The last few years have been rocky for Bloc, but since the catastrophe of 2012’s festival at London Pleasure Gardens, the brand has slowly but surely built itself back up from the ground. The unparalleled lineups brought to us at Autumn Yard have restored the faith in Bloc’s ability to organise, and when the announcement of this year’s festival hit, anticipation ran wild. After attempting a re-brand in 2012, Bloc have learned the hard way that ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, and reverted back to old habits for 2015. Returning to their home of Butlins, Minehead, the 7th year of festival brought perhaps its strongest programme yet, giving punters a firm reason to reinvest their trust in the Bloc brand.
The Butlins backdrop is completely surreal; a holiday park re-envisioned as a techno village. Chalets, kitchens and plug sockets are luxuries afforded to the regular partygoer, and a good “night”’s sleep in an actual bed makes it a hell of a lot easier to enjoy everything that Bloc has to offer. Splash Waterworld managed to instantaneously turn 20-somethings into excitable children, and walking out of a techno set to find adults battling each other on arcade Dance Mats became a hypnagogic reality. It’s similarly hard to decipher what the music venues are normally used for – they are HUGE. The carpet design may be a give away, but you could be half way through a Jeff Mills set before realising you’re actually dancing in the middle of a cinema. Odd as it may seem, Butlins was temporarily refurbished into the ultimate festival setting, providing 6 quality stages for Bloc’s exceptional musical offerings.
FRIDAY marked the real beginning of the festival, but arriving on Thursday had given us the opportunity to settle in, cook ourselves a full English and check out the flumes – your standard festival activities. The first of the night’s main offerings came in the form of a Hessle Audio takeover from 8 through til midnight, seeing Ben UFO, Pearson Sound and Pangaea take to the Red Stage. I sidelined this performance at 10pm in favour of the FACT stage, to see Mr Ties. Having looked forward to this moment since his 3-hour Boiler Room set of 2013, Ties failed to disappoint, providing pure energetic enjoyment.
The real champion of Friday was Robert Hood, re-located to Centre Stage following Jackmaster’s cancellation. Alternating between Hood-branded minimal techno and Floorplan-leaning house, the Detroit-born prodigy demonstrated his renowned versatility and varied interest for the entirety of his set. Remaining riveting throughout and closing with Floorplan favourite ‘Never Grow Old’, Hood’s performance was unmistakably the best of the night.
SATURDAY night made the entire festival. Bloc gave no real reason to leave the Red Stage, which from 8pm offered Levon Vincent, Omar-S, Moodymann, Carl Craig and Ben Sims b2b DVS1. Vincent performed the dynamic techno so associated with his name, featuring the now-traditional inclusion of Jello Biafra’s spoken word performance ‘America is now under martial law’. The sound was disappointingly quiet for his set, but rectified in time for the night’s Detroit takeover. Omar-S was the first to take to the floor and substituted Vincent’s techno for his own Detroit house. Interacting with the room, he continually played off the crowd’s response – ‘The Shit Baby’, with it’s recognisable baseline and iconic piano jamming, was a clear winner.
A complete change in sound, New Yorker-cum-Berliner Dave Sumner aka. Function played alongside Ed Davenport’s alias, Inland at FACT, culminating in the best live performance of the festival. The duo filled the crowd with awe at their technical ability in live production, delivering a set of captivating techno. The way these two build an atmosphere within their set is truly unmatched by most producers. Closing with the now infamous ‘Voiceprint (Reprise)’ from his album, ‘Incubation’, Function stole the show.
Back at Red Stage, I caught the last 45 minutes of Moodymann, who’s set was remarkably more compelling than usual. The Detroit crew were bouncing off each other and the crowd, and the vibe within the room was vastly more energetic and fun than any other point in the festival. The whole night was an amalgamation of ‘you had to be there’ moments, which Bloc partygoers will no doubt cherish for years to come. Moodymann’s bar tending (offering vodka shots to the crowd), his initiation of a sing-a-long to Kelis & Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s ‘Got Your Money’, and an impromptu collaboration between the two Detroiters made for an unforgettable experience. An unexpected performance from fellow 3 Chair, Rick Wilhite followed, as Omar-S and Kenny Dixon Jr. took pictures with just about everybody in the front row. The biggest legend of the Red stage that evening, however, was Carl Craig, who, taking over from Wilhite, continued along the same musical roots, but proceeded to surpass all DJs in terms of technical ability. Tom Trago’s euphoric ‘Use Me Again’ was undoubtedly the track of the night.
Along with such a stellar lineup comes a sequence of inevitable clashes, and the closing slot on Saturday presented us with the difficult choice of remaining at Red to watch Ben Sims b2b DVS1 or abandoning it for Jeff Mills. Opening with the ‘2001 A Space Odyssey’ theme made it hard to leave the former, but the opportunity to see the techno legend was too good to pass up. Mills’ performance was impeccable- technically brilliant and expectedly powerful; a magnetic set of the industrial techno for which he is internationally renowned. A perfect end to a perfect evening.
SUNDAY Bloc played host to three takeovers: ‘Ostgut Ton’ at Centre Stage, ‘Jungle Bloc’ at the Red Stage and ‘I Love Acid’ at Jak. Following afternoon tea and a stroll down to Minehead beach, I went on to see Nick Höppner at 6pm, the first act on the Ostgut-hosted stage that evening. Höppner, as ever, provided a set of dynamic, Berghain reminiscent techno, with a captivating track selection, flawlessly delivered.
Over at World of Wonder, Boiler Room hosted an intimate party featuring Source Direct and Randall, DJ Bone, Lee Gamble and electro-king Egyptian Lover. The last-mentioned was a hilarious experience, and if it ever gets uploaded, tune in to see a room of about 15 people chanting “8-0-motherfuckin-8” with all the enthusiasm they can muster. I Love Acid then saw DJ Pierre take to the Jak stage, gratifying the room with superbly selected crowd pleasers, notably Tim Deluxe’s ‘It Just Won’t Do’ and Octave One’s ‘Black Water’.
Ben Klock b2b Marcel Dettmann closed the show with a 3-hour set over at Centre Stage. The Berghain residents have become perhaps the most sought after duo in techno, and their sets are continually a joy to watch. The magic and energy in this pairing is unsurpassed by any other – there couldn’t be a more fitting end to such a remarkable festival, with an ethos such as Bloc’s.
Overall I was overwhelmed by Bloc. The venue, the acts and the atmosphere all contributed to its success, making it genuinely a really well-put-together event. It took us 7 hours to get there and 6 to get home, but we’d do it again tomorrow. Bloc, welcome back.
Photos: Daddy’s Got Sweets