Bloc is finally over. And If you feel like your brain has been left in Butlins this weekend, do not fear, you are not alone. It was big, bad and wavey, even without going in the pool.
Nestled in the quaint village scenery of Minehead, Bloc is a festival hosted in Britain’s favourite family destination Butlins. This year would mark the tenth year of Bloc, but more notably, it would also be the last.
You can usually tell a lot about a festival by its crowd, and Bloc, which seems to pull in a lot of industry heads, feels more like an expo than a performance. Nearly everyone we met was either a DJ, promoter, club owner or some sort of business-minded raver.
Getting to Minehead was half the fun, when a Sat Nav that hadn’t been updated since 2010, took us on the “scenic” route. We arrived in the biting cold darkness, reminding us that it’s still a good three months until festival season really gets started. But the chalets were anything but cold, dehydrating our tongues as we gasped at the luxury of our accommodation for the next 3 days.
Whilst festival camping brings a sense of connection to nature, and collective oneness, the fact that you could have your stuff locked up, and not be woken in the middle of the night by a scouser dressed as a horse, pissing on your roof certainly tipped the scales. But for the non-sleepers, the chalets lay host for extended after-parties, in what feels more like uni halls.
In the arena it was all big lights, big beats, and pure appreciation for the music. Surrounded by nostalgic arcade games, 2p machines, and the countless bars – it’s a comical observation of that quintessentially British holiday destination. Factor in the booze and drugs, and it was hard not to regress into a kid-like state, with one Bloc-goer quoting ‘It feels like I’m in a game’ (though we were pretty sure he also thought he was on Mars).
The Pizza Hut, the artificial lighting, the swimming pool. It all lent itself to indulgence, and this sense that it’s just about having fun! And that was perhaps one of the stand out points of Bloc. No-one took themselves too seriously, which can all to often be the eye-rolling pitfall for many musically-technical festivals.
The other thing was convenience. The stages all ran next to each other, side-by-side. You were always within a 5 minute radius of food or the bar, and there was even a Spar convenience store situated on site selling everything you would expect a typical Spar to sell – at reasonable prices!
Waiting in the que we were approached by one of the eerily excitable Butlins staff members, always on hand to lend you a compliment and make sure you’re wearing a smile. A pleasantry that echoed throughout the festival, but kind of weirded us out at times.
Sadly missing the Thursday opening party, we made our way to one of the larger rooms to catch a rather exuberant opening set from Floating Points, that was juxtaposed by a much more sombre and introverted modular live set by Carl Craig – fat analogue sounds, really experimental. Love it!
Remaining in the same room, we catch a hard-hitting performance from the collaborative pairing of two techno heavyweights that make Trade, before heading to see Andrew Weatherall play B2B with Optimo (still majorly sour that my mate got to have a photo playing with Andrew’s beard). Rounding the evening off for us, was a galloping set from Ben UFO, exploring elements of Chicago house and Techno.
Ruminating over the evening, one thing many of us seemed to share in, was a feeling of disappointment in the sound quality, with one of our mates exclaiming how much louder and “in your face” the music had been in previous years at Bloc. The centre stage in particular seemed to suffer most in that respect.
Visually speaking however, the lighting was incredible with Thom Yorke’s set on the Saturday night being a wholly immersive experience, that gripped the crowd with his haunting signature voice and fantastic projection mappings behind. Stand out set of the weekend!
Catching Egyptian Lover at the pool was a ‘wavey’ experience, with some interesting middle-eastern selections, and later into the evening we were knocked for 6 with Nina Kraviz, Daniel Avery, and Jeff Mills jauntily exploring brick wall techno sets successively into the early morning.
Final night, I love Acid vs Super Rhythm Trax took over the Jak stage – with old-skool acts such as Altern-8 playing. Wearing gas masks and overalls, there were people around you from old age hippies to the latest wavey-garm cool kids – with video screens showing old acid house raver-youth, that had the crowd transfixed.
Catching the final few minutes of Bristols Shanti Celeste, we then settled in the Centre stage to see the final 3 hours out of the Bloc Weekend legacy with Detroit’ Omar S. With a lot of time to work with, he explored heavily slung lo-fi house, that slowly dealt into more reigning techno. All halted momentarily by a complete shutdown of the music – which got both Omar S, and wide-eyed, sweaty browed revellers all highly anxious.
As with Garden Festival last year, Bloc Weekender finally draws its curtains on a decade of raves. Co-founder Alex Benson revealead to RA that they will now be focussing on building the Bloc superclub in London, renovating a warehouse surrounded by music studios and workshops. While all the people that have passed through its doors will have memories that will live on underneath the canopy of Butlins, the legacy of Bloc will continue to grow outside it too. And this is Fresh….