Right now across the country you can safely bet that attendees of last weekend’s Houghton festival are still doing their utmost to fight off the blues that have been strongly felt since it ended on Monday.
Some will spend their days watching special moments captured on video, sharing track IDs with friends and online music groups or simply staring into space in a state of awe, wishing just one more day could be had in this magical place. Some will read this review, which serves as a purpose to document a fraction of the memories, help those that went re-live the highlights and cement exactly why those that didn't go should be adding this festival to the very top of their to do list.
Houghton Festival has been a popular topic of conversation since its announcement back in December last year. With the much loved Gottwood Festival and revered fabric resident Craig Richards at the helm of operations, we knew preparations were in good hands. This combined with the prospect of an extended music license and an exceptional lineup expertly curated by Richards himself made for an exciting concept from the outset. And they most certainly delivered.
The site is nestled away in the idyllic and intimate grounds of Houghton Hall, Norfolk. The mansion itself is a spectacular image as you complete the last leg of the journey there, down an impressively long driveway. An intense feeling hits that you’re soon to be confined in the countryside, well hidden away from everyday life. The car park, the camp site and the main arena are all in close proximity of each other, making it easy to get around and a joy to explore.
The stages all have their own unique properties and across the weekend we would attempt to discover them all. The opening night served as a warm up and only part of the festival was accessible. We took this opportunity to check out the Quarry, a deep pit surrounded by woodland which held the sound perfectly. Move D closed the first night here with a blend of house, techno and disco classics. Finishing at 4am, this gave revellers the chance to get some rest before the remainder of the festival which would open the next day and remain so until the end.
Friday allowed for a proper inspection of the surroundings as it became access all areas. First we made for a pleasant stroll around the lake, which of course somebody dived into for a short-lived dip (in all fairness it was rather warm from the sunshine, which luckily lasted all weekend). On the other side of the lake we found the Pavilion - a large woodland area in which many would spend a large chunk of their festival (more on that later).
When night time hit, the minimal fans among us swarmed to the Warehouse, a more industrial stage fitting of this genre. In here the decks were shared for almost 12 hours, firstly by Sonja Moonear and her heavy hitting groovers, followed by the more melodic sounds of Raresh before the deeper, equally Romanian flavours continued with Rhadoo.
By this point it was 8am and there were not more than 50 dedicated ravers poised and willing to crack on with the session. When midday hit and those who were rested started to resurface, we thought it best to get some rest ourselves. It is however difficult to call it a day when the sun is shining and the music isn't stopping.
It wasn't long before we were back up and out, sampling the tantalising selection of food on offer. Fleetwood Mac & Cheese was a hit, as was The Sausage & Mash Company and Seth Troxler’s Smokey Tails. Energy replenished, we made it to the Derren Smart stage, a modest sized main stage area that was privy to fine production across the weekend and a stream of ear tingling live acts and DJ sets.
Nicolas Jaar spun through an eclectic selection of his own productions, some deep and eery, some skanking, some rather heavy and even a slice of old school rave courtesy of Smart E’s - ‘Loo’s Control’, complete with a catchy piano riff that sent the crowd wild.
Later that night was without doubt the highlight of the entire weekend; Ricardo Villalobos and Craig Richards back to back in the woods at The Pavilion. Many of us were left speechless after almost 12 hours of impeccable selecting from two legends who are no stranger to sharing the DJ booth. This time was however like no other.
A deep respect burned between them as the two long time friends conjured up one of the most memorable sets heard. Deep, intricate, jazz infused techno spilled through from early morning to early afternoon as the two delved far down into their hefty back catalogues.
The epic four minute breakdown of Ricardo Villalobos’ Trip Through Tools remix of ‘The Contempt’ will forever echo through our minds as we continue to remember what even the atheists among us described as a most biblical experience, in the sun filled forest that had now become our church. If we hadn’t already been convinced us, we now knew for sure we would be making an annual pilgrimage back to this place.
On to the afterparty in the Terminus stage, hidden deep in another wood trap near the main site gates. Those wandering through the festival at the right time would catch the train right to the gates of this safe haven where Binh kept us going for the afternoon. Before long, day turned back to night and Villalobos was back out, this time on the Derren Smart stage to showcase his Vilod live performance, which is essentially a jamming session between himself, Max Louderbauer and Claudio Puntin. Deep and weird jazzy, minimal bliss coming direct from the modular synth and a woodwind.
Cobblestone Jazz followed with an even more delightful live performance before we finished off the night in the Magic Carpet, an intimate little tent housing Tristan Da Cunha. The Gottwood favourite made for a fitting choice to see this incredible weekend out with those deep, dirty house records he is so well known for from his time as resident at Back to Basics in Leeds.
As the clock struck 4am however, the inevitable happened and the festival drew to a close. Emotions were high as the reality set in; tears were shed as friends new and old embraced in disbelief, already reflecting on what had been an epic weekend and what will continue to be the most talked about UK festival in the underground circuit. Houghton Festival and Craig Richards, we must congratulate you on just how spot on you made it. The countdown begins as we relish the opportunity to do it all again next year.