1883 Magazine
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“Even in its infancy, Craig Richard’s Houghton already felt like Gottwood’s edgier, bigger brother.”

When Houghton was announced as a new gathering from the Gottwood team, it felt like the event would be under pressure to be on par with the standard set so high by its Welsh predecessor. Could they repeat Gottwood’s intimate magic? Would it feel the same? Looking back now, the smell of pine trees still fresh in our weary heads, it never needed to compare, and it didn’t try to. Set in the fields of the stately Houghton Hall, there was still the all familiar lake and forest but Houghton was an enchanting beast in its own right. Even in its infancy, Houghton already felt like Gottwood’s edgier, bigger brother.

The first stage to grab our attention was the Quarry, a deep bowl carved into the lush green landscape. It was a vision to behold as it filled with a sea of people for Move D to close out the first night. Ending with a selection of typical Move D anthems like ‘Lost in Music’ and his version of ‘I Gave My Love’, it felt like a big welcome hug from the Gottwood family.

What truly set Houghton apart as a UK festival was the sound quality. The lack of restrictions and brilliant engineering meant stages were powerful and enveloping regardless of your location, making them the best outdoor systems we have heard in the UK. Combine this with the 24 hour license to play non-stop music and you have a plentiful haven for the crowd of discerning ravers, affectionately described by the sassy singer from Hercules and Love Affair as “music nerds”.

This glut of time gave Richards and the team the freedom to provide programming quality from start to finish. Days were filled with live performances from the likes of Kamaal Willams and Howie B while techno DJs played reggae sets in woodland clearings. By night, the locations for artists had been carefully considered for maximum potency, like placing Villolobos and Richards on the woodland stage for their marathon set for the perfect “7am shards of light through the trees” moment. These extended sets meant DJs took you on journeys and were not crowbarred into one and a half hour slots. We would happily return to the exact same line-up next year without batting an eyelid.

Looking to the future, the sound in the warehouse could be tweaked; echoing towards the back made the sound muddled and lacking the punch of the other stages. Some people commented on queuing for some of the in demand sets but what do you expect when the lion’s share of 7,500 people want to get into one stage for Ben UFO? The sturdy crowd control meant we never felt sardined into any location and busy sets were filled with people who really wanted to see the artists and had planned ahead to get there early.

The weekend’s high production value meant that few would guess that this was Houghton’s first ever run had they not known it prior. From expeditions to discover the “secret stage”, to singalongs with strangers on the art sculpture tour, to meeting Craig Richard’s parents (staying in a nearby cottage to enjoy their son’s weekend), we can safely say we had some of the 4 most surreal days we’ve had at any festival. In one fell swoop, it felt like Houghton had positioned itself as a forerunner, competing with god-tier European festivals like Dekmantel and Dimensions/Outlook.

Here’s our rundown of the five key performances that defined the weekend.

Calibre

Fridays sunset slot featuring 6 hours of Drum and Bass from Calibre and dBridge saw a huge turnout, showing that people very much enjoyed the variance in pace. Calibre’s masterclass in energetic but tasteful DnB even provided the event with some reloads, much to the enjoyment of the jubilant crowd. We hope this is a feature to stay, we always have time for some proper skanking.

Nicolas Jaar

A DJ set from Jaar is never just another DJ set and Saturday night’s performance was no different. Jaar put on a riotous show to a crowd so big that it must have been over half of the total festival attendees. His set was filled with heavily distorted personal blends and edits that will most likely never see the light of day; sampling everything from “Bitch Better Have My Money” to viral baile funk star MC Pikachu.

Nicolas Lutz

In anticipation of the demand for Saturday night’s Craig Richard’s back to back with Villolobos, many got to the Pavillion stage in advance to avoid queues. However, the preceding sets were equally heavyweight, featuring blisteringly breakneck live electro from Radioactive man and a face-melting 3 hours from Nicolas Lutz. Spinning at lightening pace between electro, P-H-A-T breakbeat tunes and weapons like Helena Hauff’s “c45p”, it was far from a warm up set.

Ricardo Villolobos b2b Craig Richards

It was the set everyone was talking about; two legends back to back from 3am until well into lunchtime the next day in classic Villolobos style. Those smart enough to get down early enough to secure a spot were rewarded with the wildest musical experience of the weekend, a hypnotic voyage into sunrise through obscure heavy minimal and space age techno. Weird, wonky and recklessly mixed at times; Villolobos was at his best as Richards matched him at every step. The marathon culminated for us when Ric dropped eerie rave anthem LFO – LFO (Leeds Warehouse Mix) at daybreak. It was the set of a lifetime.

Every other damn set involving Craig Richards

The true hero of the gathering was always going to be Richards himself. In every B2B he complimented his accompanying artist, allowing them to shine or taking them in new directions, countering Villolobos’ minimal cuts with a curveball UKG track or matching Lutz in other worldly electro. His seemingly infinite range (and ability to not sleep for 96s hours) proved Houghton chose the right man for the job.

 

Words by David March @davidgmarch
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