Weaving our way through the misty trees at 6am – with a low, thudding sound in the distance, I closed my eyes and smiled. I was reminded of why I do this.
90 minutes north of London, and we’d flagged a taxi down from the train station of this remote little village. “Off to Houghton are you?” the taxi driver says. This is the most business he’s probably made all year. We drove onto vast expanse of the Houghton estate. In the distance we see an enormous mansion. I ask the driver if that’s where the owners live. “That’s the stables”. We drive further on and he then points to what looks like a royal palace. “That’s where they live”.
The first thing that hits you arriving to Houghton Festival is the grandeur. Little surprise when you consider it’s managed by the Gottwood team. And teaming up with Craig Richards on the programming, delivered what could be probably one of the finest examples of an expertly run festival we’ve seen.
Drawing a crowd of 7000-odd within its first year, the allure was clearly there from the start. As to be expected from a boutique festival, the crowd was young, friendly, and there to get stuck in. They had a no holes barred 24 hour license, because who was there to disturb? Music never stopped, and seeing people sleeping on mattresses around the campsite late afternoon was a common site.
You lost yourself in this festival – in more ways than one. The serenity of an enormous lake, shadowed by the quintessentially ‘Gottwood’ forest – with its towering pines. It was mysterious, playful – a welcomed retreat from London life.
A star studded cast of recognisable names littered the set list, with the likes of Optimo delivering arguably one of the most memorable sets of the weekend, whilst Craig Richards endured 20 hours worth of DJing. On average sets were 4 hours long and this offered selectors the chance to explore genres and take the crowd on a journey. Notable performances came from Hunee, Andrew Weatherall with his powerful blend of disco and unheard rare crowd pleasers, and Ricardo Villalobos going B2B with Craig Richards for a seminal closing set. The lack of restrictions on music, offered a festival for the ravers. Somewhat of a middle finger to the critics of British clubbings debatably ‘dying’ culture. Houghton is a sign of better things to come.
The stages we’re captivating, with the Quarry and it’s engulfing, Amphitheatre-esque architecture, that swallows you in, and spits you back out again. North London’s Brilliant Corners hosted their own stage, with The Analogue Foundation providing a professionally engineered sonic delivery that offered complete clarity in the high frequencies, and low end that rattled your cage. Great sounding audio, was a sentiment felt across the festival, with both lighting and sound being hot topics for discussion throughout the many groups of dreary eyed souls sipping coffee in the morning.
There was an overwhelmingly positive response from anyone you spoke to at Houghton, and it’s not hard to understand why. No shortcuts were made by the team behind this, and the art was in the details. Borrowing from the successes of previous Gottwood outings, the team catered to the needs of the crowd, be it the decor, the programming or the license. A more diverse lineup could be an area for improvement, but on the whole, I think history has been in the making. Until next year Houghton.