Bloc 2012

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown...
DOOM Bloc.JPG
Well, well, well. A full two days on from the catastrophe that was Bloc 2012 and we appear to be no closer to knowing exactly what went wrong, why it went wrong, and who will take full responsibility for it.

The organizers released a short statement in the immediate aftermath of the event’s closure, and followed that up with another on Sunday night stating that they were in the process of ‘gathering information’ and were sorry for not delivering the experience they had planned. Meanwhile various music sites have been awash with comments posted by understandably irate ticket-holders, most of whom have given astonishingly frank accounts of their miserable experiences - from dodgy sound systems and long queues to being denied entry all together and genuinely fearing for their lives.

Heading into this weekend and the heads behind Bloc should have been feeling quietly confident, particularly given that for the past five years they have put on some of the most groundbreaking electronic music festivals in the UK. Without overdoing the hyperbole, Bloc used to be spoken about in hushed, reverential tones, and for anyone who has ever attended the legendary events at Pontins or Butlins, the level of respect remained high and extremely steadfast. What people particularly appreciated were the unique venues, the stellar line-ups, the incredible attention to detail when it came to sound and visuals, the on-site accommodation, and the relatively small capacity. But that was then, and this is now.

The organizers decided that Minehead was too small, and that they had gotten too big, so they moved to London – despite the fact that the event’s very success was always partly down to it not being in the capital. While it would be a guaranteed money earner, in hindsight it evidently wasn’t the right move. The London Pleasure Gardens (never has a venue had such an ironic name) was simply not ready to host world-class events, and even if it could handle the amount of people who legitimately bought tickets a tripling of the capacity was always going to kill the original spirit. As it happened, the truth was much worse.

In fact, it was apparent that the problems were there from the very start, from the broken ticket scanners and surprise sniffer dogs to the bizarre and illogical layout - not to mention the unused industrial building last seen parading itself in the Bloc promo video. The ‘U-shaped’ design of the complex and the strange decision to have the main sound systems crammed all at one end meant that a whole section of grassland and pathways, in the shadow of that grand, empty warehouse, was completely redundant. There were bars on the other side, but even without any crowds it took a while to get back to the actual music venues.

Worse still, the food stalls and the empty cargo containers vied for space with the tents and stages – thus adding to the sense that the area expecting the most traffic was already too jammed with stuff. What did the organizers think when they first looked at the layout of the Pleasure Gardens? Was that the best they could come up? In a recent interview with Ransom Note Bloc co-director Alex Benson said that ‘the entire site is going to be one holistic, organic, pulsating whole, a celebration of technological musical innovation and culture.’ Those words will surely come back to haunt him.

If you were lucky enough to get on board, the much-lauded MS Stubnitz was the place to be. That was where the real raving was, but by 9-10pm it was essentially one in, one out and the queues began to get seriously dangerous. It’s one thing queuing to get into a complex, but quite another queuing for every set thereafter – especially at £55 a ticket. Oneman and Loefah played great sets – but it felt too exclusive. It just wasn’t the Bloc spirit.

Over in the Resident Advisor tent Steve Reich was a little disappointing, though to be fair most people seemed to think the opposite. Nicolas Jaar was more of a success, for those that were lucky enough to see him. Digital Mystikz were also good, and by all accounts Shackleton smashed it – while over on the main stage Amon Tobin was hiding in his 3D cube. All show, and not enough substance. It looked kind of cool, but in all honesty it wasn’t the wildly visual and aural clash most had anticipated.

DOOM followed Tobin on the main stage and fared slightly better. His words were a little drowned out due to the poor acoustics, although he seemed to be reveling in the moment and commanded a strong stage presence. His tracks have a brooding swagger, but the whole thing still felt a little flat and half-hearted. So far, so not very good.

From here on out it all began to fall apart in spectacular fashion. It was coming up to midnight, and if you weren’t in any of the tents you probably never would be. The open spaces were rammed and not a particularly fun place to hang out in, while outside the venue the police were moving in and some of the crowd began to head home – mostly on the advice of the police. Word of the event getting shut down started to do the rounds as it looked increasingly likely that people’s lives were in danger. Once it was officially announced that Snoop wouldn’t be performing thousands poured out of the main tent – but with other stages following suit there were suddenly a lot of people with nowhere to go.

To their credit most of the crowd behaved themselves considering what was happening, the security team did what they could, and the police weren’t too heavy-handed – at least at the end, on the inside. As the uniformed officers moved to cordon off sections of the site a group of a hundred or so continued to mill around, many starting an improvised drumming session on the side of one of the large steel containers. For some it was the only music they had danced to all night.

Luckily there were no serious injuries or fatalities. If there had been, we would be facing a much graver scenario. Even still, one can only hope that over the next few weeks and months the right people will be honest enough to explain what exactly went wrong. A big neon sign at Bloc read: ‘We wanted to be the sky.’ Better still would have been: ‘Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.’

Words and photo by Oliver Clasper

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