Houghton festival 2018: an idyllic paradise, composed of woodland experiences, good people, and soundtracked by a fine selection of music. It was a roaring few days, a long weekend that tantalised all of the senses; from Barac blessing our ears with a sterling performance, to the taste of artisan food, right the way through to the sight of Houghton lake at sunrise, each step led to something different, something slightly more enchanting than the last. The unrelenting beat of music rung around the site at all times, in a place where the sound never stops, and the sun never seems to set.
This was our second time at Houghton, but my first time personally. There was a palpable sense of excitement when we drove past Houghton Hall, as the murmurings on the coach began to rise in volume. The surrounding woodland made the walk to the festival site pleasant, and the queue moved swiftly, bringing us into the campsite early on Friday evening. With everything soon prepared, and our phones without signal, we were all set, ready to dive head first into the wondrous pool of Houghton. And that’s exactly what we did.
There were infinite times of wonderment that we could list in appreciation, but we’ve whittled it down to a select few items. The sort of moments that really are special, those that leave a firm impression on your conscience. So here we have it: our standout moments from Houghton festival 2018.
Jane Fitz – Terminus
The Secret Stage. Off the beaten track, set far away from the main arena, this was a set to remember. Walking down a light gradient, flanked by trees, we came across the wooded hut around ten am. Jane Fitz was in full flow, providing an energetic set that flittered between hard and soft right the way through. We noticed Francesco Del Garda appear in the booth, but before he came on, an absolute roller rung through the soundystem. A pronounced kick whipped the beat along, as the rolling bassline pummeled the surrounding space. Driving, dark, and wobbling, this is exactly what we wanted in the late Saturday morning. It turned out to be this little number below: the B side to the Unexpected EP by Kapuchon and Benny Rodrigues, released in 2011. What a wobbler. The crowd jolted into cheers of elation, ever so receptive to Fitz’s selections, and it was smiles all round at brunch time.
Barac – The Warehouse
A smokescreen interspersed with red light was the backdrop for Barac’s set in the early hours of Sunday morning. We entered through the right hand side, settling in a spot near the front, and as we did, the mysterious sound of Ijzeren Rots began to echo round the warehouse. The shimmering piano bells paved the way for the incoming kick drum, as strands of red light flickered into blue. It was a lovely moment to say the least, evidenced by the Romanian’s grin from cheek to cheek. The journey went on, and evolved as it went, darting between slow and soft, to hard and fast. After turning to a friend, and shouting mumbled words into each others ears, we both agreed that, in the musical form, this was craftsmanship liked we’d never seen before; theater in it’s rawest sense, real life cinema, composed of a space, a beat and a soundsystem. Barac was in tune with the floor like we had never previously seen, sensing the to and fro of the crowd’s energy. We must have been two hours in when a soothing, yet similarly eerie, vocal began to reverberate around the metallic walls. It certainly had an Arabic sounding twinge to it, almost desert like, with the occasional pulsing bleep to keep everyone on their toes. See the track below, a stunning remix of Transform’s Transformation.
Ricardo Villalobos – The Pavillion
Ricardo. Ricardo, Ricardo, Ricardo. It was mid-morning, around 5am on Sunday, when we ambled over to The Pavillion, a woodland stage set deep within a line of tress. The forest cover had us enshrouded, stowed away; ourselves enveloped, but our minds adrift, within the dreamy soundscape of Ricardo Villalobos. With a view of Houghton lake in the background, the sunrise set pulled deeply on our heartstrings, meandering between pounding minimal into volleys of emotional vocals. DJ Koze’s Pick Up made an appearance, underneath a moving acid number, that left us wondering whether this was the standout set of the weekend; while Sound Patrol’s Cruisin’ with the top down came in and out to raucous applause from an ever-so-hungry audience. Another highlight was hearing Cajmere’s Let me be, along with a stunning edit of Never Grow Old, that swept through the forest like a wave. Once again, we bore witness to a master at work.
Margaret Dygas – The Old Gramophone
But alas, the Chilean’s time had come. We yearned for one last track, residing in the same spot for a few minutes, before achingly accepting the set was over. It was now ten am on Sunday morning, and we were desperately looking for a continuous beat. We hurriedly made our way back to the main arena, saying few words as we went. The setting, along with the moment itself, was enough to minimise conversation, aside from the occasional sigh of awe at what we’d just witnessed. At ten in the morning, and after such a momentous occasion, we were expecting ambient music to be emanating from the main arena. Some of the larger tents were completely shut, until we stumbled upon The Old Gramophone. We made our way in after hearing a thumping beat from the outside, moving through the crowd to the middle. It was there that we caught a glimpse of the DJ: Margaret Dygas, whipping the ten am crowd into a frenzy. The tempo sometimes slowed as she introduced the occasional garage beat, very much needed after the antics of the previous day and night, before ratcheting up the pace again with a whopping minimal kick. It really was top draw stuff from the irrevocable German talent.
Off the top of our heads, those are the standout moments of Houghton that deserve a mention. The big’uns and the occasions, the experiences that leave a real memory. We’ll go on to detail the smaller things that made this such a special weekend: the deck chairs overlooking the lake; the hammocks tied from tree to tree; the choo choo train that travels to the secret stage; the secret stage itself, good food, good people, and, above all, a record shop and stage called Trevino’s, named in dedication to the late great Marcus Intalex.
These little novelties and oddities are what give Houghton its character, it’s niche. And it’s location provides the overarching feeling of comfort, but it’s the music that forms Houghton’s truly infectious atmosphere; an atmosphere that allows punters to fully let their guard down, in an idyllic backdrop of natural beauty, without judgement or scrutiny. The stripped back simplicity of the festival is what makes it so special: underground, noncommercial and wholly music focused.
A massive thank you to everyone involved. The firm but fair security team, stage designers, stewards and, above all, to Craig Richards, for curating such a special lineup, and playing some incredible sets over the weekend. It may only be in its second year, but already Houghton feels like an underground institution. And long may let it continue.
For everything related to Houghton, and to sign up to the mailing list to stay updated on next year’s edition, click here.
Photo credit: Here and Now