Wellies? Check. Suncream? Check. Outrageous raver sunglasses? Check. Everything was in place as WWD arrived at Houghton Festival last weekend. But despite the preparation, we still weren’t really sure what we were in for (well we kind of knew, check out Houghton Festival: Into The Wilderness Unknown and Houghton Festival: More Acts, Art and Anticipation). Nevertheless we were geared up for a great weekend. And boy did it deliver.
The standard of performances at the festival were on point. Houghton fulfilled the prophecy that Craig Richards was born not only to be a great DJ but a top class curator as well. At other festivals it seems like these acts arrive, play an hour, get a big pay cheque and leave for their next job. But at Houghton it felt like they were there to enjoy the festival like any other attendee. As there was no VIP everyone was in it together, so we got to pass and congratulate Hercules & Love Affair only hours after their banging live set. When the acts were playing it felt they wanted to be there, and were just a pal of Craig’s wanting to help him out producing a great festival. And they had plenty of time to do so, with extended set times, the artist had time to play tunes that otherwise wouldn’t fit in their slot, meaning greater variety and originality in the music.
Gottwood used their skills to the fullest in the festival layout. The size of the site was perfect, never too far away from your camping spot, or from a bar, or from the next act you wanted to see at a different stage. They used the natural habitat of the area so well that you could enter different worlds without a massive trek between each one. One of the stages, The Quarry, was an area set deep into the terrain. With steep vegetation surrounding us, sound and lights were launched into this naturally enclosed space resulting in an unbelievable atmosphere, while never feeling claustrophobic. The highlight at this stage must go to Calibre, whose d&b set can only be described in colloquial terms as “dutty” (for all those not familiar with this word, in this context, it means dirty in the best kind of way). In general it’s rural location meant there was no phone signal which added to the whole experience. No one was making obsessive snapchat stories, people would lose and find each other just by chance, and no one was shazaming (although so many tunes felt worthy of a save).
The Pavilion felt isolated but in a very different way than to the Quarry. From walking around the beautifully lit lake, we entered the forest. Every now and then we’d break away from Midland’s hypnotising set to remind ourselves where we were. One party-goer exclaimed “We are in a f*cking FOREST!” then returned back to the shuffle. Rather than queuing for the toilet, why not find a tranquil area of shrubbery and enjoy a wee among nature? All of us there, as seemingly regular festival goers, were never complacent with this unique setting that we found ourselves in.
The music wasn’t all coming from the outdoors, our excitement for GIANT STEPS was so huge it had be our first stop, with the smooth jams of Reda Kechouri easing us into the festival. The beautiful combination of its aesthetics and sound proved that Brilliant Corners and The Analogue Foundation collaboration worked a treat. Dancing among palm trees with the music surrounding you like a big hug, this was a place of bliss. Unfortunately later on the first night the speakers blew, but it was met with a “that’s the way it is” in regards to this unique type of set up. It made the whole project there seem all the more real. It wasn’t just some CDJs on a trusty PA system, this was a carefully calculated set up for the optimal experience. It’s clear that Houghton, despite at its first year, were willing to take risks.
Art, another important aspect seen in the lead up to the festival; provided was the tour of the Sculpture Park…led by a train. We were taken around to see the great works that Houghton had to offer. And if that wasn’t enough, you were then led to a secret stage. It wasn’t exactly clear where you could get this train, or where it went to, but it added to the overall mysteriousness of it. We all love a good festival rumour, and the secret stage’s whereabouts had quickly spread around. We actually found the art accessible by foot was a greater experience than on the tour. Stumbling on awe inspiring pieces as you wander through the forest gave it more personality; it felt like it was your own hidden gem found in the wilderness. A harmonious mix of artificial light with their natural surroundings added to the magical world created by Gottwood.
The party they provided no doubt was excellent, but this meant the queues were all the more frustrating. Understandably used for crowd management, to ensure the safety of all us. But at times it felt unnecessary; waiting to enter an under crowded Quarry was annoying for us and I’m sure likewise for the DJ playing. On one occasion a security guard held eager party people at the door, desperate to groove to Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy’s quality set until, however, an open entrance was discovered at the other side. But with Houghton losing it’s festival virginity it’s no surprise that there would be logistical improvements needed for next year.
Regardless our dancing needs were most certainly met; fair play to Houghton who had themselves a 24 hour music license (the only UK festival to have one), and were still able to keep it filled with such quality music. We didn’t even mind going to sleep with beats still in earshot. Plus there was a good range of music; from getting the 80’s fever at Horse Meat Disco’s set to hearing Seth Troxler’s world class techno in the very apt Warehouse venue. All the needs were met.
Everyone in attendance revelled on this first time experience. From what we could see in the lead up, it was evident this was worth our while. But to see the great expectations of this new festival being met was a relief especially after the whole Fyre festival debacle… we won’t get into that… But it was like ordering a pizza; after a long wait, Houghton delivered what we ordered (a pepperoni passion) but on top of that we got a stuffed crust and some tasty wedges. We were all left satisfied- and then some.
An unforgettable weekend? Check.
© Photography by Jake Davis (fb.com/hungryvisuals)