Scroll down to the middle for a playlist of the music heard at Houghton Hall.
Dancing to minimal pumping out of a crystal clear sound system, in a leafy wood on a warm summers morning, you’d be forgiven for mistaking the setting for somewhere in central Europe. The UK circuit has long been blighted by early curfews and quiet speakers, so who else was going to break the mould than the UK’s most established 24 hour party starter – Craig Richards. Richards provided fabric’s musical vision and, in tangent with Gottwood, they delivered a spectacular weekend that excelled on the two main aspects: production and programming.
The 24 hour licence gave the programmers more freedom than ever seen at a UK festival, with major artists playing up to six hour sets, some artists playing multiple times and Craig Richards himself playing over 20 hours across four days. From the Brilliant Corners tent which saw Ben UFO playing jazz and jungle on their bespoke mixer and sound system in collaboration with The Analogue Foundation, to Villalobos playing an unannounced set with Craig on the secret Terminus stage, the weekend was full of surprises and twists, which are usually impossible to cater for in the UK’s over-regulated, rigid bureaucracy for events planning. The location was so far out of the way that phone signal was impossible to find, allowing for the Martin Audio rigs to be pumped up to full capacity, letting people enjoy clear punchy sound without having to shout over the music or find it painful to listen to.
All the arenas sounded great, apart from the Warehouse which suffered from a rather soulless atmosphere and poor sonics, probably due to reflections within the metal structure. Stand out sets came on every stage, with Andrew Weatherhall delivering a masterclass in spacey chug in the Quarry, while Vladimir Ivkovic and Ivan Smagghe built up through sludgy new wave, post punk and other oddities through a four hour session at the Magic Carpet. The Pavilion was certainly the most lauded stage in the aftermath, not just for its jaw dropping view onto the lake, but for the quality of music played there all weekend. Saoirse played an extremely measured set of bubbly IDM, minimal and techno, whilst Radioactive Man and Nicolas Lutz paved the way for Craig and Ricardo with a barnstorming array of breaks and electro. Lutz in particular was a highlight, drawing for records from T Power and Luca Lozano.
Of course no festival in its debut year is without its problems. They didn’t seem to know the exact capacity of certain stages with big queues appearing all weekend, notably for the Quarry and Pavilion, which led to dangerous bottlenecks at points. The stages could also have done with slight positioning changes in points, as the rough terrain made dancing difficult when the Quarry and Pavilion got packed later on, although this may have been due to capacity issues. Another slight eyebrow raiser was the diversity in the lineup, with only 11 women (two of whom were in a duo) out of 95 artists on the lineup. Knowing Gottwood’s attention to detail though, the organisers have a reputation for ironing out faults and they will undoubtedly improve Houghton to place it in a league of its own. This was a special weekend by anyone’s standards, and with the right care and attention it might just be a turning point for UK festivals.
Listen to a playlist of 150 track IDs from the weekend and read up on our six standout sets below in more detail.
Raresh & Rhadoo
Friday night began in earnest with Sonja Moonear in the Warehouse, a sort of covered barn structure amongst the trees to the other side of the lake. Her set consisted of banging techno, interspersed with more interesting rhythmic elements. The real event that evening was a mini Romanian invasion, with Raresh taking to the helm at around 4am. His selections always combine more classic Chicago House and early 00s tech house with Romanian minimal. This was no different, with the crowd now having thinned considerably and the sun beginning to rise, Raresh characteristically pranced his way through four hours before handing over to compatriot Rhadoo.
Darker, deeper, more soul-searching techno was on the menu for the next four hours. Unlike most others, Rhadoo isn’t really about mixing one track into another, but rather different parts from up to four different tracks are layered and combined to form a cohesive whole, which ebbs and flows through some of the most obscure techno that renders Shazam completely useless. An absolute masterclass in mixing, he is almost unparalleled among the more minimal-leaning clan in his technical ability and every moment was filled with a growing sense of intrigue and tension in equal measure.
Voigtmann b2b Sonja Moonear
A little pit stop later and we found ourselves under canopy cover at the Terminus stage, so called as you had to take a train from the main site to the secret location. We arrived to Voigtmann and Sonja Moonear playing together to a crowd of sparkly revellers. It was indistinguishable who in the crowd had been to sleep and who hadn’t throughout and minimal-infused tracks flowed seamlessly, accompanied by an atmosphere reminiscent of one of London’s Toi Toi parties; a laissez faire attitude that brightens even the darkest of basslines. With melody at its core, this b2b was a lesson in keeping tired feet dancing, and the setting couldn’t have been more perfect.
Craig Richards b2b Riccardo Villalobos
Craig Richards and Ricardo’s eight hour back to back session could have been marked down as a highlight before it had even begun. Arriving to a packed Pavillion, Ricardo’s mincing frame next to Craig was a welcome sight. What followed was a journey through their extensive collections, picking out both classics and some of the obscure magic that Ricardo is known for. Having woken early and made several pilgrimages to Fabric in the early hours, we’ve seen these two more times than we care to mention, but what we were treated to at Houghton was up there with the best times we’ve seen Ricky or the pair together.
From our vantage point between the trees, we watched the two men elevated on a wooden platform with the sun rising over the lake as a backdrop. Familiar tracks were like hooks in a set that twisted and turned its way through genres with ease. A particular highlight was Craig playing the entirety of Ricardo’s 25 minute mix of The Contempt, bringing in and out a rather chunky techno number over the top. At points it sounded like Craig had forgotten to stop the looping vocal, but fans of the track knew it was all part of the original and it made for some amazingly intense listening. By the time Weatherall’s reggae set began, the sun was beating down on the rest of the estate and Sunday was in full swing.
After another brief turn from our own Harri Pepper – one of four tightly curated sets over the weekend – it signalled the start of what was to be one of the crowning glories of the festival: a two hour set from Canadian trio Cobblestone Jazz, made up of Mathew Jonson, Danuel Tate and Tyger Dhula. With productions spanning several albums and EPs, they have been making music together for over a decade and rank as some of the best groovy minimal techno ever produced. With jazz piano and crunchy basslines, this live set showed them off as the pinnacle of musical talent and brought tears to many an eye around us.
The Brilliant Corners tent was a musical haven nestled away in the corner of the festival site. Enticing punters with the ‘Giant Steps’ sign hanging over the low entrance, it provided a musical antithesis to the non stop techno and house found at the rest of the festival. Many of the biggest artists at the festival played there, from Floating Points to Hunee, but it was Ben UFO who got people talking after the festival. Delving into free jazz and Brazilian soul, he aired many tracks you would only expect to hear on his Rinse FM show, before he threw in a big curveball towards the end of his set, making the bespoke soundsystem pur with Fracture & Neptune’s ‘Colemanism’.
The most impressive part of the festival was the secret stage, which they managed to keep secret for the best part of the weekend. Rumour had it you would only be able to access it via the art tour bus (another excellent feature), leaving a lot of punters apathetic to seek it out as they searched out the many other DJs playing a short walk away. Those who made the effort were not disappointed. Terminus boasted the best sound system, the best layout and the best programming. One of the most talked about sets of the weekend came from P Bar regular and Perlon affiliate Margaret Dygas who put 300 people into a trance with a magical selection of tripped out minimal and techno late into Sunday morning. Speaking to her at Vilod, she said she was worried no-one would be there as she started at 6am, right in the middle of Villalobos and Richards marathon. However, the arena quickly filled after she started and come 11am the stage was still full and everyone was smiling and dancing like it was the start of the evening.
For more track IDs at other festivals around Europe, check our Heard on the Floor series.