Photo credit: Jake Davis
As the early light of dawn falls through the trees, a miniature train pulls a raucous bunch of fired up ravers through the Norfolk country side. People clamber for a seat and as the train takes its course, bass seeps through the trees. No we're not at an illegal forest rave. And no, this isn't your average early morning sight in the Norfolk countryside. We spent last night at Houghton, this year's most exciting boutique festival in the UK.
Three years in the making, Houghton was curated by Craig Richards and promoted by the team behind Gottwood and although the dust is still settling, it is widely agreed to be a game changer for the festival scene thanks to it's mix of art and music set amongst one of the best venues for a festival this country has ever boasted.
Hours earlier Ibiza Voice meandered through the gates on an impromptu whim and completely unaware of just how pivotal the weekend ahead would be for the UK dance music scene.
It was Friday night and we were here on a last minute decision. We had already missed a full day of the itinerary so without wasting any time we headed straight to the Pavilion stage for Midland.
The backdrop of the lake was stunning and the crowd were respectful of the dance floor in a way that only the cutting edge European parties tend to emulate. At some point through the dark trees and scattered red lighting, the vocal from Whatever, Girl 'Activator' surfaced. The music heads on the dance floor struggled to ID a single track during these hours - you can forget signal and Shazam here.
Ravers discussed the 24-hour music policy under the fairy lights and wandered around the gigantic lake, which was adorned with mind blowing art and adult escape routes. The Gottwood organisers touch was immediately apparent. On paper, the idea behind this party seemed too idyllic, so it was refreshing to find it had delivered on its every promise.
After an unfathomably perfect evening, we retreated to our tents at 4am. We could hear someone playing an edit of 'I Feel Love' as the sun came up and it took everything inside of us not to get out of our tents and experience the magic that had been created all night with slow and low sounds from every angle.
Every artist was on A Game form and the next morning, there was only one thing on our minds. Find the train to the secret stage for Sonja Moonear and her six hour set. We waltzed off the train to find the secret Terminus Stage - a moment we will never forget.
The dance floor, which was down a winding woodland staircase, lay in a circular haven at the bottom. The wooden dance floor enticed feet to stamp that little bit harder in appreciation for the music. The sound system, unlike anything we had ever seen before, circled the entire dance floor.
There was no spot at this stage suffering from poor sound quality, making Terminus the topic of conversation for much of the weekend. People were smiling and talking; they were calm and serene looking. It was happening here.The set of the weekend for Ibiza Voice goes to Sonja Moonear and her uncompromisingly deep records. The crowd were hooked during her back to back with Voigtmann, who played the session before her. As she took to the controls solo, Quests 'Mind Games' was one of the first tracks she treated the crowd with, which set the pace for a remarkable journey with Sonja.
The vibe on the dance floor was inexplicable and echoed those special Panorama Bar moments, which few of us have been lucky enough to capture.
On Saturday night we reluctantly left the Terminus stage, as this was the only place that closed, running 6am-6pm. We made our way to the Pavilion to gear up for the artist everyone was waiting for, Ricardo Villalobos on sunrise shift at the lake.
Adam Shelton played an impressive electro set before hand and we were treated to sub bass orientated electro straight though to Detroit sounds. The crowd were hanging on to every mix. We gave ourselves a pat on the back for finally recognising Gauss 'Quadric forms.'
Nipping to the The Old Gramaphone to crash in the Gypsy-like tent while Radioactive Man took to the controls proved to be a wise idea due to the mammoth crowd shift ahead for Villalobos. Queues were beginning to form at the Pavilion and as night fell, the air of anticipation was inescapable. Sadly, we only made it til 6am before tearing ourselves away from the glitchy and bass heavy set from Ricardo. The crowds that swarm to Villalobos made this the only section of the entire festival that was minorly uncomfortable.
Sunday morning came, and although a little broken inside from missing the sunrise at the Pavilion, there was hope thanks to a return to Terminus for Dygas, Alex & Digby and a back to back from Craig Richards and Villalobos.
Seeing so many familiar faces through the festival made for a strong sense of family on each and every dance floor. This was a festival for true discerning dance music lovers and the crowds were as worthy of mention as the artists. There were no bros or gangs of marauding identikit beefcake lads. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly and if you'd bumped into someone at Sonar, #savefabric or Panorama Bar, you were likely to do so again at Houghton.
Hunee playing one of standout stages of the weekend: Brilliant Corners
As Sunday night was upon us, Tristan Da Cunha was closing the Magic Carpet. The dance floor was full and happy. No one quite has Tristan's energy behind the decks, so putting him on for close made the crowd thirsty for more.
As we wandered around between nine stages on the last night, it was hard to recall exactly where Davina's 'Don't You Want It' came from as we danced back to our tents.
This festival is what we needed. It rekindled something deep inside of us all and simply cannot be compared to anything else. In a saturated festival scene awash with commercialism, Houghton Festival has restored our faith in this scene that we share.
Ibiza Voice Score: 10/10