If you’re looking for a festival that never stops then this is the festival for you. Houghton Hall, built in the 18th century by the Walpole family is known for its grandeur, gilded turrets and huge halls, not for it’s 24 hour non-stop techno blasting from the woods. Yet somehow the two worlds of aristocracy and absolute mayhem came together to create an other worldly setting. Thanks to DJ Craig Richards we arrived expecting good music and we left a very broken bunch of people.
If you’re the sort of person that enjoys your 8 hours a nights sleep this is not the place for you. When the news of a 24 hour licence rippled through the crowds no one quite expected what it actually meant. Booming, heavy minimal tech at 11am in the morning vibrating the inside of your tent while you’re nursing a luke-warm lucozade wondering why you’re still awake. This isn’t a festival for a group of first timers. However the setting was anything but minimal. Sitting around the main lake of the Houghton Estate the festival was small and intimate yet boasted a big variety of spaces and settings, from a half indoor half outdoor warehouse to a steep quarry stage lodged deep in the thick forest. With only one tiny public campsite there was an exclusive quality to the whole experience; only you and a couple of thousand people were witnessing these DJ sets. The curation of the space meant there was such variation in atmosphere. Where else are you going to experience Midland play a 3 and a half hour set in a freshly wood chipped forest? It felt “organic”, or some would say unplanned, that they’d left most of the logs on the forest floor, making for a pretty hairy obstacle course as the nights went on.
Speaking of obstacle courses the Quarry really stood out. It was a truly chaotic space. It consisted of a pit surrounded by nettle covered sloping sides and a very precarious set of stairs. When combined with some of the biggest acts of the weekend this created a mad scramble to stay upright as people were almost toppling over each over to see Ben UFO’s dark and thumping set. The lights that were used created shapes and waves in the sky that you’d never be able to see in a club, and the constant red light projected onto the crowd made it feel like you were losing grip on reality. Although the Quarry was a bit of a health hazard it was very easy to move between acts. One minute you could be at the main stage listening to Nicholas Jaar’s stunning set and then next you could be rammed into a tiny white dome tent grooving your way into the world of funky beats provided by Nightmares on Wax. And if you really like Craig Richards then you would’ve been in luck, as he played a total of four times over the festival, famously doing a B2B with Ricardo Villalobos from 3am to 11am on Saturday morning. If it was your festival you’d do the same, right?. And to be fair to the guy, playing for a 18 and a half hours in one weekend is pretty impressive.
Even if you weren’t a massive fan of techno there was something for everyone at Houghton You could hear dub to break house to drum and bass wafting through the trees all around the site. It almost felt like each set was a unique experience, where the DJ had just decided that actually tonight I’m going to do a fully break house set and be done with it (as Joy Orbison did on Friday night). With it being such a small site you were never very far from someone you recognised meaning that everyone could roam free and see what they wanted, yet it was big enough that you didn’t feel like you were stood next to the same people again and again in the crowd.
So if the thought of waiting in the 9 hour queue to get into Boomtown makes your stomach turn, or the fact that it takes an hour and a half to get between stages at Glastonbury makes you want to never wear a pair of wellies again then Houghton might be for you. Don’t come expecting huge dramatic set pieces, with actors, and villages, but do come expecting musical moments that you’ll never quite experience again.