1883 Magazine
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Houghton didn’t need to change a thing, but they bloody topped it anyway.

After the storming success of their opening year, the Houghton team could have very easily rested on their laurels. We would have still been very happy punters. Much to our surprise, they had done quite the opposite with heaps of investment clearly going into growing and improving the Houghton experience. A bunch of new stages, improved sound on the old ones and a sparkling light display adorning the idyllic lake were just a few things that caught our attention immediately. Much like the success of its older sibling Gottwood, you get the feeling the team are aiming to build something that will last forever here. Investments aside, Houghton had lost none of the intimitate magic that had music journos gushing with praise in 2017. Non-stop music, multiple extended sets for each DJ, sculpture tours and two pop-up restaurants.

Artist programming this year was a stroke of genius. One pain point from Houghton v1 was queuing for the big names. With more stages to play with, the timing of big ticket artists was carefully considered. When Saturday night rolled in, having Villalobos, Zip, and Troxler all playing at similar times helped to better spread the crowds and maintain room to dance until sunrise.

At times the sheer amount of options and the clashes they bring can be overwhelming. As one punter most eloquently put it “it’s like a massive chocolate fudge cake”. With such a glut of aural and visual pleasures, it’s too much for one to finish in a single take. But give them 4 days, and the Houghton family will give it a bloody good try. No matter how awful you feel after. And if anyone can handle it, it’s this crowd. They’re loving to all, know their music and only just getting started at 6am. You can have the time of your life at Houghton then, as friends tell you of other sets played and tunes dropped in the post-festival debriefs, still somehow get pangs of FOMO. For that reason, we can see ourselves heading back to the clearing in the woods again for many years to come.

Here’s a run down of our favourite artists and performances that defined the Norfolk weekender.

CRAIG RICHARDS

Did he stay awake the entire weekend? Is he in fact an omnipotent celestial being, gifted to us by a higher power? All we can say for sure is that Craig Richard’s care and attention shows across the entire site. When we venture into the brilliant new stage “The Clearing” on the first night, he was already up on the decks testing out the system. When the big screens around the giant Derren Smart Stage light up, they are filled with intricate animations of Craig’s signature illustrations. The newly launched record store area is named after close friend, the late Marcus Intalex aka Trevino. The opening pages of this year’s programme poke fun at the irritatingly overused term ‘curator’. With due reason. Houghton isn’t curated. It is heart and soul in each step.

CALIBRE

To claim Houghton is a simply a house and techno festival is a massive discredit. The weekend plays host to everything from the psychedelic guitars of Khruangbin to the ethiopian jazz of Mulatu Astatke and the entire spectrum between. One of our highlights from last year was the daytime drum and bass sessions with dBridge and Calibre, a tradition-to-be that we were very happy to see return this year. Featuring some quality MC action from DRS, we welcomed the bassy change in BPM once again. Pulling gun fingers to rewinds of Digital Mystikz - Eyez had us skanking like we were 17 again.

MONOLAKE (LIVE SURROUND SET)

Robert Henke, more commonly known at Monolake, is an undisputed legend to those in the know, shaping the sound of techno for more than 20 years. His mastery of computation for music synthesis helped develop the music-elite’s software of choice, Ableton Live. So when we spotted his name on the agenda as a “Live Surround” show, we knew we were in for a treat. Henke was staged dead centre of the cavernous Warehouse stage, which this year featured a much punchier bass-leaning system. His set threw the crowd from moments of ambient white noise to flurries of glitchy thundering sound, like being slingshot across the cosmos. As his set came to its whispering finish, he seemed overwhelmed by the love coming from the crowd. He deserved every hug and high five.

RICARDO VILLALOBOS

Over the weekend, it became apparent that the Pavillion stage, a clearing in the trees right on the lake, was the epicenter of proceedings. It was the place to be for those sunrise sets and for one DJ in particular, the minimal wizard himself. Taking to the stage after a blinder of a set by Nicolas Lutz, Villalobos took a chance with the headsy crowd to go a few fathoms deeper. As a dusky light started to fill the trees, he stripped the music down to a bare minimum, a rolling bass of almost no rhythm, progressing to mere clicks and clacks. It was as if we was taking his first hour to align the crowd spirits and bring everyone to exactly where he wanted them. It may have polarised opinions in tent chats the following day but it provided one of the weekends truly flashbulb memory moments. What followed was Ricky at his best, layering creeps of Madonna underneath wonky rhythms and Austrian spoken word acapellas, with bags of ridiculous fader trickery. It was a prime example of entering his inimitable kaleidoscope world that fits so perfectly to those twilight filled hours in the woods.

Ben UFO

The final night is always a tough one for energy levels. After three solid days, the “early” 3am finish is often welcomed by weary souls. As the heavens opened up once again, all the warriors still left standing poured into every square inch of woodland surrounding the Pavillion stage for the penultimate set of the festival and Ben UFO’s only set of the weekend. Playing back to back peak time percussive weaponry (including Ploy - Ramos ), he injected so much energy into the crowd you would have been mistaken for thinking we were back on the opening night. Slipping in track of the moment, Four Tet’s edit of Nelly Furtado - Afraid, was met with roars of applause. His masterclass in playing to the music heads, newbies and everyone in between is proof enough that “Boofo” is undoubtedly deserved of the hype he receives.

HELENA HAUFF

Yes I sound like a broken record when it comes to Hauff. Shut up.

The rising levels of attention around electro beats was reflected in Houghtons 2018 roster. The new Tantrum stage, featuring a eye-wateringly crisp speaker stack, played host to blinding electro sets from Stratowerx, Intergalactic Gary and Paul Blackford amongst others. For us, however, placing Hauff at the helm of the Pavilion for the closing set was a sign that the queen of EBM, electro and breaks is at the top of the world right now. If Villalobos’ set took us to wonderland, Helena plunged us into the upside-down. As she dug into the rawest corners of her record bag, dropping heavy industrial techno whilst the rain poured for the final hour, I overheard someone say it felt like the rave scenes in Blade or The Matrix. They weren’t wrong. As Hauff faded out the final kick drum, things ended very much how they started, very wet, but not a dampened spirit in sight.

 

Words by David March
@davidgmarch

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