (Thursday was the only night without a 24 hour license).
Percolate residents ‘Krywald & Farrer’ opened the main stage on Friday afternoon with a fine selection of afro and jazz infused chug house. Set adjacent to the lake with the sun beaming down and a Turkish flatbread in hand this was the perfect way to ease back into the groove. The excellent selection of food on offer was tasty and there were plenty of places to sit and eat either in the sunshine or shade. The stages were well set out for minimal sound clash and the bars well stocked and staffed. By the time the lake opened it was evident just how much effort the promoters had taken to ensure this was a weekend to remember. Dotted all around the beautiful lake were deckchairs, hammocks, benches and chill out spots. In ‘The Orchard’ next to the lake I found a sauna, Thai massage, cinema, yoga & meditation, a compliments tent and even a pop up theatre in a caravan. ‘The Pavillion’ set in the middle of thick woodland housed a booming sound system put through its paces by Midland throwing down his unique brand of banging UK bass tinged techno and later Cassy mellowing the mood with summery tech house, both on Friday night. Unsurprising this stage was at its busiest on Sunday morning where Craig Richards played back to back with Riccardo Villalobos between 3am & 11am, continuing in the secret party ‘The Terminus’ well into Sunday afternoon (initially accessible only by ‘train’), after Margaret Dygas had thumped out 5 hours of clean and classy techno. With extra long DJ sets, incredible sound and a well-educated crowd the headliners were able to dig deep, take their time and really exhibit their own unique vibe.
On Saturday night the main stage really came alive with a DJ set from Nicholas Jaar. Playing to a packed crowd he laid down African inspired percussive workouts alongside party starting piano house and smooth electro such as subby t favourite ‘Claro Intelecto – Peace of Mind’. While lacking the class of his live set it was perfect warm up music for the night ahead. At the same time another sub:terranea favourite Radioactive Man was showcasing cuts from his new album during his live set in The Pavillion – later he would play a reggae set, one of many artists to play more than once across the weekend (Craig Richards was scheduled 4 times). But my real highlight of the festival would come from Andrew Weatherall playing for 5 hours on Saturday night in The Quarry. Master of the slow burn he transitioned through slow acid chuggers, emotive house and a medley of incredibly posh tunes culminating in ‘Talaboman – Losers Hymm’ sending shivers down my spine. In complete control of the turntables and the crowd throughout he showcased his decades of experience and cemented his reputation as one of the most in demand DJ’s around. Across the rest of the weekend Floating Points could be found jamming out sun kissed disco in The Pavilion on Sunday afternoon before US techno don Convextion showcased his rare live set. Elsewhere Hearthrob played his live set in the ‘Magic Carpet’ tent while avant garde Spanish flicks were played in the cinema to punters happily snoozing in deck chairs. Meanwhile Seth Troxler happily chatted away while ordering a plate of chips before his 2 DJ sets on Sunday. Alongside acts like Cobblestone Jazz closing the main stage on Sunday night or Pete Leung’s chill out music early in the day Craig Richards had compiled a who’s who of in demand electronic artists to suit a variety of broad tastes.
Despite the aforementioned late opening of a few stages and some frustratingly long queues across the weekend the organisation of the festival was superb. The security presence while strong was friendly and helpful, timetables & maps were handed out at the info desk (if you could find it), hot showers were available on the campsite and the toilets were cleaned daily! Even taking into account the high ticket prices and the expensive alcohol; with the clear investment in the stages, sound systems and chill out areas overall I personally believe the festival offers excellent value for money. Without a doubt it’s fair to say that Houghton had well and truly exceeded my already high expectations. All that remains to be seen is whether they can repeat the feat again in 2018? My money is on yes.
photo credits Jake Davis (fb.com/hungryvisuals)