Houghton 2017: In Review
- Published on Wednesday, 06 September 2017 23:02
The Craig Richards, Gottwood combo was always going to get the festival juices flowing, yet expectations were unusually high for Houghton’s debut last month. With such an exquisite line up, beguilingly minimal marketing and promises of spontaneous back to backs, this was the festival to be at this summer.
Even as I traced my car through Norfolk’s gorgeous B roads, my passenger and (appalling) co-pilot Fabianski fuelled the fire further, abandoning her navigational duties to skim Facebook for updates. The music, she announced, was apparently going to be non stop all weekend.
Such a rumour was true, and the twenty four hour license developed into being a pivotal aspect of the weekend. It meant that I could eat, sleep, party, relax whenever I wanted over the three days and dip my toes in and out of the musical waters as and when I pleased.
A gold star must go to the sound, and from the bespoke Klipsch setup in the Giant Steps tent to the mighty four point system in the Terminus, every stage (for the most part) was brilliant. And I mean really brilliant. I have not heard such weight and clarity in any club in London, ever.
Joy O was the first to kick things off on Friday with a superb set in the Quarry. There was care in his mixing, an easiness, and flare in his track selection as he wove stinkers like ‘Hackney Parrot’ into classy, soulful house. A housed up edit of Blacker Than Black (4 The Good Times) was a particularly smiley moment, along with another stunner that Fabianski and I have gone to laughably long lengths to ID. Seeing people scramble up the banks of the Quarry to huge jeers was comical later on in the weekend, even moreso were the bouncers trying to catch them.
Just down the hill from the stage you could grab a £2.50 tea, (with optional vegan brownie, of course) delicious paella, or an overpriced sourdough pizza. Go a little further and you would find the place which would turn out to be the beating heart of Houghton, Giant Steps. I would love to see more stages like this next year. The tent was really something, drenched in beautiful plants, big cushions and sweltering heat. Much attention has been given to the BBC turntable console that the DJ’s did their business on, but I couldn’t really tell the difference. Donna Leake was incredible both times I saw her over the weekend and played the sexiest, smoochiest, tropical grooves I have heard in long time. Bravo to Brilliant Corners for stamping your mark on an otherwise minimally decoured event.
The main, Derren Smart stage was next across the road, and home to some of the most eagerly anticipated acts of the weekend. Here there was ample room to groove, a wicked system and enough space to chat and appreciate the attire of my fellow partygoers. 1995 footy tops were heavily on the menu this year.
Standout performances came from Derrick Carter, who worked up a big crowd with the likes of Boz Scaggs ‘Lowdown’ and similar, slutty disco early on Friday. I also sobbed during Kamaal Williams’ special ninety minutes on Sunday.
More disappointing was Vilod, and despite my wanting to enjoy Ricardo and Max Loderbauer’s noodling on their modules, the whole thing felt a bit out of place and slightly unprepared. Loderbauer ended up rolling his eyes as Villalobos fidgeted with the jack leads, causing static to spray embarrassingly through the rig.
All was not lost though, and I got my minimal fix in the form of Rhadoo instead. I remember repeating his 8 am set time to Fabianski with a sense of disbelief when we arrived at the festival. ‘There are two days to go… Let’s pace ourselves.’ She reminded me.
Anyway, there we were, late Saturday morning, Rhadoo prowling around the decks, shimmying his shoulders in front of a diminished crowd of thirty five. It was an unbelievable spectacle as the Romanian stunned us with groovy, sludgy tracks marked with sublime sound design. As my body started to tire (I ended up on my haunches, as usual) extensive cheers forced a smile out of the maestro as the clock struck twelve. This was the highlight of my weekend.
With minor tweaks to the programming and decour, the festival will improve next year. Sunday night was screaming out for a Ricardo, Dygas, Craig or Raresh closing set, for example. Perhaps some more spontaneous back to back action?
Houghton can be proud of it’s first attempt though. The size was great, the vibes were nice and the stages were all cool. The music license was brilliant too and is something that the other UK festivals will be looking at enviously.
Just being able to watch the DJ's do their thing on fat, custom systems was the real joy for me all weekend though, and I’ll be back next year for round two.
Words by Marlon George
Photos by Jake Davis