Since inception, Houghton has always promised something different from the usual festival market. In recent years festivals have become a rather over-saturated commodity, promising (and often failing) to deliver new and exciting ways to dazzle punters instead of a tried and tested formula. Houghton, Craig Richards’ brainchild, burst into collective attention last year with such a claim, promising a marriage between art and music that prided itself on creating an outdoor club culture that catered for DJs. The second iteration of Houghton delivered on this promise, combining immersive stage design with an almost overwhelming itinerary of DJ sets that played throughout the night.
Fundamentally, Houghton festival 2018 was an expertly executed festival that shares many of the ideals of numerous other ventures such as Lost Village or Gottwood. Centred around a lake, the choice of location created an illusion of sprawling infinity, populated with several smaller stages rather than a couple of main areas and some ill-attended smaller tents. With stages like The Clearing, an open-air booth in the round, tucked deep into woodland territory combined with stages like the audiophile vinyl goodness of the Giant Steps tent, Houghton’s intent to leave a lasting mark on memory was an undoubted success. By presenting so many smaller stages (all with world class DJ’s) in a variety of visually distinct locations, Houghton often felt bigger than the sum of its parts, becoming a sprawling metropolis of distinct music and visual aesthetics. Add a secret stage named ‘The Terminus’ into the mix and Houghton’s reliance on discovery over headline acts perpetuated a genuine sense of wonder, discovery and excitement.
There is no doubt that Craig Richards’ promises of creating a festival clubland idyllic for both dancers and DJ’s were realised. Extended sets peppered the weekend with several DJ’s playing multiple times (and to multiple styles) throughout the festival. Missed Midland, Craig Richards, Hunee, Antal or anyone else you wanted to see? Not to worry. With the created format of multiple sets, Houghton festival thrived on spontaneity. With a lack of traditional and rigid formats there came an ease to drift between sets to whatever caught your ear, and with longer format came the ability to fully immerse yourself for hours at a time without fear of missing out. Combined with a 24-hour music license and the intensity of the weekend began to make itself realised and became a physically (and mentally) demanding venture that rewarded those who endured.
As ever, sound was of the utmost importance. Festivals traditionally struggle in this area with the combination of decibel limitations per nearby residences, typical audience-facing stacks that lose pressure and quality nearer the back and a general disregard for sustaining impeccable sound quality throughout the crowd. For the most part, Houghton excelled in the soundsystem world. Giant Steps boasted a bespoke set of 4 Klipsch stacks, finely tuned for the rotary vinyl setup used. The continued pressure from the largest outdoor area, the Derren Smart stage, provided some of the best sound I’ve ever heard from a large-scale stage, impeccably replicating sound for musicians that ranged from Khruangbin to Nathan Fake to Joy Orbison. In general, Houghton opted for multiple stacks surrounding the audience over a front-heavy system, and whilst there were noticeable sound issues at The Pavilion and drop offs at stages throughout the weekend, it was clear that steps had been taken to try and provide the highest possible experience for the punters.
Expert care was taken into populating the grounds with furnishings and art, including a vast array of soft furnishings (hammocks and deck chairs were a blessing) and a scheduled sculpture tour that we departed into the rain for. In all, Houghton largely delivered on the sky-high ambitions it set out to achieve and was a remarkably assured festival for only a second outing. Although not without a few hitches – the toilets were an absolute warzone of human excrement by Monday – Houghton festival stayed true to the promised ideals, creating a non-stop clubland nirvana situated deep into a woodland clearing.