Houghton Festival 2018 Review

Posted on: 2018-08-20

Our rating:

Craig Richards’ meticulous attention to detail lends to an unforgettable festival experience unlike any other you’ll find in the UK.


After the disappointment of missing out on the inaugural Houghton Festival last year, I was massively eager this time around to get a taste of what was described by music writers in 2017 as “supremely classy”, a “dream festival” and “a surreal rave utopia” in an array of five-star reviews. Our arrival and first impressions on Thursday afternoon were marred by torrential rain, but what followed was the single best small festival experience I’ve ever had.

The Quarry at Houghton Festival 2018. Image: Katie Worden

Curated by veteran DJ and former Fabric mainstay Craig Richards, Houghton subtly announced itself onto the UK festival scene last year boasting a 24-hour music licence and a promise to deliver an event like none other before it. Allowing DJs across the lineup to play longer extended sets than the standard 1-2 hours that they’re accustomed to playing at most parties - one of the festival’s many unique characteristics - affords them more freedom to explore sounds and take crowds on that old clichéd ‘journey’ that selectors and punters discuss so affectionately. This is, in essence, the magic of Houghton.

 

The extended sets complimented the cherry-picked lineup so well that, musically, the festival couldn’t have delivered much more. From Luca Lozano’s hard-hitting slot at The Pavilion on the first night, to DMX Krew’s cosmic live set at the Tantrum stage on Friday, to Joy Orbison’s genre-spanning Saturday evening odyssey, every single one of the artists on the programme bought their A-game.

The Pavilion at Houghton Festival 2018. Image: Fraser Thomas

It’s hard to choose personal highlights, purely because there were so many throughout the course of the weekend, but pressed I’d have to pick out Prosumer’s perfectly-timed cue of A Guy Called Gerald’s ‘Voodoo Ray’ at The Pavilion, Rob Mello and Johnny Rock lifting spirits at the intimate Stallions stage on a rainy Saturday night with a top selection of Italo-disco groovers, and drawing the weekend to a close under the accomplished stewardship of Antal and Doc Martin at The Magic Carpet.

The Giant Steps at Houghton Festival 2018. Image: Caroline Buckingham

What impressed, too, was the spot-on variety to the music that small festivals often struggle to get right. There was the usual smattering of techno, house and disco that you would expect from similar events, but at Houghton it was accompanied by live music from psychedelic Texan trio Khruangbin, faultless drum n bass sets from Calibre & dBridge, Italo-disco, dub and even an all-encompassing K&F world music set as the Sunday morning sun came up that opened with St Germain’s classic ‘Thank U Mum’.

 

Music aside, the Houghton site is beautiful, centred around a picturesque lake that makes it easy to explore and discover new stages when you fancy a wander. The inclusion of areas like Giant Steps made the festival seem more like a small village than a party at times, with ample room to explore and meet new people. A complete lack of phone signal was a welcome addition to the atmosphere – a discrete, if completely unintentional, hark back to simpler times before festival experiences became inundated with calls from lost mates and those ‘where is everybody?’ and ‘what stage?’ texts on the group chat.

The beautiful Houghton Festival site. Image: Lucy Carlile

Houghton wasn’t completely without its flaws – as many have mentioned already the toilet situation was a bit of a shambles and, through no fault of the organisers there were loads of wasps everywhere – but the fact that those are the only things I can pinpoint that were wrong is a testament to its quality. The organisation of the toilets will obviously be sorted by the time next year rolls around and as for the wasps, I reckon it says a lot about how good an event is when a critic has to highlight the wasp presence when scrambling for something to complain about.

 

Houghton is, all things considered, a music person’s festival that I feel is totally unique even among the vast and diverse festival landscape in this country. It felt to me like the spiritual home of the underground dance music scene in its purest form, free from exclusivity, posture or any other negatives that can unintentionally become by-products of these sort of parties. Thank you, Craig Richards and co – we'll see you next year.

The sun rises over the entrance to the Houghton Festival arena. Image: Tom Jenkins

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Article by:

Matt Robson

Having moved to Bristol from Cornwall in 2015, Matt recently completed a degree in Journalism at UWE. He's keen on a wide variety of musical genres, as well as taking an interest in art and illustration, producing his own work in his spare time. Matt makes the most of Bristol's diverse nightlife and attends live music and club nights regularly. Get in touch via email at matt@365bristol.com.