Curated and produced by Craig Richards and Gottwood, there was never any doubt that Houghton’s sold-out debut outing was in very safe hands. With Richards placing emphasis on the quality of sound and talent of music on display, expectations were undoubtedly high - and he did not disappoint. Hidden amongst the grounds of Norfolk’s Houghton Hall, the festival offered a new degree of escapism, reflected in both its idyllic setting and rare 24-hour music policy. Encompassing a considered selection of food stalls, a cinema, various yoga and arty workshops, all set around a sizeable and gorgeous lake, Houghton’s ethos and aesthetic seemed to fit somewhere between Gottwood and Farr within the UK’s festival landscape. With capacity limited to 7,500, intimacy remained at the very core of its endless partying.
Akin to Gottwood, the flow of Houghton spins around its water epicentre. With the freedom afforded by non-stop music, crowds gently simmered across all corners of the festival throughout the weekend, eyes either wide and heavy from long dance-filled nights or refreshed from sleep in the reasonably warm summer air. Falling asleep and waking up to crisp clear beats a few hundred metres away felt an unusual experience at a British festival, and drew attendees into its surreal world of endless hedonism. Waking up to the final moments of the marathon eight-hour b2b between Craig Richards and Ricardo Villalobos under the woodland canopy, and hearing the cheers of a crowd still going strong as midday approached, perfectly encapsulated this sprit at the heart of Houghton’s philosophy.
With Richards at the helm, there was no shortage of big names on the DJ roster, with acts such Ricardo Villalobos, Ben UFO and Floating Points all gracing the decks for extended sets throughout the weekend. The structure of the music itself was thoughtful and creative, and with many artists playing multiple sets across the weekend you could lose yourself in Deadbeat’s electronics at the steel Warehouse stage, only to find yourself at his reggae set the following morning. The heaviest flavours, though nothing too challenging, were rooted into the night - Sonja Moonear’s deep and minimal grooves being a particular highlight. Others came in the form of live sets, including Radioactive Man’s electro pulses and Convextion’s hypnotically ambient techno, which further shook up the variety of what was on offer.
Fitting for the end of a heavy weekend, Sunday’s sun-drenched daytime bill was awash in smooth live jazz inflections of Kamaal Williams (aka Henry Wu) and later, in the equivalent of the Glastonbury ‘legend’ slot, Tony Allen. Though a rarity amongst Houghton’s heavily electronic bill, the growing crowd which, basking in the early-evening glow, gathered to hear Allen’s flawless tribute to American jazz-drumming pioneer Art Blakey was proof of their appetite for different sounds. As the sun went down and the end approached, festival-goers were spoilt for choice about how to bring in the close of the music marathon. With Seth Troxler holding down a thumping, fist-bumping set at the Warehouse, Roman Flügel built up from a sparse and atmospheric soundscape into the interlocking of dazzling, hip-shaking synth techno rhythms - a fitting closing set for an enthralling four days.
Whilst the queuing systems, introduced to regulate the popular yet intimate stages at peak times, drew the magic out of a festival and into the notion of a nightclub queue, the broader staggering success of its inaugural edition totally subsumes this minor teething problem. Houghton has well and truly stamped its mark on the festival circuit as a unique musical experience.
Words: Josie Roberts and Georgia Tobin
Photographs: Jake Davis