London Pleasure Gardens | July 6th
Firstly, in analysing the disaster that was this year’s Bloc festival it’s extremely important to bear in mind the quality the festival brought year on year to brighten a sometimes tired and repetitive festival landscape. Bloc was a unique electronica festival in its setting both at Butlins (and the Pleasure Gardens, if it had happened) and in the ambition of its line-ups which kept sucking us back. And for that, they should be applauded.
Again, in looking at what they were trying to pull off, the ambition had to be admired. Snoop, Hawtin, Villalobos, Amon Tobin, Steve Reich, Lotus, Jaar, Battles, Numan, Squarepusher – make no mistake, there was no better line-up in the UK this year. Bloc was going for it. This was the event that was going to make it one of the premier electronic music festivals on the planet.
The root causes of why the whole thing fell apart on and off site so fast will remain with Bloc and The Pleasure Gardens and in all likelihood the ticketing outlets for some time. This is a mire so deep that responsibility and acceptance on any level will cause immediate anger towards those at fault. It’s in no one’s interest to accept any responsibility for this.
The only sure outcome is that Baselogic, the company behind Bloc, are in administration and in that alone they have taken the hit, along with the thousands of innocent punters that bought tickets for the weekend.
With that in mind here are three personal accounts of what happened that day.
Oh Bloc. Never has an event fallen so far, nor so fast, from favour.
Up until a few short weeks ago the outfit held an unimpeachable track record, and was considered by many (myself included) to be one of the finest – if not the finest – promoter of electronic music in the country. But from the moment our DLR carriage pulled into Pontoon Dock, it was clear something had gone very, very wrong …
I won’t waste words waxing on about the queues; you’ve more than likely read about them elsewhere. Moreover, I had press access and therefore skipped most of them. No, for me the biggest disappointment and most worrying failing of Bloc this year were the production levels.
For a festival that previously prided itself on the quality of its sound and lighting, the setup at this year’s event was an embarrassment. Both the Carharrt Dome and RA hub were frustratingly quiet and un-enjoyably poor quality, lacking any of the finesse that has so characterised previous Blocs. The main stage was sightly better (for Amon Tobin’s performance at least, which is all I saw), but I can’t comment on the MS Stubnitz as I never made it aboard.
Whether or not the blame for this rests at the feet of Bloc or the London Pleasure Gardens, I’m not sure we’ll ever know. Still, it strikes me that the situation bears some alarming parallels to the G4S security debacle currently embroiling the Olympics at large.
Yes, the LPG site is a desolate, unfinished dustbowl with a shocking layout that’s woefully unfit for purpose in its current form. However, it was Bloc’s own responsibility to be checking the build progress in the run up to the event, and should’ve spotted weeks before that it would end in disaster – regardless of how many tickets were sold.
The result? A lot of angry, disillusioned people and the loss of one of electronic music’s true greats. Everyone loses.
I walked straight in to the festival, alone as my friends were in the queue of other ticket-purchasing punters. My first impressions of the site were pleasant as the sun set behind the old flourmill. I’m a sucker for dystopian architecture, but had no idea then just how dystopian the evening was to become.
I was lucky enough to bump in to a friend who works for Boiler Room – so rather than wander the dust paths alone, I was whisked aboard the MS Stubnitz for a set from Al Tourettes, whose fluffy techno kicked things off well. The boat itself was insanely awesome, hosting three rooms and however many decades of history. The committed crew actually live on board and were omnipresent with the running and safe-guarding of their home-cum-venue. The conservation of original features was a nice touch and I hope that it sails on to provide many a rave in the future, not bogged down by the murky experience of being involved with Bloc.
Over an hour later and still awaiting my friends’ arrival from the queue, I checked out some of Oneman’s 100% vinyl set, flying the Numbers, UK bass flag as boldly as ever with his two-step tunes rocking the boat’s main room.
Finally after two hours, my friends arrived shaken up and upset by the queue. Trying to lift spirits we headed to the main tent for DOOM. We waited a long time for his arrival, so his theatrics and costumes were appreciated as he played firm favourites such as Figaro. Unfortunately the sound in the main tent was far too quiet and it was near impossible to hear him beat box and rhyme at all.
We waited for 45 minutes for Snoop Dogg to come on and collectively decided to give up and go outside the main tent, where we were told to evacuate the site by helpful but uniformed and very confused security staff, who had no explanation for us as to why. It was half past midnight. All I can say is thank the stars for Addison Lee’s iPhone app or it would have taken me hours to leave the site, as it did so many, but luckily we zoomed away past the thousands of confused ravers who lined the streets of the Docklands.
I had been looking to this weekend for some time. We were making good time as well, with the doors scheduled to open at two, we had aimed for three to give us enough time to get settled in, with the first DJ of any real note, Deadboy, playing at 5 o’clock.
Questioning why a large queue had formed along the width of the Pleasure Gardens (considering the site should have been open by that point for an hour and a half) we found our way to the press entrance, and moved onto the site.
We soon realised that the route we’d taken lead towards nothing more than an Ableton-sponsored floating express bar and some picturesque views across the lake towards the rest of the festival. Acres of dead space at a festival that was later considered to be ‘overcrowded’.
At this point however, we didn’t think an awful lot of it, and headed towards to MS Stubnitz to catch Deadboy, who was laying down a dark and building house and techno set completely different to his own productions, and slightly at odds with the sunny Balearic vibe of the open deck.
It was soon time to head over to the heaving RA Hub for the first time in order to catch the inimitable Nicolas Jaar, which also passed by smoothly. A few cans of £4.50 Budweiser were needed to try and perk us back up in time for the highly anticipated Amon Tobin live show, ISAM. The tent looked about half full.
Tobin’s live visual setup is, as you can see, so next level it’s an End-Level-boss, but with our vibe levels low, I struggled to get into the stop/start visceral electronica, which contrasted heavily with the groove based music we had been feasting on earlier, and I headed back to the RA Hub where Digital Mystikz were making kids skank like it was 2004 all over again, way back when Skrillex was still singing in his poor man’s post-hardcore band.
After finally setting down the camera gear for our proper dance of the day, DOOM was soon to be making his way onto the main stage, and we somehow made it out onto the ramp to be greeted by the sight of hundreds of pissed off revellers that weren’t being allowed onto the boat, and in great risk of being crushed. We were seriously concerned by this point, and somehow managed to get past the crowd and the security alongside the width of the boat, pulling ourselves through gaps in some of the shipping containers dotted towards the site and heading towards what we thought was the main stage, stumbling through the main stage’s artists area whilst we were at it.
Having missed DOOM a couple of times, we were happy to catch twenty minutes of his set, assuming the same position as during Amon Tobin. Wearing his signature metal mask, the legend turned in a solid performance, though it was pretty hard to catch any of it from past the speakers, with poor acoustics generally.
As midnight neared, we soon tired of dancing to the sound quality of an amped up Macbook Pro and headed towards the main stage in anticipation of the big boss Dogg. As we neared, we realised that the festival had effectively been cut into two, with police and security stopping our access towards the main arena, and containing the heaving crowds that had been trying to get onto the MS Stubnitz. Various police and security told us that the festival was being shut down, and that the Dome was the only venue that was remaining open. Soon after, people beyond the police cordon began to drum on the transport containers, chanting their discontent. Increasingly weary we’d be stuck in the middle of nowhere with no realistic chance of getting transport, we found the rest of our group and made our way out of the site, walking back to Stratham for what seemed like an eternity, with the fevered discussion being solely about the various rumours people had heard for the spectacularly devastating decline of one of the most anticipated events of the year.
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Words: Alex Gwillam, Lucie Grace, Artbeats