Review – Goodbye to Bloc.
Those of you with even half an ear on the electronic music scene will have been aware of the finale of Bloc – a techno festival at Butlins, Minehead. Those of you who attended the event will have had a week from hell, nursing chronic festival blues, overdosing on vitamins and attempting to piece together the weekend by abusing the Identification of Music Group on Facebook and scrabbling together snippets of amusement arcades, glorious sunshine and psychedelic carpet. Your brain has metamorphosed everyday sounds into the industrial throbs of techno – the click of a heel on the pavement, the clang of saucepans, the chink of crockery – but you’re living in the smug reality that you survived a relentless, ridiculous and altogether spoiling weekend. In a Butlins. The iconic, pristine, totally surreal British family holiday resort, which posed as the perfect venue. The vast site accommodated some of the biggest names in electronic and techno music (complemented by exquisite light shows and blistering sound systems) and punters had the festival luxury of beds, showers, on-site food, Groundhog Day on loop and RADIATORS. For the more proactive/insomniac weekenders, Waterworld literally let you float away from reality, inevitably with a (more ambient) soundtrack from a selection of the weekend’s performers.
A holistic appraisal of every act would be impossible given the tactical (yet highly frustrating) clashes between all the big dogs on Friday and Saturday nights. Starting the weekend off with a passionate live set from Floating Points was a good way to go, followed by Carl Craig’s teasing modular pursuits, and from then on in, techno was the favourite flavour. Sets were interspersed with run-ins with other fascinating weekenders, with ever-thicker west-country accents and unparalleled knowledge and enthusiasm for the music.
Trying to set the scene is difficult, because describing it makes it seem even more ludicrous. Each stage was a space of varying size within the Butlins complex, complete with bar. The biggest of these was Centre, from which you could pop downstairs to the mirror imaged FACT Magazine stage, where we caught an impeccable set from Bicep. The details are hazy, but I do know that there was no way you could not dance. Dancing came in a variety of forms, limbs reaching varying extents, the most frequently observed being ‘the techno dance’: classic two-step, head down, beer clutched in left hand and right hand above the head, revving some kind of engine… Similar to the motion used when spooning cereal into one’s mouth. The gargantuan rooms (and their hideous carpets) never became crowded, and thankfully, the white pimple-like nucleus of Butlins meant that venues and acts were not far from each other. However, the tactful positioning of stage entrances amidst arcade games meant that diversions were draining, both financially and psychologically (and physically for all those I watched take on the Kung Fu panda game).
We flitted between sets, dabbling in everything on offer (Midland, Ben Klock, Andrew Weatherall B2B Optimo, Ben UFO), before ending the first night in sweaty, euphoric, groovy appreciation of DJ Bone. Delicate birdsong and squawking gulls escorted us back to an actual bed, where you can sleep, in relative comfort, before re-emerging, stumbling to the beach (and the outside world) and gorging on beautifully greasy fish and chips. Idyllic.
For fear of this sounding like a diary entry combined with the realization of having missed some of the main attractions of the weekend (e.g. Steve Davis’ snooker competition), I’ll hone in on some extra special moments that resonated for me (apologies). Firstly: Rødhåd. Performing in my favourite venue of the site, the Carhartt stage managed to echo the vast expanses of Berghain, with the DJ high above the crowd, just recognizable in flashes of light (this was facilitated with Daniel Miller playing, as his head was somewhat more reflective…!). Rodhad blew every tiny mind in the room, particularly with the cheeky addition of Joey Beltram’s ‘Energy Flash’. Huge.
Next on the hotlist was inevitably Thom Yorke. Fitting the tone of the weekend, removing any skepticism from the mellow nature of his Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes release, the set was expertly pulled off and surprisingly sassy. Pursued by the feel-good set of the weekend, Four Tet fended off the techno-heads, but displayed admirable DJ skills. The other big names did not disappoint either, with Jeff Mills just like a boy playing with toys, manipulating the bleeps and bloops with expert precision. A sneaky Sunday set of note was DMX Krew in the smallest, sweatiest stage, but a super funky set that everyone in the room adored, including the man himself. The grand finale of course came in the form of Omar S who managed to marry techno and disco, giving everyone a final high before the bleak week to come. The end of his set came rather abruptly and signified the return to reality as everyone filed out, expectant of a certificate of completion. Butlins service like never before.
The clientele of ‘dull hipsters’ excelled themselves, with a certain agonizing desperation to make it the best, in the knowledge that it was the final ever Bloc. Never have I met such an eclectic array of humans brought together by a love of music, and Butlins provided a dynamic ‘safe-space’ for us all to enjoy ourselves as best we could in 2016. The weekend was an absolute treat. A bizarre adventure in no half-measures that will be sorely missed, but perhaps there will be some spontaneous raves to make up for this loss… A strange community unlike any other festival crowd and I fear we will wave goodbye to them all, despite plans by the organisers to create a super-club in London. I will look on Butlins forever more with rose-tinted spectacles. Thank you and goodbye Bloc.
Photos courtesy of Jake Davis and Daddy’s Got Sweets