Two weeks ago, I made the 9-hour journey from Edinburgh to Norfolk to endure 4 days of techno woodland rave with almost everyone I had ever met from a red brick university / English public school. Despite some lucky twits securing £80 tickets off Twitter, in a drunken mid-week dinner I had purchased the full £160 whack ticket – so it was essential I got my monies worth and attempted the full 4-day boogie. When I say 4-day boogie, I mean 96-hour set. Unlike any other festival I have been to, the music and the sun did not stop from Thursday 10th August until Monday 13th August due to the 24-hour music license. And what a set it was.
On arrival to the Houghton Hall grounds, it was clear we were no longer in the city, and we were about to enter Wonderland. The campsite itself was a nothing new; the economy class section was a splatter of horrendously constructed Amazon Prime tents and some dodgy deep blue port-a-loos. If you wanted to upgrade to world traveler plus, you had the option of a pre-set up tent (which in hindsight makes financial sense) in what looked like a massive dog cage. If still the thought of doing long haul with a load of Adidas sponsors who rap Jamie T, in search for tinnies 24 hours a day is too much, you can upgrade to first-class camping for a minor bill of £550. Expect door mats, vanity mirrors and coir matting on arrival at the Lotus Bell tent, although you might not be offered 2CB from your neighbors. From the moment I pitched up my tent (in economy class), I had no phone signal and no charging point. Meeting friends was left up to fate, or the rare moment I found a glimmer of 3G in the depths of the woods and all 20,000 of my Whatsapp’s attempted to fire back to London. Now having the base in place, I was armed with my 8 cans of cider (which was “the alcoholic limit”) and ready to fall down the rabbit hole.
With the Gottwood gang behind the music production, there were high expectations of what we were about to enter. The 9 magical stages were invaded by a spellbindingly good lineup, with the main attraction being Craig Richards and Ricardo Villalobos 8 hour set. When entering the festival grounds you were greeted with the most middle-class spectrum of food trucks imaginable, from the avocado truck to the firewood sourdough van to the espresso martini man. You would be lucky to find a drink less than £6, however, a little economy class trick that seemed to be catching on was to collect the Houghton cups, which were worth £1 at the bar.
Surrounding the Instagram friendly cocktail tents and deck chairs, were a sprinkling of small white dance tents and one British Indian Empire inspired wooden tent – complete with dangling plants, cushions, and trippy suspicious moon light lanterns. It was almost chic, despite the sea of bucket hats and bindi babes rolling around inside it. Without even considering the lake and forest, the Quarry stage took home the money for me. Ben UFO hosted a long, weird and wonderful set on Friday evening in what can only be described as the outcome of God scooping ice cream out of the ground, multiple times. The large bowl of land, which featured a splattering of subterranean foliage and sand up the sides, often had a 2-hour queue to enter. This was a massive let down, however, I thoroughly enjoyed watching punters attempt to “beat the bouncers” and scramble up the sides of the bowl whilst everyone else motivationally fist pumped along to the sounds of Mr Scruff, before watching them get arrested.
Enter, the forest. Once you cut past the mainstream main stage, through the thick of the timber, into the side paths of the utopic woodland setup, you are exposed to the candle lit Houghton Lake. Here lies a massive pool of water which luckily no one dived into. Around all of the forest stages you had visibility to this scenic lake, and when the woods got too much, the secret cinema and hammock docks made the perfect spot to sit and ponder the meaning of life. As you venture deeper into the forest you came across a plethora of weird and wonderful art installations, pop-up bars and even a floating over-priced brunch restaurant. Finally, you made it to the Pavilion, which can only be described as a wooden boat deck that has crashed into the woods and setup base. Here lies the ultimate sessioners. By day this is an enchanting bark filled festival stage, by night it is an uncomfortably tight, bark filled shoes rave. If you were anywhere near the front, you weren’t breathing from the smoke machine and you had 0% chance of finding any of your friends. If you looked up you could probably imagine what Acid is like by looking at the light system in the trees, if you looked down, you can probably find over 100 iPhone 6’s.
I am glad I did a sun prayer in the car on the way down as I am sure that the constant sunshine has had a bias effect on this review but I hope for years to come Houghton returns and stays sunny! For a first time festival, it has definitely earned a repeat visit.