The debut edition of Houghton Festival in Norfolk did not lend well to a picture-perfect memory; I also suspect a haziness in my other debutant punters, so can't hope much for a fact-checked account. From the 11th to 14th August, the old country (my grandparents retired here) opened itself up to something forwardly, fervently new.

There are plenty of residual images: a slideshow of picturesque, surreal beauty from whichever perspective every festival-goer saw it. Given the sprawling and secluded expanse of it, there were surprisingly plentiful angles to experience the weekend event from. Despite there being a "main stage", featuring Nicolas Jaar and Hercules and Love Affair aside jazz legend Tony Allen, Houghton enticed all into an exploration of the various burrows and barrows of its wooded haven. I can say for sure that hay was made while the sun shined, clouded or not. You needed only to follow the trail of bass tones around the lake and along the tracks, that seemed to spread in scale as the sun set over the tremoring waters.


There were also all the hours under the moon, what with the programming first revving up Friday (excluding a Thursday test run) and only idling again on Monday afternoon. The treetop-high plateau it hit was astounding. Perhaps someone out there committed to the long haul, but whatever they were hauling to survive it would have only twisted an already time-warped affair. There was something about the coming together of electronics and stunning scenery, the latter informing the former even in a serenade of ambient sound, that was reminiscent of a party era out of the city and on the road I sadly wasn't there to remember.

Strange occurrences punctuated an escape from normalcy: a delivery of sorbet tasters on the back of an ice cream trailer during Nicolas Jaar (will it and they will come); a (honestly) compelling eulogy to Tony the Tiger courtesy of a one woman theatre in the back of a caravan; a morning spent life drawing with two punters posing as models in return for their tickets. The things we do for art (and a chance for artless debauchery) -- and not one lager lout or heckling lad in sight!


In this magisterial and mysterious locale of Houghton Hall, home to the 7th Marquess of Cholmondeley, we were off the radar and out of cellular range. It was here that a spellbinding festival was for the first time fabricated, though not only here could it be achieved. A trend is forming that was first apparent in London with the church bells ringing in several new venues for live music, St. John at Hackney and Union Chapel for two. Outdoor cinemas in historic sites and gardens are a prolific craze that may simmer down with passing summers, only to leave a gap for other cultural uses. It wasn't done from scratch here, with certain elements of the slightly smaller sister event Gottwood transposed. That said, the creation was nothing if not new, from theory to execution, a breath of fresh air on the scene that the crowd drank down in lungfuls. It even appeared to this observer to have hit upon the rarest of things: gender parity. It was a crowd of complete diversity, of sex and age and style, that represents the following of Fabric's own Craig Richards.


No paternity test was needed to know Houghton was clearly the festival curator's own offspring, underlined by an art book hand-drawn by the man himself. Craig's stamp was firmly set upon this artful retreat for fellow audiophiles, written across the Derren Smart stage in tribute to his sadly passed friend and former T Bar promoter. It was audible in his inviting down of London hi-fi bar Brilliant Corners, in association with The Analogue Foundation, giving Houghton-heads their first eargasms as Ben UFO slowly, subtly spun together a genre-traversing vinyl set.

Elsewhere, a similarly lounging vibe permeated, with the focus far more, and fairly on selection over flair, taste over technique. Of course, there was an obviously ear-popping aptitude, but creativity trumped class. Nicolas Jaar for instance, playing long-form mixes that fused several soundclashing parts, building up to thumping finesse only to break it down to minimal, once introducing a Godspeed You! Black Emperor sample even, is a perfect point of reference.


A tour of the adjoining sculpture park, Houghton's collection of privately commissioned pieces in the expansive, exquisitely manicured gardens, was emblematic of the festival. A cultural stroll after all the similarly stimulating DJing showed how Houghton lead us gleefully up learning curves to the higher brow, taking the ceiling for small events to an empyrean altitude. It is a formula it seems no one other than Gottwood and Craig Richards were looking to uncover, mixing rave escapism with a more cultivated excursion. In hindsight, to mark out a swathe of territory with an often eccentric and curious demographic. It turns out, undoubtedly to the disbelief of the metaphorical manorial lord and lady, or at least those of middle England who share in their sneering suspicions, that the 'lost generation' are in fact very open to learning and living to the fullest. An intergenerational group of the like-minded certainly found it at Houghton, who may have struck upon the alchemist's dream and transmuted a leaden scene into gold.


One particular spot served to surmise the whole: Skyspace Seldom Seen by James Turrel in the Sculpture Park. A stunning temple to the permanent, morphing painting above our heads, the roof of a brilliantly lit white chamber is cut away to reveal a canvas-like view of the sky. It struck me that so too, you have to frame the surroundings in a festival. So many poorly miss out capitalising on this central foundation. Scenery too usually becomes secondary for big events, preventing them from transporting the audience to farther flung places from their humdrum norm. This reminds of Dimensions and Outlook, seminal dance events that fully utilise their commanding Croatian location by bringing every fixture of Fort Punta Christo, from the moat to the draw-bridged atrium into the fray. At Houghton, the simple lay of the land abundantly sufficed. Better still, Craig Richards and Do Different fulfilled their part by doing a sublime setting the justice of so many transcendental performers, from big names like Floating Points and Ricardo Villalobos to weekend hijacking highlights like Oli Silva at The Old Gramophone. Although essentially soundtracking a bar area, a discerning programme of DJs even here ensured that lofty bar of Houghton was held up. Everywhere that you wandered, happily lost.