Just before arriving on site Thursday morning and receiving the heartbreaking news that Houghton Festival had been cancelled due to predicted 60mph winds by the Met Office, the underground electronic music family all shared a quiet moment of reflection about not getting to experience the magic of one of the finest festivals in the land again this year.
Leaving 8000 ravers with four free days to fill with dancing, alternative parties immediately sprung up online, featuring many of the artists due to play over the weekend and resulting in some of the quickest sold out events in recent months due to the eagerness of the crowd, intimacy of the venues and the gargantuan popularity of the DJs due to play. Some of the immediate events to surface were Voigtmann at Lion & Lamb and Cartulis at FOLD, both of which I quickly jumped on and therefore had something to look forward to and ease the blues.
The tiny capacity of pub venue Lion and Lamb meant that it was almost full upon arrival at 14:00 in the afternoon, with bodies eager to let off some steam and find solidarity on the dance floor. The pub has close connections with Houghton festival curator Craig Richards who can often be found on Thursday and Sunday nights playing here alongside many special companions who you rarely ever find in such a small setting. Voigtmann, another regular here, had today handpicked another very select bunch of artists including Bruno Schmidt, Patrick Klein, Silverlining, Taimur, Mr Shiver and Thoma Bulwer.
Tucked away off the main stretch of Hoxton, the traditional London boozer is cosy and familiar, with an outside terrace that allows you to chill with a pint before getting warmed up to hit the dance floor. Outside I met ravers who had travelled from as far as Malta and New York for Houghton and although as disappointed as they may have been, they still had smiles on their faces in anticipation of a day of quality music in these surroundings ahead. The family spirit associated with the festival and its deep-rooted connections across the country and further afield there for all to see.
Suitably limbered up, when I made my way past the leather sofas and rugs, and under the arty stereo jack lined ceiling, the party was already in full flow, with Bruno Schmidt making arms move and feet step in front of the small booth that included a simple set up of technics and a rotary mixer. Voigtmann could be seen interacting with the crowd, hugging both friends and newcomers alike and dancing behind the decks throughout. This set the tone and he embodied the collective enthusiasm. Taimur provided deep, hypnotic house, equally lapped up by the adoring faithful who were now crammed in and finally letting off some much-needed steam.
The party was just getting into its prime when I had to unfortunately cut it short and make my way over to Canning Town to FOLD to ensure I would be able to get a place in the again fully sold out event being hosted by Cartilus. Again, this featured some favourite underground heroes and masters of the turntables including the formidable Nicolas Lutz and My Own Jupiter label mates Omar, Unai Trotti, Kino and Michelle.
This was my first time at the club and I was impressed to say the least in its approach. Located in an industrial space far removed from anything that it might disrupt, it boasts the loudest sound system in London, with its 24-hour license and no-filming policy it has a European feel, and this was also represented in the diverse crowd in attendance. The door staff are friendly but selective and ensure that only those who are there for the music gain entry. From the outside it appears as abandoned as the other surrounding warehouses, but inside it becomes a rave paradise, with huge pillars, metal supports and shutters alongside the far wall. Lockers are available to return to throughout the night which provides safety and security for endless hours of dancing.
Inside the venue impressive lighting and sound filled the main room, with warm red lasers capturing the mood of the soundtrack of slow breaks that was initially being provided by both Kino and Unai Trotti, robotic sci-fi synths putting the early crowd into an early trip inside the former paint factory. The fascinating projections on the back wall behind the DJ of a bookshelf fading in and out accompanying the spellbinding records.
As the 600-capacity main room started to fill to the maximum and a dim blue hue filled the air, OMAR took the reins and played an engrossing set of stripped back house, experimental sounds from the Panama native enthralling stomping ravers. The sound system sounded fine-tuned wherever you were placed, and the room has an intimate yet dominating atmosphere.
The dystopian feel of the club that looks onto electric pylons and concrete rubble felt perfect as headliner Nicolas Lutz mesmerised the audience with menacing slow electro jams featuring long breakdowns that provided brief respite, before hitting into bombastic bass lines not of this planet. As the daylight began to pierce through the shutters creating an eerie, enchanting atmosphere, the appreciative and varied crowd were happy to be taken in whichever direction Lutz saw fit, as he didn’t make the path easily digestible, but it was ever exciting and the crowd seemed to welcome hearing new and completely unexpected tunes, many of which I’m sure may never see the light of day for some time yet.
Following a day break, the final party I checked out was a special collaboration between Meoko and BAG at the world-famous Fabric. Relative Perlon newcomer and extraordinary hardware wizz kid Spacetravel was headlining alongside Gene on Earth. The tunes throughout the night were exceptional as anticipated, with a fun, playful and heartwarming blend of abstract house selections that ended the weekend with a fitting sense of positivity.
This was one of the busiest times I have encountered at Fabric on a Sunday evening and the dancefloor was completely full right from the beginning of the night to the very last record, the surrounding of the caged booth right to the raised terrace at the back of the main room packed with familiar faces who were making the most of the additional days they had booked off on Monday and Tuesday. Keep a close eye on Meoko for more forthcoming events that will surprise and excite in the autumn and winter months.
Even though it wasn’t the weekend everyone had anticipated, with many sold out events across a whole host of venues and spaces, it was an opportunity for those who may not have otherwise received such a spotlight to get some well-deserved recognition. Old friends were reunited, new ones made, and it was great to see the community of the scene come together and make the best out of a bad situation, the days proving that London is still one of the friendliest and most interesting places to party in the world. No one in attendance at these events had a bad word to say about Houghton, warm feelings remained inside, and all will be seen back there in 2020.
Words by Tom Warner