A brand new festival produced by Gottwood and musically curated by Craig Richards was never going to be ordinary. In its first year, Houghton produced arguably the standout festival of the British summer. But what made it so special? Trommel’s Andrew Leese investigates…
When fabriclondon was forced to close its doors, resident DJ Craig Richards stepped outside of the clubs four walls and began to play different venues around the country. Richards had just turned 50 and was going through a period of reflection, he had convinced himself the power of social media wasn’t enough to reopen the club and was beginning to look at the next chapter of his life.
In a recent interview with XLR8R, Richards described his involvement with Houghton as a ‘calling’. Richards claims he was never meant to be involved as he was but the closure of fabric forced his hand. When asked what made Houghton so special, Richards goes on to say, “I think the success comes from the level of restraint and simplicity. We spent money in the right areas, on the sound and the music. We didn’t have anything for sale or anything too flash. I tried to keep it simple, but pure. I didn’t want sponsors or to have anything for sale. I wanted it as simple as possible. I think that’s what a lot of people appear to have liked.”
At last year’s festival, Richards was on the decks for over 20 hours. He spontaneously opened up the festival with a six-hour set on Thursday night, before playing a marathon eight and a half hours alongside Ricardo Villalobos on Saturday night into Sunday morning. His third set was a captivating back-to-back with Nicolas Lutz. Richards’ approach to music was at the heart of this festival and it showed. All of the artists booked for Houghton are personally invited by Craig and are a true reflection of his expansive musical taste.
Houghton remains the only UK summer festival to fuse art, music and sculpture, whilst its licence uniquely allows musical programming of both sunset and sunrise. The 24-hour programming allowed Richards to be creative. The multiple stages opened throughout different parts of the festival, much like it does at Sunwaves; allowing the programming to flow naturally instead of building up the music like you would in a club.
The lineup was also asked to play sets they wouldn’t normally play. There was electro from Adam Shelton, dub reggae from Andrew Weatherall, an unplanned, yet inspiring back-to-back from Sonja Moonear and Voigtmann and unidentifiable house bangers from Raresh, who dropped his trademark minimal throughout a masterful four hour set in The Warehouse from 4 am to 8 am. Then there was Margaret Dygas. Playing at 7 am on the ‘secret stage’ on Sunday morning (at the same time as Ricardo and Craig played The Pavilion) Dygas brought what you would expect from her but with added weirdness and magic – for me and many others it was the best set of the festival.
One of the artists who played a major role in the first year was one of Craig’s most trusted accomplices, Seth Troxler. Seth played two sets, one daytime in a smaller more intimate setting, before making the short walk to the Warehouse where Troxler commanded the space at peak time. But it wasn’t just the artists who were won over by Houghton. Leading industry heads were able to escape their busy lives and join in the fun – with no phone signal, VIP or artist areas, everybody was together on the dance floor and the surrounding areas by the lake. There was a fluidity throughout the whole weekend, with festival lovers gliding through the scenic grounds claiming land next to unusual sculptures throughout Houghton Hall. There was even morning yoga for the early risers or for the ones without sleep.
So what does 2018 hold? The second edition sold out in a few hours, which is exactly the level of trust Richards is looking for. The hype around the first festival has allowed Houghton to book new names alongside the main ticket sellers.
Notably, there is a real lack of Romanian artists this year. There is no Raresh or Rhadoo on the lineup but we do get debut appearances from Zip, The Mole (who plays twice), Francesca del Garda, Barac and Digby – five artists who very rarely play in the U.K.
Minimal titans Ricardo Villalobos, Sonja Moonear, Margaret Dygas and Nicolas Lutz all return and will no doubt draw huge crowds for their sets. The stripped back house music sound that is so popular within the One Records camp is strongly represented with Adam Shelton, Subb-an, Voitgmann and Tristan Da Cunha. Away from the minimal trip, there is plenty of diversity. Mathew Jonson, Radioactive Man, Lost Souls Of Saturn and Rex Axes are some of the standout live performers alongside DJ sets from Madga, Andrew Weatherall, Ben UFO, Prosumer, Joy Orbison and Roman Flugel.
Then there is London collective Brilliant Corners who once again team up with the Analogue Foundation to present ‘Giant Steps’. Those in the know will be well aware of the new Hackney Wick venue by the canal that has become London’s most talked about hangout spot this summer. Last year, Brilliant Corners space was an audiophile house party – complete with a wooden dance floor, plants and throw cushions. Best of all, a vintage Technics turntable unit brought something completely different that totally fit the vibe of what Houghton was all about.
Houghton is set to be another highlight of the summer but with so much hype, will the festival live up to the newcomer’s expectations? After year one, I’m pretty confident it will but we all know it’s never been the music or the booking policy that affects English festivals, it’s the sound and the weather…
Houghton Festival takes place August 9 – 13 at Houghton Hall, King’s Lynn, Norfolk.