Review: Houghton Festival 2017


Written by Oscar Henson
24 Thursday 24th August 2017

Houghton: a new festival from the creators of Gottwood, boasting non-stop music, a world-class line up and one of the best atmospheres of any festival in the UK. 



Like Gottwood, Houghton takes place in a beautiful patchwork of fields and deciduous woodland. It too is centred around a large, languid lake, with a picturesque country house at its far side. The overall aesthetic – rural and mystical, with stages, chill-out spaces and art installations nestled in hidden corners – is much the same, but the scale is upped considerably.

There are twice as many stages, ranging from small yurts (the cosy Brilliant Corners tent, decked out with wooden dance floor, sprawling house plants and a state of the art audiophile sound system) to huge outdoor arenas. The biggest and most impressive is located in the bowl of an unused quarry - its sloped edges forming a natural amphitheatre around the stage and dance floor. Climbing up on its banks provides amazing views of the dancers in the pit below – steaming, shrouded in smoke and lit up by a patchwork of strobes and lasers.



The line up, curated by Fabric's legendary musical director, Craig Richards, reads like a who's who of house and techno: Ricardo Villalobos, Ben UFO, Nicolas Jaar, Joy Orbison, Saoirse, Floating Points, Raresh, Hunee. But there is plenty to see outside of the 4x4 framework. Before Ben UFO and Joy Orbison on Friday night, the crowd is warmed with a drum and bass double bill of dBridge and Calibre. On Saturday evening, Fela Kuti’s drummer Tony Allen performs a live tribute to legendary Blue Note jazz drummer Art Blakey. During daylight hours we stumble upon anything from cosmic jazz to Japanese disco, dub and abstract electronics.

Line up aside, the big selling point is the festival’s 24 hour music policy. Despite being the norm in Berlin, Amsterdam and elsewhere in mainland Europe, non-stop parties are pretty much unheard of in the UK. We just can’t be trusted to it: pacing yourself for a weekend of non-stop dancing involves restraint and control, and that’s just not something us Brits can really pride ourselves on.

At Houghton, though, things keep moving for 3 days straight. The party never winds down – instead morphing and flowing fluidly from one day into the next. The effect is an acute, amplified awareness of the festival’s complete detachment from everyday life. Stripped of the natural rhythm of night and day, the weekend becomes a single, surreal stretch to get lost in.



The weekend's timetable also follows a continental timescale, with most DJs handed slots of between four and eight hours. Across the weekend, Craig Richards plays for more than 20 hours in total, including an 8 hour non-stop set alongside Chilean minimal house legend Ricardo Villalobos from 3 – 11 am on the Sunday morning. (By 4 pm, he’s back behind the decks for a further 4 hour session). Over such long periods of time, 4x4 dance music becomes hypnotic and trance-inducing – an effect rarely achieved properly in UK clubs, where hype-hungry promoters tend towards cramming as many big names onto a single night’s line up as physically possible.



This 24-hour format lends itself to some truly special moments. When we arrive at the secret, secluded Terminus stage at sunrise on Sunday morning, Perlon favourite Margret Dygas greets us with a wave and a cheerful ‘good morning’. The music she plays us is loose and otherworldly. Languid drums barely hang together, and abstract textures skirt around muffled tones in their midst. Morning sun warms us through a clearing in the trees. The scene is anything but ordinary. On dance floors elsewhere in the UK, 6 am will be ushering in last orders at the bar, and frantic dancers will be squeezing as much from the last fe. But with 4 hours ahead of us, we’re in no rush - free to appreciate a tranquil time of day so rarely afforded its own soundtrack.



The team behind Houghton know what works. While a good line up is important, a festival is made great by the experiences it facilitates. Setting and atmosphere are crucial. The 24-hour parallel universe created at Houghton delivered on all of these fronts in abundance.  


Photos by Jake Davis.


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