The devastating failure of Bloc at the London Pleasure Gardens left the electronic music community enraged and (for some) out of pocket by what was previously one of the most adored dance oriented festivals on British shores.
The years in between then and now have seen founders George Hull and Alex Benson take a back to basics approach by occupying Hackney Wick’s Autumn Street Studios, now simply named Bloc. Here they managed to keep alive and rebuild the organisation many thought was dead and buried. In October of last year it was announced that Bloc had resurrected to a point where it was ready to return to its spiritual home of Butlins Minehead. Eager to etch out the memory of that infamous July weekend in 2012.
"Once you’ve settled into the beige clad, leather sofa, faux 1970s chalet, one rightfully questions whether they’re really about to embark on a 72 hour rave embargo."
Given said history there was an astronomical amount of pressure for Bloc to reinstate its festival status, and win back a soured fan base. What could they do to ease this tension? Picking an irresistible line up wouldn’t be a bad solution. A fine balance of spellbinding live electronics including Jon Hopkins and the Moritz Von Oswald trio was on offer, amidst an arsenal of masterful selectors such as Moodymann and Levon Vincent. Furthermore there was an undiscriminating diversity with artists such as ESG. Not strictly speaking an electronic act, but one who’s minimal aesthetic provided a canon of groove templates that could snugly fit the vibe.
For those that have never had the pleasure of attending, Butlins Minehead is essentially an extremely well kitted out service station. Once you’ve settled into the beige clad, leather sofa, faux 1970s chalet, one rightfully questions whether they’re really about to embark on a 72 hour rave embargo. As it happens, it becomes more apparent as the weekend progresses that Butlins is in fact verging on perfection for events of the Bloc mould. Each room is an utterly ideal club space, the layout is concise and closely knit, and not to mention going back to a bed instead of a tent is beyond heavenly. Special thanks from all in attendance must also go out to those that crafted the excellent sound and lighting in every room of the resort.
On Friday night the centre stage warmed up to the recently reformed New Yorkers ESG, Who confidently strutted their catalogue of primal bare-bone disco beats. Highlights included the Larry Levan favourite Moody’s Mood which had a gleefully bashed out conga duet, loosely nestled underneath the modest but crucial two note bassline.
In the meantime on the neighbouring Red stage, the Hessle Audio team of Ben UFO, Pearson Sound and Pangaea warmed the crowd to boiling point. Playing back to back with a commendable fluidity, the crew dashed through every genre in the Bass book and set up a daunting task for Objekt to follow. Thankfully Hertz was unphased and muscled his way in with a concoction of hefty electro and fizzing industrial techno. The set perhaps at times delved too heavily into jacking monotony, but did plenty to exhibit the rich and expansive textures he showed the love for in Flatliners last year.
"The Chicago duo’s live set just might have clinched Inverted Audio’s (sadly non-existent) set of the weekend award."
There was a heart in mouth moment when it appeared that bill topper Robert Hood was no longer appearing as the Red stage headliner. Fortunately, those with enough of a shred of sobriety could figure out that the Detroit stalwart had been moved (sadly at the expense of Jackmaster) to perhaps more aptly follow the acid gods Phuture on the Centre stage. Following on from a chaotic live Evil Twin from Modeselektor, the Chicago duo’s live set just might have clinched Inverted Audio’s (sadly non-existent) set of the weekend award. Beginning with a spookily muffled ‘this is acid’ mantra pounding over the 303 synths, DJ Pierre and Spanky mesmerised their crowd into a blissed out acid squelch fest for the next hour.
Having just celebrated his label’s 20th anniversary at the tail end of last year, Hood’s set as per usual tore through mostly M-Plant material. He displayed a mastery of the craft to building and resolving techno-tension, dropping his alias Floorplan’s We Magnify His Name amidst a chasm of minimality is just one example of this feat. A nod to the next day headliner Jeff Mills with The Bells was also blended into perfection, topping off a virtuosic display.
"Moodymann took to the decks, bringing with him, eclecticism, an entourage of scantily clad women...and vodka shots for those at the front of the crowd."
The Red stage line up on Saturday looked nothing short of mouth-watering with 5 hours combined for the Motor City contingent of Omar-S, Moodymann and Carl Craig. Omar-S kicked off the session with a soulful set featuring many of his own numbers. The warming twinkle of Thank U 4 Letting Me be Myself emerged around halfway, singing into an atmosphere soaked in Detroit love.
At around 11.30pm a hooded and masked Moodymann took to the decks, bringing with him, eclecticism, an entourage of scantily clad women, a surprise appearance from fellow Three Chair Rick Whilite, and vodka shots for those at the front of the crowd. The Mahogani Music honcho was as ever, un-deterred by any genre based etiquette and played with a spectrum vast enough to include the likes of Floating Points’ King Bromeliad and Got Your Money from Kelis and Ol’ Dirty Bastard. The quartet of Detroit heroes were absolutely buoyed by the occasion, and towards the end of Moodymann’s set it was effectively a Whilite – Omar-S – KDJ – Carl Craig b2b. The latter’s official set time started with splendour and heartfelt excitement from Craig, who bellowed into the mic “I’m gonna take y’all on a journey, hope y’all enjoy!” as his remix of Caribou’s Your Love Will Set You Free kicked off his two hours.
Next-door Jeff Mills closed proceedings on the centre stage, as he had meant to on Sunday morning of the 2012 that was not to be. His set at times perhaps lacked a fraction of volume and intensity, but also managed to truly delve into deep and stripped territory. He gave a nod straight back to Robert Hood with his minimal masterpiece Minus, a highlight that continued to emphasise the glory of Detroit which was doted upon all weekend.
On Sunday all was done and dusted by 1am. How unfortunate this was, because somehow Bloc’s crowd had salvaged a plentiful reserve of energy for what was described by Ben UFO as a “celebratory end of weekend jungle rinse out.” The Londoner did a terrific job powering through a genre relatively distant from what he’s known for, but it was Dillinja’s following set that showed some truly seasoned Junglism. There is no real way to wind down a Jungle set at 1am so of course he kept the energy to the brim until the end. The sudden stop left the crowd in a state of confused disbelief. Sadly the set times weren’t an outright lie.
"At all hours of the weekend, the atmosphere was hedonistic, never too crowded, and always at full throttle."
Simultaneously the Jak stage closed affairs with an ‘I Love Acid’ party. From this an honourable mention is due to DJ Pierre who was a sensational success story of the weekend. Having already achieved Acid drenched glory with Phuture live, his DJ set finished off at 10:30pm Sunday with a crowd pulling every gesture available to them in appreciation. Pierre decided to end with a tribute to his Chicago compatriot Lil Louis, who recently revealed that despite a new major hearing defect, he will persevere with shows and “play twice as loud.” What entailed was a triple bill, mixing through Why’d U Fall, followed by The Conversation, culminating in French Kiss (all the way to the orgasm!), which led to a rapturous and euphoric applause.
At all hours of the weekend, the atmosphere was hedonistic, never too crowded, and always at full throttle. Those on stage and in the crowd are never holding back, and the engagement between the two is sky high. The success of this year has no doubt buried that weekend to forget in 2012, and has left us anxiously but still confidently hoping for a 2016.