Houghton Cancelled: The London Community Pulls Together
Amidst the chaos of Houghton's cancellation, London's venues, promoters, and artists alike pulled through to create a weekend to remember.
When the news came through on the morning of the event, Thursday, August 8, that Houghton had been cancelled due to severe weather warnings, it left those lucky enough to have tickets in a state of disbelief. About to walk out of my door, all ready for a weekend in the Norfolk woods, I received a text message that at first I thought was a joke, although I’m certain that I wasn’t alone in this. One of the main UK festival events of the summer had evaporated before it had even begun, and along with it one of the most exciting lineups of 2019.
Based in London, only a few hours from Houghton Hall, the blow was a lot softer for me: I heard of people flying in from New York, Indonesia, and even Australia—although this does sound a little inflated—specifically for the weekend, which must have been an extremely difficult pill to swallow. But Houghton is based on a love for music and a sense of community, championed by curator and co-founder Craig Richards, and these two foundations brought London together for a weekend that became unofficially dubbed “Off-Houghton.” Beginning on the Thursday and ending in the small hours of the following Monday morning, the impromptu celebration was never going to match the expectations of the festival itself, but what happened was uniquely memorable in a different way.
It took a few drinks for the air of frustration to dissipate, and no sooner had proceedings begun at Star Lane Pizza Bar, where local promoters Oscuro and NorthSouth Records had pulled together a night with Admnti B2B Laidlaw, Sam Bangura, Harry McCanna, Dale Mussington, Jack Ling B2B Jayar, Thoma Bulwer B2B Anna Wall, Andrea Dave b2b Francesco boffa and Lorenzo Di Michele B2B Nicky Macha. A pizza restaurant during the week and a party spot over the weekend, the small East London venue boasts one of the finest sound systems in the capital and is now an established spot with classy bookings each weekend.
It wasn’t until Friday, however, that “Off-Houghton” really found its swing, beginning with the opening of The Lion and Lamb, which became the focal point for the weekend. Located in the middle of an estate in Shoreditch, in London’s east, it opened in 2016 and has become something of a London institution for the local electronic music community. Essentially, it’s a little English boozer with a faultless system and top-end soundproofing, rumoured to have cost £60,000 on its own. Behind it are four DJs, namely Andre King, Ricardo Campos, Mauro Ferno, and Ivan Santos, each with a history in the London music scene. Having worked in the music industry for over 20 years, King’s close-knit relationships ensure that bookings at The Lion and Lamb are consistently on point: Andrew Weatherall, Francesco Del Garda, Joy Orbison, Calibre, Binh, Glenn Underground, and Daniel Bell are among the names to have played there.
With the eyes of the local music crowd fixed firmly on Houghton, The Lion & Lamb was due to close over the weekend, but by 2pm on Friday it was bursting at the seams for Voigtmann & Friends—Houghton Crew Assemble, which sold out in two minutes—no surprise given that capacity can be no more than 200. Queues for those seeking a ticket on the door stretched around the block, and many of those waiting still had their tents and bags with them. Others, mainly those who arrived too late to have any realistic chance of entry, gathered at a local park, bringing a festival vibe to Shoreditch; and one guy even attempted to erect a tent. The party was one to remember with Silverlining, Bruno Schmidt, Taimur, Patrick Kln, Barnaby Samuel Young (a.k.a Mr Shiver), and Thoma Bulwer providing the goods, all before Voigtmann laid it down in typical fashion.
Naturally, a weekend off became one of the year’s busiest for The Lion and Lamb, with three events over three days. Cartulis, a London-based party run by DJ-producer Unai Trotti, joined on Saturday, before Sunday’s NorthSouth VS Lion & Lamb Day Party, a more lowkey family affair, brought the curtain down.
Elsewhere on the Friday night, Nicolas Lutz and Francesco Del Garda were playing at Fold and Village Underground respectively. The latter was someone I was particularly excited to see after his set at last year’s Houghton, and Underground is one of the staple nightclubs in London’s bustling scene, set in a revamped warehouse once used to store shipping containers and tube carriages. The Italian artist was joined by Christian AB and Max Vaahs, but the heavy bass of Village Underground’s system didn’t lend itself well to the intricacies of the music. I’ve no doubt that the music was good, but the venue’s system wasn’t properly equipped for the subtle nuances in groove; but it’s hard to be disappointed given the last-minute nature of the party.
Only a few miles away, Fold and Cartulis were presenting Lutz alongside OMAR, Michelle (Live), KINO, and Unai Trotti. Since Trotti founded Cartulis in 2009, he’s developed a strong relationship with DJs in these orbits, bringing the likes of Akufen, Zip, Jane Fitz, Onur Özer, and Baby Ford to play. This all paid off, as Trotti and his team pulled some strings to throw what turned out to be one of the biggest parties of the weekend, with tickets selling out almost instantly online.
In contrast to Village Underground, Fold, a new-ish London venue, is nicely setup for music of this nature. Founded by Lasha Jorjoliani and Seb Glover in 2018, it opened during a particularly volatile period for London clubs, with many closing their doors forever.
Located a few minutes walk from Canning Town Station, it’s a venue that focuses on the bare essentials, which is little more than a big dark room, a DJ booth, a bar, and a top quality sound system. It’s not flash, but what it does it does well. Like in Berlin, there’s a strict no-phone policy, and this contributes to an atmosphere not often found across London. Lutz and Trotti were particularly strong, delivering hours of intergalactic grooves that, in truth, could have continued well past the 6am cut-off point. For a few moments, you could have been mistaken that Houghton hadn’t been cancelled at all.
Starlane Pizza Bar hosted a little afters, but it felt time to return to The Lion and Lamb. There was also a Saturday morning event hosted by The Sunday Afters, but the Cartulis after-party called and so we made our way to see Junki Inoue, Omar, Michelle, and DJ Masda. There were several other events on the Saturday night, among them a couple of warehouse parties, a forest party by Vox Sound, a Loft party with Vlada, and the infamous Hackney boat party, but I opted for some rest before Sunday’s finale.
Fold was the place to be on Sunday, this time for Binh, Vlada, and DJ Masda for Cartulis Part Two. Recreating a festival vibe within the confines of a club is not easy, but this particular event came as close as I can remember: everyone there, the majority of which were dressed for Houghton, was fully immersed in the music, as if this was the final night of an actual festival, and there was no tomorrow to worry about.
As for Binh and DJ Masda, I can’t remember two consecutive sets that I’ve enjoyed this much in recent times, with both pulling out tune after tune, not one of which I could identify, which is a bit of a given with these two. While it’s hard to question Binh’s knack for a good track, his mixing hasn’t always been up to scratch but it was hard to find fault here; the music sounded more like sound engineering than tracks, and I lost myself in the smooth transitions and intergalactic rhythms. Fold, it must be said, excels in its presentation of this music: the system, the space, and the lighting all contributed to one of the most enjoyable clubbing experiences I’ve had in years.
It wasn’t until a few days later, after a few sleeps, that I had some time to reflect on the weekend. I don’t wish to compare the weekend to Houghton, because a pre-planned three-day festival in the countryside bears a stark contrast to a set of unscripted events in a densely packed capital city, but, while the weekend’s events will realistically do little to mask the disappointment of what happened, we must also appreciate what resulted from it.
There was a time when London was renowned for its partying, especially in the late ’80s and ’90s, with raves popping up everywhere and the birth of iconic labels such as Wiggle, Eukahouse, and Swag Records. London was the place to be; the place that appealed to the top DJs and where many of them came from, including Colin Favor, Terry Francis and Mr. C a.k.a Richard West. However, the tightening regulations and a plethora of other deterrents have inspired a lot of talk about the city’s demise, even more so given the rise of cities like Berlin and Bucharest, which boast relatively lax licensing and much more affordable rents. When fabric’s licence was revoked in 2016, there were some who viewed this is as emblematic of London’s demise, and it was an easy narrative to follow. But what’s clear, perhaps now more than ever before, is that London’s clubbing heartbeat and the community that drives it is still very much alive, in spite of and perhaps because of the hurdles that it faces. If nothing else, the “Off-Houghton” weekend captured this.