Houghton Festival review: an oasis in the desert

We sent Jonathan Coll to Houghton Festival 2023. Here's what he thought about the Norfolk electronic haven..

Skiddle Staff

Date published: 16th Aug 2023

To cut straight to the chase, Houghton Festival went off in ways you couldn’t even imagine; retaining its title as the best festival in the country. Word has even spread to the nation’s Royal Family, with Kate Middleton being spotted at the festival over the course of the weekend, with a Rinse FM residency surely to follow. The Daily Mail article that broke the story described the festival as “very upper class”, and while that’s hardly the first time they’ve printed absolute nonsense, we’re happy to report what actually went down in the Norfolk countryside. 

Going to the same festival in two consecutive years can often feel like a mistake - as if trying to capture lightning in a bottle twice. Reality can often struggle to keep pace with your memories, and returning to the same dancefloor once the smoke has cleared can often be disappointing. Fortunately, Houghton was the exception that disproved the rule. 


Having been established by Craig Richards and his Fabric team, their love for electronic music pours out of every corner of the festival site. The attention to detail is sublime, with art installations, sculptures and gorgeous lighting illuminating the woodland. Each of the stages has its own distinct character, enhanced by some of the crispest sound design in the country. 

The festival wasn’t quite identical to last year though, with a couple of minor tweaks evident across the site. The main Derren Smart stage was revamped to include a more prominent stage area for the enhanced array of live acts, and the Tantrum stage was more compact, which allowed for a more immersive experience. The most notable change was in the Warehouse, with London-based visual collective Weirdcore providing a spectacular visual display. This came to the fore during Bjarki’s audiovisual performance on Friday night, with vivid, twisted visuals accompanying his typically relentless techno. The 3D projections that accompanied Scuba’s remix of Audion’s Mouth to Mouth were incredible, and, with the right musical programming, the stage could be one of the festival’s best. 


That honour, however, for now at least, belongs to Terminus. The 24-hour stage has the feel of a festival entirely of its own, with the two-hour queue to match. Nestled at the bottom of a woodland path, the entire dancefloor is surrounded by trees and foliage as the most incredible sound washes over the most dedicated heads at the festival. The lineup remains a closely guarded secret, with an array of DJs popping up at all hours of the day. 

Like most live music events, there were a handful of hiccups, with the likes of Ricardo Villalobos and Helena Hauff being unable to make it to Norfolk. With the rest of the lineup being as stacked as it was, it was easy enough to shuffle the deck and find people to deputise. Zip took Villalobos’s much fêted Sunday sunrise set and laid down a similar minimal, typically percussive style that would’ve made his friend Ricardo proud. 


The highlight of the 05:00-08:00 slots was undoubtedly Midland, who this year had moved from the more expansive Derren Smart stage to the more intimate and scenic surroundings of the Pavilion. It was a sublime three hours that rolled between his more typical house cuts, to bassier tunes like Pariah’s thumping remix of Nettle Dweller.

Musically, Houghton is on another planet to the rest of its UK counterparts. Individual track IDs are hard to come by, and the overwhelming impression is that each of the artists spends all year collecting secret weapons to unleash at the apex of the UK festival season. No set epitomised this more than Ben UFO; an avalanche of UKG bangers which brought an unrivalled, chaotic energy to Houghton’s Saturday night. He did reach for a couple of favourites, both old and new, with Pangaea’s Installation and DJ Loveshy’s Flowdan edit rattling the Earthling stage. 


Despite not being able to land my finger on many of the tunes I heard this weekend, there’s always something to be learned about the general trend of the UK clubbing scene. If Houghton is anything to go by, UK garage is king and drum & bass is back. Calibre’s liquid set on Saturday night was mesmerising, and DBridge closed the Outburst stage with heavier cuts. Pangaea brought the curtain down on the Derren Smart stage on Sunday night, with a couple of dreamy, piano-tinged ambient tracks capping off the most extraordinary weekend of electronic music. The crowd once again were an absolute pleasure. A group of the most switched-on, good-natured people you can ever hope to meet, and I hope to meet them exactly where I left them this time next year. 

The 2022 edition of Houghton was remarkable, though the intervening 12 months have felt particularly grim for much of the UK. Houghton Festival is an oasis in the desert, and that feeling of kinship that I felt on the dancefloor this weekend will sustain us all as we prepare to return to work on the dreariest of Tuesdays. It’s The Street’s Weak Become Heroes come to life - Come have a dance now, see you later, pleased to meet you, likewise, a pleasure


Jonathan Coll



Check out our What's On Guide to discover even more rowdy raves and sweaty gigs taking place over the coming weeks and months. For festivals, lifestyle events and more, head on over to our Things To Do page or be inspired by the event selections on our Inspire Me page.








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