Written by: Jonno Coll
Photography by: Khroma Collective
Somewhere in one of Fabric’s dimly lit backrooms in 2016, Craig Richards took a long draw from a cigarette, turned to his friends and pondered aloud “what if we created a festival with none of the bad bits and literally all of the good bits?” From that plume of smoke, Houghton Festival was born.
The 2022 edition was four years in the making, with the lineup sticking broadly to what was promised in 2019, with the only real changes on-site being the revamped production and soundsystems. The festival itself was as idyllic as ever, nestled in the Norfolk countryside among a country estate, the forestry is lined with artworks, light displays and messages from the artists adorning the skyline. There was also a floating restaurant and sculpture garden, which were both a nice change of scenery from the festival’s more hedonistic elements.
Much of the fun was to be found in the woods, where the understated Earthling, Pavilion and Outburst stages allowed for people to dance 360 around the DJ booth. This was where we saw the likes of Rhadoo, Zip and Raresh play at the more minimal end of the techno spectrum. It was a nice change of pace from the often charmless festival stages which have the DJs names adorned in ten foot high letters. It was also this part of the site which hosted the wellness facilities, and during the daytime would become an unofficial campsite, with bodies laid strewn under the shade as people slept off their morning antics. It said a lot of the relaxed atmosphere that people felt entirely comfortable sleeping side by side. It was quite cute, really.
The festival also had a more conventional main stage, where big hitters such as Seth Troxler, Ricardo Villalobos and Ben UFO played to an effervescent crowd. It was perhaps a surprise to see the likes of Ricardo play on such a stage, instead of his spiritual home in the understated woodland stages, but their popularity would have given organisers little choice. Peach was given the tricky 2pm Sunday slot, but did an outstanding job of reviving a flagging dancefloor. Midland played a more experimental set than I expected, but let loose at the end by dropping Underworld’s 'Jumbo', which was mixed seamlessly into Martyn’s DCM remix of 'Broken Heart' to as it wound to a close.
By all accounts Joy Orbison picked up the 'Man of the Match' award at 2018’s festival, and did so again in 2022. His performance in closing the main stage on Sunday evening was transcendental, knitting together the Skeptical remix of 'Follow Me', Unknown T’s 'Homerton B' and a myriad of dubstep and house tunes. The next few weeks will be spent hunting down the last spoken-word track he played; a gorgeous piece of social commentary delivered in a thick London accent. Fully expect the Identification of Music group to be renamed “Joy O at Houghton” before too long.
Certain tracks received repeated airings across the weekend, with '4am Wake Up' by Warren Clarke seemingly a Houghton favourite, but each of the DJs I saw brought something unique. Call Super and Gerd Janson played parallel 4am slots in the Warehouse on the Friday and Saturday nights, and each brought an utterly relentless emergency, with the latter’s electric remix of Kelis’ 'Milkshake' being a particular highlight.
A word, too, for the crowd. It was easily the most good-humoured, friendliest and funniest you can encounter at a festival. There was an undeniable chemistry on the dancefloor, and an outpouring of love to the DJ booth and back again. Even the staff working on the catering vans seemed to be having a lovely time. The quality of the food and drink on offer was exceptional, and the modest capacity meant that queues moved quickly and nothing felt like too much of a chore. It’s these sort of tangible things that make all the difference to your experience over the weekend, and nobody put a foot wrong. The heat did make things difficult at certain points across the weekend, with the mercury reaching 32 degrees at times, but it’s difficult to knock the organisers for that. Everything within their control was perfect, apart from the toilets on Sunday evening, but we'll let them off with that too.
Tiger Woods once said it’s impossible to definitively be the best in the world in any given field; you can only hope to be part of the conversation. In three short years Houghton Festival has climbed into that bracket. A truly joyous weekend that everyone felt privileged to be a part of.
Dates for Houghton Festival 2023 have yet to be announced, but for all the latest news join the Houghton Festival 2023 Waiting List here.