Last year Houghton Festival burst onto the circuit out of nowhere, and quickly gained the accolade of the UK’s best new festival. We went back this year to see if the title still remains.
With all the secrecy the festival managed to retain in the lead up to last years event, it was no wonder, that the first lucky attendees felt part of something truly special and unique. And it really was one of those “I-was-there” moments. With a 24hr music licence, an idyllic setting and an incredible lineup curated by Craig Richards. They boasted longer sets, with many DJ’s playing multiple times across the weekend, allowing the artist to really explore their different identities, and harness that all important musical journey. Something which is so often lost, within a more commercial festival, where just limited to an hour.
All of this, and more, completed a no-brainer tick list of the ‘perfect’ festival. It was clear that following on from the inaugural years’ success, that this year, it would sell out very quickly, which it did. But did this year live up to the hype?
Maybe in some respect yes. But this year, somehow I walked away less enamoured by the experience as a whole. There were some questionable issues that left me a bit baffled.
It’s a point that was widely talked about on site, and sadly something that seems to be the resounding theme amongst many post-Houghton conversations. Seriously, what on earth went wrong with the toilets? I don’t think I’ve seen toilet conditions that bad since my early days at Reading Festival, nearly twenty years ago. The facilities appeared to be abandoned for the entire weekend, leaving many opting to go, in the woods, al fresco style.
Being a 24hour festival you would also assume the bars and food traders would also run in unison. However I was left hunting for a bar open past 1 am in some areas, and all food stalls were also shut by this time.
Don’t get me wrong, Houghton still delivered on all of those unique selling points. And for some maybe that is enough. For Houghton first-timers, I’m sure a large percentage walked away minds blown. But I’m sure there were a few that thought the hype wasn’t quite as justified as they might’ve hoped.
Saying this, Houghton still came up trumps with their forward-thinking lineup, gracing the best of the underground and giving way to some well-celebrated sets from the Techno and House giants.
Notable mentions go to; Red Axes, energetic and punk fuelled Live performance on Friday night, which appeared to wake everyone up and set the tone for the weekend. Hunee’s sunrise set at the Pavillion and dropping Phill Collins “In The Air Tonight” at about 6am. Zip’s 5-hour masterclass, in groove ridden minimalism, at the Magic Carpet on Saturday. The welcome contrast of Khrungbin’s 70’s-esque psychedelic rock guitars on Sunday afternoon. Midland’s dark and deep set at the quarry on Sunday, which lead to a mass fern dance-off. And lastly, Doc Martin and his tribal rolling bass, that closed out the festival for me and left me wanting so much more.
So, is Houghton still the best new UK festival? Now the novelty of secrecy has worn off, maybe not quite. There’s clearly still teething problems and areas to improve. But they’re definitely laying the groundwork for an incredible festival that is pushing the boundaries of the market and thinking way out of that obvious commercial sequin covered box.
Houghton dares to be different, and that’s exactly what we need.
Check out the gallery below for more images from the festival.