In 2017, Houghton Festival debuted and changed the game. The U.K. underground scene needed a festival like Houghton. In 2018, not only did it live up to the hype of last years; it delivered way beyond the expectations of returning ravers and curious first-timers.
For too long, the U.K. festival scene has been damaged by 1-hour DJ sets and poor sound systems…but not anymore. Houghton is a 4-day festival in the woods of Kings Lynn, Norfolk with a 24-hour licence – curated by Craig Richards, produced by Gottwood and sound engineered by some of the team at fabric – that goes from sunrise to sunset and back again three times over.
When you first step foot on the site, you feel something special. The whole site has the X-factor that you look for in a festival and it’s really not difficult to see what attracted Gottwood and Craig to Houghton Hall in the first place. Each stage (12 in total) has its own personality and none of it is forced – it’s just taken a little bit of imagination from the team behind the festival to bring the site to life.
Houghton in 2018 had plenty of new additions and improvements. Once again, there were lengthy extended sets for everyone (3-6 hours), as well as DJs playing multiple sets over the weekend. The site was bigger than last year, with three new stages and two lakeside pop-up restaurants. Like last year, there was very limited signal which is a blessing until you lose your girlfriend for almost five hours…
‘The Clearing’, a 360-degree dance floor was added to the left of the Pavillion with the ‘Tantrum’ located to the left of the arena entrance near The Quarry. The third addition was Trevino’s – part-dance floor/part record-store – named after the late drum N bass producer Marcus Intalex, aka Trevino. Put together by Cafe Artum, Ransom Note, Vinyl Curtain and Temple of Vinyl, Trevino’s felt like another well-planned addition; acting as a hub for festival attendees to hang out, purchase new records and listen to specially curated talks and panels. Sir Andrew Weatherall lead an interesting conversation discussing his career to date on Saturday afternoon.
Two major gripes. Although there were more toilets this year, most of them were terribly kept and by late Saturday they were mostly unusable (honestly, what’s wrong with people?). Secondly, the moving of the DJ booth in The Quarry seemed like an odd move. With the booth now high above the crowd on the left-hand-side instead of front and central at eye-level, the stage lost its intimacy and the crowd on the dance floor felt very disconnected from the DJ compared to other stages.
The festival began on Thursday night with Adam Shelton impressively opening The Warehouse, teasing high energy techno before Cassy took to the decks. With so many of the crowd choosing to get to the festival on the first night, each DJ was given the opportunity to express themselves to good sized crowds. The night ended with Ralph Lawson in Tantrum, raising the roof with New Order’s Blue Monday.
Friday afternoon into Friday evening/Saturday morning was potentially the best part of the festival. Adam Shelton took to the decks for the second time – this time at Trevino’s – before things really got cooking at The Clearing. Omar into Voigtmann into Binh into Francesco Del Garda was genius programming and the atmosphere was at a fever pitch all the way through till sunrise. With 360-degree sound and the DJ located in the middle of the stage, the dance floor gathered all around the DJ, creating a Boiler Room-esque feel throughout.
Green Velvet’s Stormy Weather (dropped by Omar) was perfect with the grey clouds starting to form above. Voigtmann followed on with an inspired set, Z@p – Tracid sent the crowd into hysteria. Binh (slightly) toned it down from his usual high-energy electro, focusing on the groove before Francesco Del Garda really went in, showing us why he’s one of the most respected artists on the scene right now. There were plenty of choices for the ‘set of the weekend’, and all four of these rated as worthy contenders.
Saturday had a lot to live up to but it eventually got there. Horse Meat Disco got the best weather of the weekend. Playing on the open-air Derren Smart Stage (also named after one of Craig’s late friends), they brought back the feeling of Space Ibiza Terraza, dropping Balearic anthems all afternoon with classics from Chic and Michael Jackson thrown in for good measure.
Earlier at The Pavillion, London-based duo Hamish Cole and Toby Nicolas played the first of two fantastic sets. With so many of their friends making up the dance floor, the atmosphere here was as electric as the festival had to offer. The Ghost and Digby followed on before Sonja Moonear put together three hours of hands-on-head moments in the rain. Sonja was the first of many headline names as the festival reached its peak late Saturday night. Andrew Weatherall, Midland, Magda, Barac, Zip, Otipmo and Nicolas Lutz were all programmed between 12-4am making it impossible to choose one stage.
This level of programming saw the festival crowd widely spread across the whole site, meaning no stage was overcrowded. Nicolas Lutz (Pavillion) stood out with a masterclass in weird, hypnotic minimal with plenty of dub. Midland (Old Gramophone) was outstanding weaving from acid house to electronica in style. Barac (The Warehouse) did exactly what you would expect of any Romanian artist and Optimo (The Clearing) eased from genre-to-genre with a captivating set in the woods.
Zip (Magic Carpet), unfortunately, was the odd one out. As good as the music was, his set fell flat on the system in the Magic Carpet. Surely Zip would have been a better fit playing on one of four different stages where his brand of minimal could have really excelled on the better systems?
On Sunday, our eyes finally turned to the Terminus stage. This year, the open-air dance floor tucked away in the trees by the entrance ran almost all the way through, with plenty of other artists given the chance to play the arena that got so many people talking last year. Sunday’s programme included Nicolas Lutz b2b Craig Richards, The Ghost, Margaret Dygas, Binh and Sonja Moonear. The queue reached an hour at one point, with many refusing to leave due to a number of scheduling changes. At one point, those who left were greeted by the cheers and applause of those braving the queue.
Those who stuck around amidst the changes were rewarded with another blinder from Dygas. Her transition taking over from The Ghost was seamless, with the highlights coming from two unusual curveballs. Switching up her old school house sound in both sets, dropping DJ Deller – Romantic Call and a beast of a UK garage track with the vocals ‘rudeboi’ and ‘rudegyal’ went down a treat! Binh and Sonja Moonear closed out the stage, with Ricardo sitting behind the booth as a spectator for the last few hours.
Last year, Craig Richards played over 20 hours and this year he probably played more. His individual set on Sunday evening at The Pavillion was outstanding, working in broken techno, mind-bending minimal and those records that purr so beautifully out of the fabric main room system.
Houghton ran past 2 am, with closing sets from Helena Hauff, Tristan da Cunha, Andrew Weatherall and Sean Johnstone, e/tape and Sonja Moonear (who closed at midnight). This little gem of a festival once again delivered. It all comes down to the attention to detail to absolutely everything and the depth of the lineup. It’s bigger brother in the woods in Wales has created a loyal following over the last decade, and it looks like Houghton is set to do the same. We’re only two years in and you get the feeling Craig Richards and his wild imagination is just getting started…
Words by Andrew Leese, with contributions from Amy Hocknell and Chris Nicolls
© All Photography by Here & Now